“only in the spirit of love, sacrifice and great cost will we bring our breed to a state of genetic excellence”
Philipp GrünigPhilipp Grünig
“Judge, scientific breeder and profound student of the Dobermann”

Genetic and Health Issues in the Dobermann

Dobermans are generally healthy however, like other breeds, they have some problems that occur more frequently than in the general dog population. You should be aware of these problems when searching for a puppy, and ask questions of your prospective breeder regarding the incidence of these problems in the ancestors of the litter. Below is a brief description of the problem, possible symptoms and testing methods currently available. The three biggest killers of the Dobermann breed are known as the three C's; cardio, cancer and CVI. At present there is no diagnostic tests to predict future onset of these diseases.

Unfortunately some breeders do not test their breeding stock and may be unaware of any health issues within their breeding lines. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to always purchase a dog from a responsible and ethical breeder whose primary concern is to reduce the incidence of health problems.

Below are diseases which are serious and can easily lead to death:

Below are serious diseases which can be treated or successfully monitored:

Below are less serious diseases:

Diseases which are serious and can easily lead to death


Cancer causes the early deaths of far too many Dobermanns. Signs to be alert for include abnormal swellings especially in the lymph nodes, unusual bleeding or discharge, sores that do not heal, loss of appetite, loss of energy, weight loss, persistent lameness, lumps in the mammary area (bitches), abnormal feel/size of the testicles (dogs).

If your dog displays any of the above symptoms or anything else you feel is unusual, the sooner you can have your dog examined by the vet, the better.

The most common form of treatments are surgical excision of the tumour, aggressive chemotherapy, and medication. Early detection will, of course, help your odds. Treatment method depends on the type of tumour, whether it has or is likely to metastasise, and how far it has progressed.

Further information on cancer can be found at the following link:

Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI) or Wobbler's Syndrome

Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI), commonly known as "Wobblers" is the compression on the spinal cord between the 5th, 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae located in the neck. It usually develops gradually and is seen in the affected canine typically between 3 and 8 years of age although it has been reported in dogs less than two.

The early visual signs that the dog may have Wobblers is the dragging of hind feet causing abnormal wear to the dog's toenails. The hind legs will often be awkward and sway, making the animal walk like he is drunk - thus the name "Wobblers". The disease will progress from this point, eventually affecting all four limbs.

Occasionally, in more serious cases, there is a rapid decline in the dog's condition. This is associated with extreme pain, arching of the neck, and the dog is unable to raise his head higher than shoulder level. All four legs are extremely rigid and walking is impossible.

The inheritance factors for this problem unfortunately are not fully understood - often the onset of this disease occurs late in a dog's life after they have already produced offspring, so removing afflicted animals from the breeding pool is difficult.

Treatment for this disease depends on the severity of the compression. Milder cases may respond to rest and corticosteroid (i.e. cortisone) treatment to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the spinal cord. Acupuncture has also been shown to be helpful, especially in relieving pain. Chiropractic adjustment has also been suggested- however, in the case of a dog that has instability of its vertebrae, chiropractic adjustment has the potential to cause serious complications. In more severe cases, surgery is the only option. A myelogram or MRI must be done prior to surgery to determine where the compression is, whether there is more than one area of compression, and how severe the compression is. An alternative to surgery is Gold Bead Implants, a procedure where magnetically charged gold plated beads are implanted into the dog at specific locations to relieve the pain.

Note: Not all Dobermanns will be affected by "Wobblers", and the extreme cases are rare.

For further information, please visit the websites below:

Chronic Active Hepatitis (CAH)

Chronic Active Hepatitis (CAH) is suspected in the presence of persistently elevated ALT values and can be definitively diagnosed by a liver biopsy. The liver is a major filtering organ for the body. During CAH, as the liver cells die they release a protein that causes the elevated ALT values. Scar tissue then replaces the dead liver cells reducing the filtering effectiveness of the liver and creating a build-up of toxins in the body. This degenerative state will continue to the point of liver failure and death.

Occurrence tends to be high in Dobermanns, but it is also found in other breeds, most notably, Bedlington Terriers, and Golden Retrievers.

Among Dobermanns, this disease is more common among females with the average age of onset between 4 and 6 years of age. Initial symptoms of CAH include excessive drinking. As the disease progresses and at least half the liver has been destroyed, the dog will be quite sick presenting with jaundice, abdominal swelling, vomiting and weight loss.

