The following is a brief list and outline of
the major potential and actual genetic diseases that affect the St Bernard
breed. You should be fully aware of the nature and consequences of these before
purchasing your St Bernard.
Hip Dysplasia: Hip Dysplasia is a genetically
inherited condition that is affected by environmental influences such as weight,
diet and exercise, which can interact to cause wear and tear of the hip joint.
Dogs with hip dysplasia appear to be born with normal hips and then develop the
condition later. At present, the strongest links to contributing factors other
than genetic predisposition appears to be to rapid growth (excessive weight
gain), obesity and over exercise. Puppies should be kept lean and not fat,
obviously a puppy which is carrying around too much weight will increase wear on
the joints. Exercise is the other main contribution. Many people over-exercise
young puppies, or give them the wrong type of exercise. Up to at least six
months of age, exercise on hard surfaces should be kept at a minimum. Correct
exercise for puppies includes running and playing in the garden or in a park,
although games that involve jumping and very rough play should be avoided, and
the puppy should be allowed to rest as soon as he has had enough and must not
"over-do" it. Swimming is also an excellent form of exercise which builds up the
muscles without putting stress on the joints.
Gastric Dilation: (Bloat) A serious condition that affects all deep chested dogs
regardless of size from the Dachund to the Great Dane including the St Bernard.
Gas ferments accumulates in the stomach often due to eating air, the stomach
increases in size and twists preventing release of the gasses, inhibits the
returning vena cavil and portal blood supply to the heart causing decreased
cardiac output which leads to tissue hypoxia due to diminished arterial blood
supply. Arterial hypotension leads to decreased coronary blood supply and
myocardial hypoxia multiple other complications and eventually death. Attempts
to vomit only brings up frothy saliva. Your saint will not be able to burp if
the stomach has already twisted on its axis but will attempt to vomit, again
only bringing up frothy saliva. Gross swelling of the abdomen is also noted.
Often your saint will seek you out and the stomach will feel tight and if you
tap it you will notice a sound like tapping on an empty drum. Possible causes
include overfeeding at a young age, large dry infrequent meals, exercising
directly after feeding and consuming large quantities of water after feeding. No
one really knows what causes it but a familial causal relationship has been
indicated. It is rapid in onset and of high lethality and the difference between
life and death is the amount of time it takes to get veterinary help.
Heart Disease: There are several heart diseases known to affect large breeds
including the St Bernard. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) being the most prevalent
with a high lethality and minimal lifespan after diagnosis. The heart dilates
causing cardiac muscle weakness and subsequent disturbances in blood pumping
capacity. Signs include fainting (not to be confused with sun stroke), reduced
activity tolerance and an increase in the size of the abdominal region.
Hypothyrodism: (Thyroid) A genetic disorder in which the thyroid gland does not
produce enough hormones for a variety of necessary bodily functions. This can be
diagnosed by a simple blood test. Can be suspected in cases of infertility,
weight gain, dry brittle coat, skin puffiness, cooling, infections, intolerance
of cold. If your saint presents with any or all of the above symptoms, screening
Ectropin: A genetic condition where the eyelids turn out excessively
causing extreme discomfort. Not to be confused with the characteristic of
looseness of the eye. Diagnosed by a Vet.
Entropion: A genetic disorder where the eyelids turn inward and the eye
lashes rub on the cornea leading to ulcers and eventually blindness. This can be
surgically corrected. Diagnosis is made by a Vet.
Epilepsy: A genetic or environmental disorder that describes two types
* Primary epilepsy is genetic in origin. Age of
onset is usually from 6 months to 5 years old and
actual diagnosis is almost impossible so diagnosis is made by ruling out any
other possible cause of seizures. * Secondary epilepsy
under the age of 12 months is usually toxic, metabolic, infectious,
degenerative, developmental, nutritional or traumatic.
Life Span: As with most giant breeds, Saint
Bernard's commonly have short lives from 7-11 years. A few individuals may live
longer, but shorter lives are the rule and not the exception.