Poodle Health Issues

Learn about poodle health issues

While not every poodle will get each one of these listed, it is very important to have regular visit and lab work done at your veterinarian’s office.

Addison's Disease

Addison’s disease is also known as hypoadrenocorticism. It is an insufficient production of adrenal hormones by the adrenal gland. Since these hormones are essential for life, this is an extremely serious disease and it must be treated as such.

Adrenal insufficiency can be primary or secondary. Primary adrenocorticism affects salt/potassium balance in the body and glucorticoid as well. Secondary adrenocorticism usually only affects the glucocorticoids. It is not known why primary adrenocorticism occurs but it may be an immune mediated process. Secondary adrenocorticism probably occurs most often when prednisone or other cortisone being administered for medical reasons are suddenly withdrawn. It can occur as a result of pituitary cancer or some other process that interferes with production of hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands.

Most dogs with Addison’s disease initially have gastrointestinal disturbances like vomiting. Lethargy it also a common early sign. Poor appetite can occur as well. These are pretty vague signs and it is extremely easy to miss this disease. More severe signs occur when a dog with hypoadrenocorticism is stressed or when potassium levels get high enough to interfere with heart function. Dogs with this problem will sometimes suffer severe shock symptoms when stressed, which can lead to a rapid death. When potassium levels get high heart arrhythmia occur or even heart stoppage which also is fatal. In some cases, especially secondary Addison’s disease, there are no detectable electrolyte changes.

This disease can be picked up by changes in the ratio between sodium or potassium by accident at times. When this happens it is still extremely important to treat for it. It is confirmed by an ACTH response test—administration of this hormone should stimulate production of adrenal hormones. If this does not occur then hypoadrenocorticism is present. In cases in which the electrolyte levels are normal this is the only test for the problem and it will be missed unless it is looked for specifically. At times this disease can be hard to differentiate from renal failure because the symptoms and even the blood work can be similar——so the ACTH response test may be necessary to differentiate them


The normal stomach sits high in the abdomen and contains a small amount of gas, some mucus, and any food being digested. It undergoes a normal rhythm of contraction, receiving food from the esophagus above, grinding the food, and meting the ground food out to the small intestine at its other end. Normally this proceeds uneventfully except for the occasional burp.

In the bloated stomach, gas and/or food stretches the stomach many times its normal size, causing tremendous abdominal pain. For reasons we do not fully understand, this grossly distended stomach has a tendency to rotate, thus twisting off not only its own blood supply but the only exit routes for the gas inside. Not only is this condition extremely painful but it is also rapidly life-threatening. A dog with a bloated, twisted stomach (more scientifically called “Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus”) will die in pain in a matter of hours unless drastic steps are take

Chronic Active Hepatitis

Chronic active hepatitis is a liver disease where there is inflammation of the liver and death of liver tissue present. Dogs that are affected with this disease develop a slow, progressive liver failure. Researchers have found in some breeds a familial predisposition to the disease. In Bedlington Terriers, the disease has been found to be the result of an autosomal recessive gene, and there is a marker test from Vetgen to test for it. In Dobermans, the disease seems to affect more females than males.

Symptoms of the illness usually don’t appear in the dogs’ early years, not until there is significant damage to the liver.Usually CAH appears around 5-7 years of age. Some of the early signs of CAH are loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, vomiting yellowish bile, weight loss, depression, increased water intake, increased urination, and sluggishness. As the disease gets worse, jaundice may appear (the whites of the dogs will appear yellowish), and clotting problems may occur. Fluids can build up in the abdominal area, so that a dog may look like it’s in whelp. Behavioral changes may occur, such as the dog might stand and stare at the wall, or in a corner, or just stand and be confused. All of this is due to toxins that have built up in the body that used to be metabolized by the liver.

In some breeds copper will build up in the liver. This will vary from breed to breed. Copper will be stored in larger than normal amounts in the liver.

Yearly blood screening is always important to the health of your dog. To have a yearly baseline to judge future blood tests can prove to be valuable in assessing the health of your dog. One of the first signs of liver trouble would be an elevated ALT. To further define liver problems, a vet will usually perform a liver biopsy. This would give a definite diagnosis of CAH. This would determine to what extent the liver is damaged as well as establishing copper levels, if any. A vet will often do a guided needle biopsy, with the assistance of an ultrasound, to visualize the area of the liver in to determine which area to biopsy. This test is usually accompanied by bile acids tests before and after to complete a correct diagnosis.

Dogs can often be treated with medications and special diet, depending on how damaged the liver is when diagnosed with CAH. The dog will never be cured but can be maintained for a time if the condition is caught early and treated properly. Each dog’s case will vary.


There are 3 forms of Cushings Disease. Most dogs have the more common form, Pituitary Dependent PD, with this form the dogs have a slow growing form of cancer that is located in the pituitary gland. This causes the adrenal glands to produce to much cortisol, because the tumor trigger to much ACTH to be produced.

The next form is the Non Pituitary, here there is a tumor in one or both of the adrenal glands. Here also to much cortisol is produced as a result of the tumor. The tumor is often malignant. The malignant tumor is called an Adenocarcinoma and it is aggressive where it can spread to other parts of the body and organs. The non cancerous tumor is called Adenoma.