There are no studies that prove CAH is heritable. Low fat, low protein diets can help, and some have used steroids with a degree of success. If your Dobermann shows any of the above symptoms please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

For further information on Chronic Active Hepatitis and liver disease in Dobermans, please visit:

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) - also referred to as "Cardio"

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is where the muscle of the heart becomes diseased. This results in an enlarged heart which does not function properly. DCM can affect both sides of the heart with one side usually being more severely affected. The enlarged heart chambers lose their ability to contract effectively and are unable to pump blood out to the body or lungs.

If the left side of the heart is affected, fluid builds up into the lungs, if the right side of the heart is affected, fluid builds up in the abdomen or area surrounding the lungs. This build-up of fluid places pressure on the heart and creates breathing difficulties, eventually leading to death from congestive heart failure. Another cause of death from DCM is from irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) – these can lead to sudden death, often with no prior outward signs of the disease in the dog.

Long term prognosis varies considerably. Dogs survive from weeks up to years after diagnosis of DCM.

The occurrence of DCM increases with age and typically has an age of onset between 4 and 10 years. The cause of DCM is still unknown although many factors suggest a genetic cause, the mode of inheritance is unknown at this stage.

Treatment of DCM is aimed at improving the function of the heart and controlling the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Drugs can be administered to help the heart contract better, diuretics can help control and prevent accumulation of fluid in or around the lungs. Medication that controls arrhythmias (electrical disturbances in the heart) are used as well.

If you notice your dog displaying any shortness of breath, coughing, poor appetite, fainting spells, restlessness or profound lethargy, make an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible. Your dog will benefit from your observations, and the administration of prescribed medications will aid to prolong your pet’s life.

Facts you need to know about Dilated Cardiomyopathy Mutation (DCM)

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Mutation (DCM) is a form of heart disease in the Dobermann breed. It is inherited and the VetGen laboratory has identified a mutation responsible for the gene in some Dobermanns. However, it should be noted that in human beings with the same disease, there are many different genetic mutations which can cause this disease. VetGen do not yet know if this is the only mutation in the Dobermann breed or if there will be many different mutations. Please keep in mind that VetGen are continually learning about this disease and recommendations will be altered as they obtain more information.

Currently VetGen's interpretation of the test is:

  • Negative Results: The absence of the mutation in this dog does not mean that it will never develop the disease. It means that it does not have the only known mutation that can cause the disease in the dog at this time.
  • Positive Results: Dogs that are positive for the test will not necessarily develop significant heart disease and die from the disease. Some dogs will develop a very mild form of the disease and will live quite comfortably, while some may need treatment.

Importantly, breeding decisions should be made carefully. At this time VetGen do not yet know what percentage of Dobermanns will be positive for the mutation. However, removal of a significant number of dogs from the breeding population could be very bad for the Dobermann breed. Remember that dogs that carry this mutation also carry other important good genes that we do not want to lose from the breed.

For further information, please visit the websites below:

Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) - more commonly known as "Bloat"

The technical name for bloat is "Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus" ("GDV"). It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Dobermanns are particularly at risk.

Bloating of the stomach is often due to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present). It usually happens when there's an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach ("gastric dilatation"). Bloat can occur with or without "volvulus" (twisting). As the stomach swells, it may rotate and twist between its fixed ends at the oesophagus and at the upper intestine. This twisting of the stomach traps air, food, and water and obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs. The combined effect can quickly kill a dog – bloat is a medical emergency!

Symptoms of bloat are that the dog may have an obviously distended stomach especially near the ribs, but the main symptom is that the dog will appear highly nauseated and is retching but little is coming up.

If this is seen, rush your dog to the veterinarian IMMEDIATELY for relief of pressure in the stomach and management of shock. Treatment usually involves surgery to untwist the stomach and tack it into place (called gastroplexy).

To avoid the risk of bloat in your Dobermann, latest research points to feeding your dog several small meals during the day rather than one large meal, not feeding your dogs using raised food bowls, and restricting the amount of water and food consumed before heavy exercise.

