Health Topics

Bernese Mountain Dog Health Matters

General Health

The health of our Bernese is a massive subject with many areas each with numerous aspects each with different facets to them but breeders and owners who purport to be serious about the breed should have some interest in all these areas. Breeders should be looking to improve the health of our breed with breeding choices being significantly influenced by health issues and people considering buying the breed (or any breed) should have a good awareness of the topics they should be asking potential breeders about. Of course whatever breeders do there can never be any absolute guarantees about the health of any individual puppy (in any breed) but there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of problems in the lifetime of any Bernese born. These things start with the choice of bitch and dog to produce offspring and continue right through the dog’s life from rearing of the puppies and then management through the dog’s life.

There have now been a few legal cases where breeders who have failed to cover some of the basic risk reducing practises for their breed have found themselves in court when dogs have developed problems that could and should have been avoided. The potential for these actions will only increase as more and more DNA tests become available. Breeders choose to ignore them at their peril. Whilst the well being and avoiding suffering for the dog is always the number one motivation there are many reasons why breed health is not an area to neglect for anyone.

There are more tools and information around to help breeders make choices than ever before but none of these are of benefit to the breed if they are not used and, just as importantly, the information they give should be understood properly, assessed honestly and acted on appropriately.

This purpose of this section of our web site is to give information on the health issues most pertinent to our breed and, in places recommendations, to those wishing to own or breed Bernese Mountain Dogs. It is important to stress that reporting, investigating and discussing health is not being morbid or negative about the breed, on the contrary it is about trying positively to improve the breed and making a better and healthier Bernese for the owners of the future. All breeds have issues and there are no genetically perfect dogs so it is incumbent on owners and breeders to recognise and accept this and look to improve matters in a realistic and reasonable fashion.

The information in this section is from many sources. Some of the specific breed knowledge is from information gathered in this country and some is from Bernese clubs in other countries. The club asks all breeders and owners to co-operate with any requests for breed health related information so that breed data given can relate as accurately as possible to the breed in the UK. Some information is already in the public domain and available to all, such as KC/BVA hip and elbow results, but information for other initiatives such as the Death Survey, DM testing, SH testing and occasional health surveys has to be actively volunteered by owners and breeders.

Please click on the links below for more information about each subject.

For many years running, our breed, like many others, had an ongoing Death Survey, in our case compiled by the late and much missed Dr Malcolm Willis. This list was populated by the people who contributed their dog’s details, as well information gathered from other sources such as magazine tributes to departed friends, i.e. information put into the public domain. Some may even find this concept distasteful but it is an essential aid to improving the future of the breed…

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) has been around and known about for many years in many breeds but has been getting increased awareness and attention within our breed over the last few years with much speculation on social media particularly. Who knows how long it has been impactful in our breed because 20-30 years ago we just used to accept older dogs “going off their back legs” as the way it often was.

Bloat is otherwise known as Gastric Torsion or GDV (Gastric Distortion -Volvulous) is a condition which can be, and usually is, fatal within (literally) a few hours or can even be shorter timescale than this. If you suspect bloat at any time of the day get in touch with your vet before it is too late. You have a real and serious emergency life threatening situation where every second counts…

The hip and elbow schemes are health checks for our breed, they are something most responsible breeders in our breed undertake so automatically nowadays that they are just part of the routine. If you are a puppy buyer and the parents of any prospective puppy are not hip scored then you really should ask why and probably walk away. Hip scoring in its present form has been a routinely accepted part of Bernese culture for such a long time that there should be no puppies from non hip scored parents…

From research in many countries it is clear that Malignant Histiocytosis or Systemic Histiocytosis) (MH or SH or Histio) is the biggest single health problem faced by our lovely breed. Presenting with a variety of symptoms, MH can be fatal in just a few days. Whilst not confirmed or exactly quantified there does appear to be an hereditary link to MH so it is a good precaution for breeders to consider this in choice of breeding dogs and for puppy buyers to ask about the family health history behind and puppy you are considering….

Most people would agree that longevity in our breed is important and most people would also agree that it needs to improve. Over the years several claims have been made about the average age at death of our Bernese. It is certainly all to true that too many of our dogs die at too young an age. However, if you are unlucky enough for your Bernese to pass on at a tragically early age please realise he or she may not be entirely typical….

First Aid

  • Many people think that reactions to spider bites are something that only happen in far away hot countries with more overtly dangerous and venomous creatures, but common British house spiders, and smal...

  • Most poisonings are the result of accidents, overdose, unusual reactions, carelessness or ignorance, but some are malicious! There are several categories of poisons: Medicines, e.g. sedatives, painkil...

  • This is an abnormally high body temperature and is more common in short nosed dogs and long haired dogs, but can happen in all breeds. Being predominantly black Bernese can be especially susceptible. ...

  • This is an abnormally low body temperature and the opposite of hyperthermia. It happens mainly to young or very small dogs. First aid treatment is geared towards slowly warming up the dog. To this pur...

  • If a dog has an epileptic fit or similar, the best thing to do is to put the dog in a quiet and darkened room and prevent it from harming itself. Clear the mouth if necessary, but beware of biting! If...

  • This condition is caused by damage to the balance organ in the inner ear. It affects mainly older dogs, who will show a head tilt, loss of balance and sometimes circling. In some cases the eyes flick ...

After a pre war start which died out during the war, the current population of Bernese in Britain started in 1969 with the first of the modern imports. The popularity of the breed rapidly grew to a fairly consistent level of over 700 registrations per year at the Kennel Club but has fallen back a little and averaged 620ish over the last decade.

In most informed people’s eyes the number one general health problem for our breed would be lack of longevity and the biggest factor in this would be early deaths from cancer.  However, despite what you might read about our breed, many many people do have dogs that live a decent length healthy life. However good or bad the true situation is, with help it can only be improved so if you are, or one day become, the owner of a Bernese please make that little bit of effort to contribute to any breed health initiatives you can as gathering accurate and widespread information is always the first step in tackling problems.

Bernergarde is simply a massive database of information about Bernese all over the world. Based in America and developed by Bernese lovers over there it is a fantastic achievement developed over several decades to the industrial scale it has reached today. For me it can only be viewed as a colossal effort which puts the rest of the Bernese World’s comparatively feeble efforts to shame.
Bernergarde is open to all Bernese in all countries

Many members will remember being sent a form via the club from the Kennel Club asking for details of your Bernese. Details on 629 Bernese living dogs were returned and along with the overall results for all breeds the results were recently returned to the club. The full results will be available via the KC website; my report focuses on the main areas in each category and a few items that I feel are significant…

As part of the initiative to highlight, promote and celebrate the longer living dogs the club started a Veteran’s List a few years ago. Owner’s are invited to contribute the details of their Bernese over 8 years of age.

Berner International Working Group (BIWG)