The last form comes from Pets being on long dosages (long term use of) “Cortisone” , a drug used often on Pets. This drug comes in many forms. No matter what form it comes in it can cause problems with long term usage of this medication. This long term usage makes the body think it has more cortisone in the body that it does and then the body misreads the actual amount there is in the body.

There are many warning signs of Cushings. Some of the more common ones are: excessive appetite, drinking large amounts of water, frequent urination, large pot belly, Thin skin,hair loss on the body, thinning of hair and drastic change of texture of hair.
This is usually seen in older dogs, but can begin much earlier in life. It can be very slow in progressing. There are tests to tell you if your dog has Cushings. If you suspect it. Call your vet and get proper testing done to get a correct diagnosis.

Ear Care

Ears should be cleaned weekly. Gently pull the long hairs out of the ear canal regularly, and swab the ear canal with your finger wrapped in cotton moistened with ear cleaner recommended by your Vet or Groomer. If the puppy is scratching its ears or the ears have a bad odor, see your vet immediately.


Seizures in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors. A common cause of seizures in all varieties of Poodles (as well as 25 or 30 other breeds) is “idiopathic epilepsy.” Idiopathic epilepsy generally is inherited, and it can result in either mild or severe seizures. Sometimes, seizures involve episodes of unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding in the bathroom. Although seizures can be frightening to watch, the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy generally is very good. Importantly, however, many other factors can cause seizures in dogs besides idiopathic epilepsy. Causes include a variety of metabolic disorders (such as liver disorders), infectious diseases that affect the brain (such as distemper), tumors, exposure to poisons, severe head injuries, and more. The prognosis for seizures due to these other disorders varies depending on the particular disorder and how early it is diagnosed. Thus, when a dog begins to have seizures, it is very important for the dog to receive a thorough diagnostic work-up to determine the cause.

The following web site on canine epilepsy covers a wide variety of topics written by both lay persons and epilepsy experts: http://www.canine-epilepsy.com/ This is an excellent site. However, as with any web site, you should check with a knowledgeable professional before applying any of the information to your own dog. You also are welcome to contact Barbara Licht, Ph.D. blicht@psy.fsu.edu (who is heading a research project on the genetic basis of idiopathic epilepsy in Poodles) to obtain information on the diagnostic testing that is recommended, treatments, or to learn about her current research. A sampling of earlier internet communications concerning seizures between Dr. Licht and Poodle owners and breeders (all varieties) can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Garden/1686

Hip Dysplasia

The hip joint is a ball and socket connection. If the joint is malformed the head of the femur will not properly align with the cup of the hip socket. This misalignment can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, with proper diet and exercise the animal can lead a full and active life. In more severe cases surgical correction or euthanasia are the only alternatives. Diagnosis is generally done with an X-ray. The two preferred testing and rating systems for this condition are Pennhip and OFA certification.


Hypothyroidism (malfunctioning thyroid) is caused by an inadequate production of the thyroid hormone. Symptoms include; skin conditions, obesity, excessive hunger, irregular heat cycles, excessive coarse coat texture, inability to stay warm, and lethargy. Treatment of hypothyroidism is the use of an inexpensive drug given daily.

Testing for thyroid malfunction is obtained by taking a blood sample. Females should be tested after sexual maturity and the blood tested between heat cycles.

Most laboratories can do T-3 and T-4 screening. Complete thyroid testing includes:
TT4, TT3, FT4, FT3, T4AA, T3AA, TGAA and cTSH OFA

Thyroid Registry Panel
FT4D,cTSH and TgAA


LCPD results when the blood supply to the femoral head is interrupted resulting in a vascular necrosis, or the death of the bone cells. Followed by a period of revascularization, the femoral head is subject to remodeling and/or collapse creating an irregular fit in the acetabulum, or hip socket. This process of bone cell dying and chipping followed by new bone growth and remodeling of the femoral head and neck, lead to stiffness and pain. The net results are similar to those experienced by larger breeds with hip dysplasia.”

OFA further notes: “No specific causes of LCPD are known, although it is believed to have a genetic mode of inheritance, and is not believed to be caused by trauma alone. Because there is a genetic component, it is recommended that dogs affected with LCPD not be used in breeding programs.

In an effort to assist breeders in establishing control programs to limit the prevalence of the LCPD, the OFA is offering a new health database specific to LCPD. The OFA evaluations and the subsequent database of information will allow breeders to make more informed breeding decisions. With time as the database becomes more populated, statistical data regarding prevalence and improvement will be an added benefit. The LCPD database will operate in a similar fashion to the existing OFA database for hip dysplasia evaluations.” Breeders who would like additional information should visit the OFA website at www.offa.org.

Optic Nerve Hypoplasia

Optic Nerve Hypoplasia is a congenital failure if development of the optic nerve which causes blindness and abnormal pupil response in the effected eye. Maybe unable to differentiate from micropapilla* on a routine (dilated) screening ophthalmoscopic exam.

*Micropapilla is a small optic disc which is not associated with vision impairment.

