Common Genetic Disorders in Dogs

Just like humans, dogs can inherit certain conditions and disorders from their parents. Some of these inherited conditions are due to chromosomal or DNA differences, while others are caused by physical variations that predispose the dog to issues. Many people mistakenly believe that genetic disorders only affect purebred dogs, but mixed-breed dogs can also be affected.

In addition, environmental factors still play a big role in the development and progression of many of these genetic conditions. This means that just because a dog displays a genetic marker for a condition, there is no guarantee that the dog will actually develop that condition without environmental influence as well. This also suggests that dog owners can make environmental adjustments to decrease their dog’s likelihood of developing the said condition.

In this post, we’ll summarize some of the most common genetic or hereditary disorders in our canine friends:


It is widely known and accepted that certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to allergies, indicating that a genetic source is a likely cause. Breeds known to be vulnerable to hereditary allergies include (source and source):

  • Labradors
  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Poodles
  • Spaniels
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • French Bulldogs
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Chinese Shar-Peis
  • Wirehaired Fox Terriers
  • Dalmatians
  • Boxers
  • Boston Terriers
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Shih Tzus

Allergies typically manifest as skin-related symptoms like excessive itchiness, licking, and scratching. This is known as atopic dermatitis or atopy. Other canine skin issues that relate to allergies are chronic inflammatory otitis, recurrent hot spots, and pruritus. Immunotherapy is the preferred method of treatment for canine allergies, just like humans. Comfort measures to soothe and heal the affected skin areas are also required.

Hip Dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia is the most common musculoskeletal disorder found in dogs and causes instability, and eventually dislocation, of the hip joints. Dogs with a genetic predisposition to hip dysplasia usually show excessive hip laxity at very young ages. Proper assessment during puppy visits and neutering/spaying can identify hip laxity and help the dog owner prepare for the potential of dysplasia. In some cases, preventative surgery on the hip joint is recommended.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Some people just fawn over a dog with a short snout and flat face, like pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and boxers. However, these cute facial features can come at a price. The mismatch in proportions of the skull to the soft tissues in the nasal area causes serious breathing issues in these breeds, especially during and after strenuous activities. Many of these short-snouted breeds (often called brachycephalic breeds) cannot even handle relatively short walks or moderately-high outside temperatures. Prevention of BOAS must occur at the breeding stage by only choosing dogs that do not show signs of BOAS as breeding partners.

Bladder Stones

Bladder or urine stones are concentrated, crystallized minerals that build up in a dog’s urine. The amino acid cystine is a common culprit in developing bladder stones. Bladder stones can be extremely painful and impair the dog’s urinary function. In fact, changes in urinary behavior is usually the first sign a dog owner will observe in this disease process. However, bladder stones are often only found after the dog receives a radiograph for another reason. While they can affect any dog, there are certain dog breeds that tend to display genetic markers predisposing them to the development of bladder stones, including Dalmations, Newfoundlands, Bichon Frise, Miniature Schnauzers, Labrador Retrievers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Miniature Pinschers, Mastiffs, American Pit Bull Terriers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, and Scottish Terriers, among others.

Inherited Cancers

Many cancers that affect dogs have a definite genetic link. While this post is not long enough to delve into all the different types of canine cancers that are connected to their genes, some of the most common types include:

  • Lymphoma
  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Mast cell tumor
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Malignant melanoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Mammary tumors
  • Transitional cell carcinoma
  • Histiocytic sarcoma

Heart Disease

Heart disease in dogs can be brought on by both genetic and environmental factors. Congenital issues (those present at birth) usually cause physical alterations that impair cardiovascular function, while inherited issues (those programmed in the dog’s DNA) may not be obvious at birth and delay development until adulthood. Genetic issues that lead to heart disease are often observed in certain breed lines and are more prominent in purebred dogs.

There are many conditions in dogs with potential genetic roots that can ultimately lead to heart disease, including:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Endocardiosis (especially of the mitral valve)
  • Myxomatous valve disease
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC)
  • Subvalvular aortic stenosis
  • Pulmonic stenosis
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Degenerative myelopathy is a devastating condition with no cure. In this disease process, nerve fibers and their protective coverings in the dog’s spinal cord begin to deteriorate. Disease progression is typically slow as the dog becomes unstable on their feet, unable to control its hind legs, and eventually has an inability to stand and paralysis. Comfort measures are the only treatment for this debilitating condition, although early identification with genetic testing and therapy has been shown to slow DM’s progression. German Shepherds and Shepherd mixes, Siberian Huskies, and Collies are by far the most common breeds found with DM, but other breeds can also be diagnosed with DM.

Have Questions About Your Dog’s Genetics?

Is your dog’s breed genetically predisposed to disease? Schedule an appointment here at Affordable Pet Hospital in Tampa to get the answers you need about your dog’s health issues from Dr. Morris and her knowledgeable staff. Armed with the best and most recent information, you can help your dog live their very best life for years to come!