Bernese Mountain Dog Health

General Health

Welcome to the Health Section of the web site of the BMDC of GB, which as you can read below, also serves as a health reference section for the breed in the UK. From this page there are links to masses of information relating to Bernese Health both generally and more specifically in the UK.

UK Breed Clubs

Some years ago the Kennel Club asked that, if possible, each breed had one main online reference area for health and one contact within each breed, namely the Breed Health CoOrdinator. At Bernese Breed Council the UK clubs agreed that this health section of the GB club web site should be the place the breed clubs used. So, a big welcome if you have arrived here by clicking a link from another club’s web site.

The Bernese Breed Council has now ceased to be but this section is still supported by the

Southern Bernese Mountain Dog Club,

The Northern Bernese Mountain Dog Club,

The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Scotland


The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Wales (no web site)

so it is a UK Breed Health section for Bernese.  To return to their sites you can use these links or, if you have just come from a different club site, the ‘back arrow’ in your browser or, if you are a regular you may have a bookmark to their site.

However, it must be pointed out that health recommendations to be found on this site may not all be specifically supported by all the above clubs and if this is important to your purpose then you will need to ascertain their positions and rationale individually with them. References on this site to ‘the club’ will almost invariably refer to the BMDC of GB and not any other club although some the position of some clubs may coincide with that of the BMDC of GB.


For Owners, Breeders and Enquirers

Bernese health is a massive subject with many areas to discuss, each with numerous aspects to them but breeders and owners who purport to be serious about the breed should have some interest in all these areas. This obviously applies to owners but it is vital that breeders should be looking to improve the health of Bernese with breeding choices being significantly, but of course not totally, influenced by health issues.

Therefore people considering buying the breed (or any breed) should have some awareness of the topics so they know a] what they should be asking potential breeders about and b] know how to assess the replies. The club is sometimes approached by owners with problems who wish they had learnt more before purchase, so if you are making enquiries about the breed, please do not just presume a dog is just a dog, and a dog offered on one web site will have exactly the same health prospects as one of the same breed offered elsewhere. This approach could end up costing you alot of money at the vets but more importantly mean you have to watch your beloved family member suffering when the chances of this could be avoided or at least reduced.

Of course whatever breeders do there can never be any complete guarantees about the health of any individual puppy (in any breed) but there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of some problems and even eliminate certain others during the lifetime of any Bernese. These things start with the massively important choice of bitch and dog to produce offspring and continue right through the dog’s life from rearing of the puppies and then management of young puppies and husbandry through the dog’s life. Everyone has a part to play in breed health, not just breeders.


Breeders and Health

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. Breeding cannot improve every aspect of a dog in one mating and no one can produce perfect guaranteed 100% healthy dogs and every breeding decision  is a balanced risk assessment of different priorities, assessing your bitches strengths and weaknesses to choice a stupid dog that improves her weaker areas but still complements her qualities. This applies to every aspect of the dog, not just health or show qualities.

Asking breeders to utilise health checks available for their breed is not about expecting everyone to only produce 100% healthy puppies and dogs for life. It is about asking them to be as fully informed as possible when making decisions but, in exchange for the complete freedom to make choices, breeders have to take responsibility for their decisions and help to deal with things when they don’t go as well as they hoped for their puppy buyers.


Why talk about health?

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 owners, those wishing to own or perhaps most importantly, breeders of 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 gradually 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. Breeders need to stay pragmatic and objective about these decisions and not take matters personally. Read or listen completely and properly to what is being said and do not make assumptions about the whole message. There is often context and qualifications to advice that is often ignored and forgotten so it is frustrating when people are reported or can be heard arguing against something that has not actually been said.


Information Sources

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 and interested parties in other countries. Some is from seminars both breed specific and other breeds, some is from the KC. 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. So, please if you are a Bernese lover and claim to support the breed please support any health initiative such as the Death Survey and if you are a breeder please take part in health testing and make this a part of your breeding decisions. We can make the breed better for future generations but this will not just happen we ALL have to actively make the effort to make it happen.

If you are a breeder or a serious owner with your own web site please feel free to link to this section ( and if you have any queries about anything on it, or not on it, please contact the Breed Health CoOrdinator via

Whether you are an owner, a breeder or an enquirer about the breed thank you for your interest so far and please click on the titles below for more information about each subject. There is a separate First Aid section below on this page in case you are looking for urgent help with a problem.

Overall Summary

There are links below to many specialised areas of this web site. However, if you just want a single overall summary of the current Bernese Health situation in the UK then this page might be the place to go.

Current UK BMD Health Summary 

Bernese Health Initiative – From late 2020 the health activity of the club is organised by the Bernese Health Initiative, click here for more details

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 both just part of the routine. If you are a puppy buyer and both parents of any prospective puppy are not hip and elbow scored then you really should ask why and probably walk away. Schemes for both have been around in most countries for such a long time that there should not be puppies from non hip and elbow scored parents but buyers should always do their research and find out what parent’s scores mean, not forgetting the importance of the scoring background of other relatives. Hips and elbows are the highest profile of the health tests for our breed but it should be remembered they must be considered alongside all other tests.

From research in many countries it is clear that Malignant Histiocytosis or Histiocytic Sarcoma or Systemic Histiocytosis) (MH or HS or SH or Histio) is the biggest single health problem faced by our lovely breed consistently accounting for around 25% of deaths, most typically in middle age between 5 and 7 years. Presenting with a variety of symptoms and difficult to precisely diagnose, ‘Histio’ can be fatal in a matter of days from first noticing symptoms. Research, largely in France has shown there is a complex hereditary aspect to this disease and there is a predictive test and, from 2019 a unique database, HSIMS, for breeders to use with the aim of reducing the incidence of the disease. Buyers should research this and ask breeders about it but again the importance of the test must be kept in perspective.

Most people would agree that longevity in our breed is important and most people would also agree that it needs to improve. Larger dogs do have shorter lifespans but Bernese do not fit into the general pattern of this and have a lifespan more akin to a larger dog. Cancer accounts for around two thirds of deaths but not all of these are unacceptably young. Over the years several claims have been made about the average age at death of our Bernese and our reported UK average is under 8 years. It is certainly all too 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 as some do live to decent ages. The job of breeders is to try and make these more common.

In the UK the official Hip and Elbow scoring schemes are administered by the BVA (British Veterinary Association) and the results are published by the Kennel Club. For years these have been collated and published in our club magazine or given out as loose sheets. Many of these sheets have now been added to this web site. Click on the link above to go to the relevant page.

The UK BMD Death Survey was relaunched in Dec 2016 not just to simply ascertain the main causes of death in our breed but give average ages, identify trends, and the real picture which no one knew. Details of ALL UK BERNESE are wanted for this survey, current deaths or historical and everyone can add value to the survey. For more details, an update summary of data so far and importantly how to contribute either on paper or on line, read more …….

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.

This came into being in Summer 2018 and applies across the whole breed. Read more via the link.

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 if not treated or can even be shorter timescale than this. If you suspect bloat at any time of the day get in touch with your emergency vet before it is too late. Leaving things to see how it goes IS NOT AN OPTION. You have a real and serious emergency life threatening situation where every second counts…

This was published in June 2020 by the KC. Click on the title to view the page and access the report itself.

Summary of August 2023 Health Related Events in Switzerland

A summary of the health related meetings held by the Swiss club for their events in August 2023 by health CoOrdinator Steve Green. Click on this title to open it.

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)