For further information, please visit the below links:

Serious diseases which can be treated or successfully monitored

Degenerative Eye Disease


Persistent hyperplastic tunica vasculosa lentis/persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHTVL/PHPV) is a rare and usually unilateral disorder in which parts of the hyaloid system and the primitive vitreous become hyperplastic during early fetal development and persist in this situation postnatally. Its development has been studied extensively in the Dobermann. The clinical relevance of PHTVL/PHPV centres on its association with cataract formation and, hence, visual impairment. In both the Dobermann and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, PHTVL/PHPV generally occurs bilaterally, it's inherited (probably because of an incomplete dominant gene in the Doberman) and hence, has a higher prevalence in these breeds than in others.

Symptoms: Very small dots of vascular connective tissue from the vascular network can remain retrolental on the posterior capsule of the lens (grade 1; doubtful if unilateral and of minimal degree). These dots do not progress and do not influence the visual capacity of the dog. They are only seen with the aid of a slit-lamp microscope. The severe forms (grades 2–6) occur bilaterally and lead to visual problems for the dog. A plaque of white fibrovascular tissue can remain on the posterior capsule, accompanied by grade 1 retrolental dots. In addition, other parts of the hyaloid system can persist: lenticonus, or even more severe malformations of the lens such as pigment or blood in the lens or behind it; colobomas; spherophakia, etc.; and/or microphthalmia may be present. In the severe forms, cataract develops, usually beginning centrally. This can be present at birth, and the animal may be born blind but not identified until the lids open. The cataract can also slowly increase in severity during the animal’s life. The differential diagnosis includes primary cataract or microphthalmia alone, or other dysplastic abnormalities.

Therapy: In severely abnormal eyes (grades 2–6), if blind, intracapsular or extracapsular lens extraction can be performed together with anterior vitrectomy. One must, however, consider whether this is reasonable in a very young dog or whether euthanasia is the better choice. In adult dogs that are already part of the family, the situation is different.

Prognosis/prevention: The prognosis for intracapsular lens extraction operation in severely affected cases is less favourable (60-70%) than with extracapsular lens extraction in uncomplicated cataracts, because of the greater likelihood of complications (postoperative bleeding, retinal detachment). In these cases, implantation of an artificial lens is not really possible. Examination for PHTVL/PHPV can be carried out in litters of pups, preferably older than 6 weeks of age and after chipping or tattooing, by veterinarians who are appointed to the panels involved in hereditary eye disease schemes. Because the globes are still small at this time and the fine dots may be overlooked, the result of the examination should be considered temporary. On the other hand, early examination prevents buyers from obtaining severely affected puppies. At least obviously affected animals (grades 2–6) should be excluded from breeding. Because of an adequate breeding program (grade 1 are only used when mated to unaffected animals), the number of severely affected Dobermans in the Netherlands and Germany has dropped very significantly over the last years.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

This is a genetic, inherited disease of the retina (the "film" in the camera), which occurs in both eyes simultaneously. The disease is non painful, and there is no cure for it. The eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. PRA occurs in most breeds of dogs and can occur in mixed breeds also. It is recessively inherited in Dobermanns.

Clinical signs vary from the dog first becoming night blind in the early stage of PRA (not able to see in low light surroundings) to the entire visual field in all light levels becoming affected, which is advanced PRA. The pupils are usually dilated, and owners often notice a "glow" and increased "eye shine" from the eyes. All dogs with PRA will eventually develop blindness from advanced PRA, and this time frame until the dog is blind varies considerably from dog to dog, but usually takes at least 6 months from the time of diagnosis, and can rarely take years until the dog is completely blind. Although no treatment for PRA is possible to stop the disease, nutritional antioxidant supplementation for retinal health may help slow the deterioration of the retina to "buy some time" before the blindness inevitably happens. A screening test is available and can be performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist. The test will certify eyes for 12 months from the date of evaluation.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

This is not a widespread problem within the Dobermann breed, however like any medium to large breed dog, there can be instances where Hip and Elbow Dysplasia occur.

Hip Dysplasia (HD) is the malformation in the development of one or both ball and socket joints in the hip. The hip joint is composed of the socket which is formed by the bones of the pelvis and the "ball" (head) of the thigh bone (femur). Normally, this joint is very tight fitting, however if suffering from dysplasia there will be too much movement in the joint leading to pain and lameness.

