Great Swiss Mountain Dog Club - Health

Canine Epilepsy is a growing problem amongst many breeds of dog. At present there is no test for idiopathic (primary) epilepsy. This can be an extremely devastating illness, although many sufferers can, with medication, lead nearly normal lives.
Epilepsy simply refers to repeated seizures. Seizures may occur as a one off event in an animal from a variety of causes, but only if the seizures repeat again and again over a period of time do we call it epilepsy.  Anything which damages the brain in the right area can cause epilepsy. If we can identify the cause of the seizures, say a brain tumor or a stroke, then we say the pet has symptomatic (secondary) epilepsy. That is, the seizures are a symptom of a disease process we've been able to identify. If we've looked and can't find the cause, then we call it idiopathic (or primary) epilepsy. The term idiopathic simply means that we don't know the cause. Many of the idiopathic epileptics have inherited epilepsy: epilepsy caused by a mutation in a specific gene which they inherited from their parents. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy frequently begin seizing at between one and three years of age, and certain breeds are predisposed to develop epilepsy. A few breeds have proven hereditary epilepsy, while in most it is just a strong suspicion.
Any dog or bitch suffering from idiopathic epilepsy should not be used for breeding and any littermates/offspring should be monitored carefully and also not bred from.   
No one can guarantee that a puppy will not get epilepsy but every care must be taken to ensure that there is the least possible chance.  

Click here to read a synopsis of an Epliepsy seminar held April 2015...

Eye Diseases

Cataracts are one of the most common problems affecting the eyes of the dog. There are many different forms and causes of cataract formation. They affect all breeds and ages of dogs, but certain types show up more commonly in certain breeds.   The only current treatment option is surgery, but with correct patient selection the outcome is very good.

Congenital Cataracts: These are cataracts that are present at birth. These cataracts usually occur in both eyes. Despite the fact that the animal is born with them, they are not necessarily inherited. Infections or toxins may cause the formation of these cataracts while the puppies are still in utero.

Developmental (Early Onset) Cataract: Developmental cataracts are those that develop early on in life.  As with congenital cataracts, they may be inherited or caused by outside sources such as trauma, diabetes mellitus, infection, or toxicity.

Senile (Late Onset) Cataracts: The cataracts that occur in dogs over six years of age are called senile cataracts. They occur much less frequently in dogs than in humans. Nuclear sclerosis, which is not considered to be a medical problem, is often confused with cataracts at this age.

Inherited cataracts:  Inherited cataracts in the dog may occur independently or in association with other ocular disease. If a dog is diagnosed with inherited cataracts, the dog should obviously not be used for breeding because of the likelihood of perpetuating the disease in the offspring.

Distichiasis is an eye disease in the dog where extra eyelashes or hairs cause irritation to the surface of the eye. Treatment involves removing the offending eyelashes/hairs.  In the case of distichiasis, eyelashes are found growing on the margin of the eyelid and these abnormally placed eyelashes can cause irritation to the eye itself, resulting in corneal ulcers or abrasions and/or conjunctivitis.   It can cause symptoms ranging from minor to quite severe and can be extremely painful for the affected dog.  Distichiasis is hereditary, therefore, dogs diagnosed with this condition should not be bred from because of the likelihood of passing the eye problem on to the progeny.

Entropion is an eye disease of the dog which is frequently confused with distichiasis.  However, whereas distichiasis is the result of extra eyelashes, entropion results when there is extra skin around the eye which allows the eyelid to roll inward toward the eye.  Entropion results in conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers or abrasions due to the irritation of the eyelashes or normal hair contacting the surface of the eye, which does not occur in dogs with healthy eyes.  Dogs with inherited entropion should not be bred, as they can pass the trait on to their offspring. 

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV) or Canine Bloat

Canine bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is the number-one cause of death for several large and giant breeds.  If this painful disorder is not treated within one to two hours, it is life-threatening.

Twenty-five percent of bloat cases are caused by gastric dilation.  The stomach fills with gas.  The increased pressure compresses both ends of the stomach, preventing the gas from escaping.  But most cases -75 percent - are due to gastric volvulus, where the stomach actually twists, crimping and cutting off the inflow and outflow from the stomach.  When the stomach gases cannot get out, they expand.

Affected dogs drool saliva because they cannot swallow.  Also, they cannot belch or vomit, which would help relieve the mounting pressure from the stomach gases.  The pressure causes the abdomen to become distended.  When tapped, the abdomen can sound like a drum.

Deep chested breeds are the highest at risk of this life threatening condition.  A slightly higher percentage of males than females develope bloat.

If you suspect bloat seek veterinary help immediately. 


Cancer in dogs is more common than you think.  It is the number one natural cause of death in geriatric dogs and accounts for nearly 50 percent of pet deaths each year.

Commons signs of cancer for owners to watch for include:

  • Unexplained bleeding or discharge
  • Loss of appetite
  • Oral odor
  • Abnormal swellings or swollen lymph nodes
  • Drooling or difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Changes in exercise or stamina level
  • Lameness
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits

If you notice any of these signs, seek veterinary advice. 

The Swissy Lick

This is an entirely unscientific term to describe the sudden onset of frantic licking of anything in range such as carpet, bare floor, walls etc. and the indiscriminate eating of anything that can be swallowed such as grass, leaves, fibre from carpets etc. and gobbling up of air.  It is obvious that the behaviour is due to severe gastrointestinal discomfort.  It sometimes can be alleviated with medications such as Gas-X or other gas and acid reducing remedies.  Often the dog will go outside and eat some grass to induce vomiting and this normally helps.  What exactly causes the "Swissy Lick" is a matter of discussion among Swissy owners but there seems to be no single or definite factor responsible for this condition.  A number of theories have been offered, from excessive gas pressure to acid reflux to allergic reaction to a food substance.  Some believe that it is a precursor to GDV but this cannot be clearly substantiated either as many Swissies who have had these licking episodes never went on to develop GDV.  While the condition appears to affect primarily young dogs, it has also been reported in older Swissies.  Often, young dogs eventually will outgrow the condition.

The official KC recognised UK Breed Club for GSMD's. 
Splenic Torsion

The spleen exists as a filter to destroy excess red blood cells, and as a reservoir for blood. It is a main support to the immune system. Splenic torsion, or twisting of the spleen, may occur by itself, or in association with gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) syndrome, when a dog's air-filled stomach expands and twists on itself. It can occur suddenly, or it can gradually twist over a period of time.  Dogs are rarely affected by an abnormality such as splenic torsion. When it does occur, however, it most commonly seen in large-breed, deep-chested dogs, like German shepherds, standard poodles, and great Danes.
Symptoms and Types

  • Intermittent lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Red to brown coloured urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Abdominal mass that can be felt


  • Appearance of genetic relation: large-breed and deep-chested dogs are most commonly affected
  • Prior gastric dilatation, and volvulus (abnormal expansion, and twisting of the intestinal or gastric organs)
  • Excessive exercise, rolling, and retching may contribute
  • Nervousness and anxiety have been associated with an increased risk of GDV