For more information see The Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF)

More links to eye health care issues:
Corneal dystrophy
Inherited cataracts & juvenile cataracts
Juvenile cataracts
Why yearly CERF exams important
More on PRA
Persistent Pupillary Membranes

Patella Luxation

Patellar luxation is the dislocation (slipping) of the patella (kneecap). In dogs the patella is a small bone that shields the front of the stifle joint. This bone is held in place by ligaments. As the knee joint is moved, the patella slides in a grove in the femur. The kneecap may dislocate toward the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) of the leg. This condition may be the result of injury or congenital deformities (present at birth). Patellar luxation can affect either or both legs.

The most common occurrence of luxating patella is the medial presentation in small or miniature dog breeds. Shallow femoral groove, weak ligaments and mal alignment of the tendons and muscles that straighten the joint are all conditions that will predispose a dog toward luxating patellae.

Indications of patellar luxation are; difficulty in straightening the knee, pain in the stifle, limping, or the tip of the hock points outward while the toes point inward.

Grade 1: Intermittent patellar luxation – occasional carrying of the affected limb. The patella can easily be manually luxated at full extension of the stifle, but returns to proper position when pressure is released.
Grade 2: Frequent patellar luxation – in some cases luxation is more or less permanent. The affected limb is sometimes carried, although the dog may walk with the stifle slightly flexed.
Grade 3: Permanent patellar luxation – even though the patella is luxated; many animals will walk with the limb in a semi-flexed position.
Grade 4: Permanent patellar luxation – the affected limb is either carried or the animal walks in a crouched position, with the limb partially flexed.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) refers to a group of diseases affecting the retina at the back of the eye. These diseases cause the cells of the retina, which initially look and function normally, to become increasingly abnormal over time. In most cases, given a long life, the eventual outcome is blindness. Some form of PRA has been recognized in over 100 canine purebreds, and at present there are 7 different genetic types of PRA described.

PRA is inherited, meaning the disease genes that cause PRA are passed from generation to generation. In Toy and Miniature Poodles one specific type of recessively inherited PRA predominates, although there are clues indicating at least one more type is present at a low frequency in the breed. This predominant form of PRA in Toys and Miniatures is the progressive rod-cone degeneration (prcd) form of PRA. Rod cells in the retina slowly lose normal function, resulting in diminished vision in dim light situations and diminished field of vision. Subsequently, cone cells in the retina lose normal function, resulting in diminished vision in daylight situations and eventual total blindness. The age of onset and the rate of disease progression are variable among different breeds, within the same breed and within the same litter. In general for Toys and Miniatures, diagnosis of prcd-PRA made around 3 years of age, based on an eye exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Some prcd-PRA affected dogs retain some useful vision throughout their life, while others progress to blindness in mid-life. Unfortunately there is no treatment or cure for PRA.

A genetic test, offered by OptiGen (http://www.optigen.com/), is used to identify Toys and Miniatures as Pattern A – normal, Pattern B – probably carrier, and Pattern C – probably affected. Within the first 1000 Toys and Miniatures tested by OptiGen, 3-4% are Pattern C and 25-30% are Pattern B. Use of this test for breeding programs is discussed at OptiGen’s website. Identification of breeding animals affected with prcd-PRA or carriers of prcd-PRA is essential to avoid producing affected offspring. This genetic test is not offered for Standard Poodles, since prcd-PRA is not yet a proven cause of blindness in Standards.

Not all retinal disease is PRA and not all PRA is the form currently detectable in your breed. Accurate diagnosis is essential. A dog can test as normal or carrier, yet be affected by a different type of PRA. Although more than one type of retinal degeneration probably occurs in every breed, by far the most common type of PRA for Toys and Miniatures is prcd-PRA.

Yearly eye examinations for general eye health should be done on breeding dogs by a veterinary ophthalmologist, even after testing by OptiGen. The Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) maintains a registry.

To learn more about PRA in Poodles and the great strides that are being made in DNA testing go here.

Sebaceous Adenitis

This is a major problem in our breed. It is estimated that 50% of all Standard Poodles are carriers or affected. It is hard to ID and can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, allergies, etc. All breeding animals should have a skin biopsy preformed by a veterinary YEARLY and analyzed by a recognized veterinary dermapathologist. The Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (www.offa.org) maintains a registry for SA tested Poodles. On its web site OFA lists the names and addresses of approved dermapathologists and laboratories as well as the procedures for submitting a sample for analysis. Currently, there is no cure. Help stamp out this problem by testing your poodle, be it pet or breeding animal.


Von Willebrand’s disease (vWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder. It is a complex and difficult disorder to deal with, because genetics, diagnostic abnormalities, pathogenic mechanisms, and sometimes conflicting clinical signs are all involved. The commonality between all vWD is a reduction in the amount or function of von Willebrand factor (vWF), which is manifested through abnormal platelet function and prolonged bleeding time. Different breeds exhibit different variations of the disease, and some individual animals appear to “acquire” vWD. The organizations dealing with this topic is VetGen.
Information Courtesy of the Poodle Club Of America, www.poodleclubofamerica.org ***

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