Hip (HD) and Elbow Dysplasia (ED) is a multifactoral, genetically based disease which is greatly influenced by environmental factors. The mode of inheritance of HD and ED is complex and the degenerative changes occur with growth if the genetic and environmental factors are present. Due to this complexity, normal hipped/elbowed dogs can produce offspring with all degrees of dysplasia and dysplastic dogs can produce normal offspring.

Some Breeders are now starting to x-ray their breeding stock and having these x-rays "scored" by professional veterinary graders.

Hip scores can range from 0 to 53 for each hip - the lower score per hip the better. By adding the scores for both hips together it will give you a total hip score ranging from 0 to 106. As at January 2007 the Australian Dobermann Breed Mean Score (BMS) for hips is a total score of 7.89.

Elbow scores range from grade 0 to 3 for each elbow with 0 being ideal.

Treatment of HD is directed at alleviation of pain, and in severe cases major (and expensive) surgery to replace the joint.

For further information, please visit the websites below:

von Willebrand's Disease (vWD)

von Willebrand's Disease (vWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder that affects many breeds, including Dobermanns. Dogs clinically affected by this disease have a reduced ability to produce von Willebrand's Factor in their blood - a substance needed to achieve blood clotting.

There is now a definitive DNA test for Dobermanns to determine their vWD status. This test is a simple swab of the cells from inside the dog's mouth (cheek) which is then sent to a lab for analysis (commonly used testing centres are in Australia and the US). This test can be done by either yourself or a vet after obtaining a testing kit from a DNA testing company (see links further below).

Dobermann vWD DNA results can only be one of the following:

Clear  Does not carry the vWD gene
  At no risk of clotting problems due to vWD
  Cannot pass the vWD gene on to offspring

Carrier  Carries one copy of the vWD gene
  At no risk of clotting problems due to vWD
  Can pass the vWD gene on to offspring

Affected  Carries two copies of the vWD gene
  Potentially at risk of clotting problems due to vWD (however, the majority of Affected Dobermanns have no clotting problems at all, including during minor surgeries, and live a long and active life).
  Will pass the vWD gene on to all offspring

If your dog is genetically vWD Affected and requires surgery, your vet can help to minimise any risks by having extra clotting factor on hand, and also by doing a blood clotting test (usually a small cut in the dog's gum or cheek and timing how long it takes to clot) prior to surgery.

It is imperative that Dobermans be tested for this as we are now able to eliminate this disease by testing and breeding carefully. Breeders use the results of the vWD DNA test to assist them in their breeding programs. Breeding results for vWD are:

Parents vWD Results of Offspring
Clear x Clear 100% Clear
Clear x Carrier 50% Clear, 50% Carrier (these are averages only)
Clear x Affected 100% Carrier
Carrier x Carrier 25% Clear, 50% Carrier, 25% Affected (these are averages only)
Carrier x Affected 50% Carrier, 50% Affected (these are averages only)
Affected x Affected  100% Affected

For further information, or if you would like to test your Dobermann for vWD, please visit the following websites:

Less serious diseases

Colour Dilution Alopecia (CDA)

Blue and fawn coloured Dobermans often suffer from a condition known as Colour Dilution Alopecia (CDA). It is a form of follicular dysplasia (FD). The symptoms include bilateral balding that usually starts on the flanks or along the topline and spreading down the back.

Typically, the coat will begin to thin between the ages of one and three years. In severe and rare cases, all of the blue or fawn hairs will fall out. Most often, however, a dog with CDA will end up with a very thin coat along the back and flanks but will not go completely bald. Despite the thin coat, the dog will remain healthy. It is almost always just a cosmetic problem resulting in a varying degree of hair loss.

Hypothyroidism (Thyroid Insufficiency)

Hypothyroidism (thyroid hormone insufficiency) is a hereditary condition and fairly common in Dobermanns. The thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which can affect the dog's overall condition. The thyroid gland affects many bodily functions and has been proven to be closely related to the immune system. Dogs who have low thyroid function tend to experience a host of other problems throughout life. Aggression has also been linked to low thyroid function.

Symptoms include lack of energy, weight gain, inability to keep warm, poor coat and hair loss (especially in areas such as the dog's back and sides), temperament changes, and have problems with fertility.

Diagnosis is by blood test analysis by a veterinarian. If the thyroid hormone is below normal levels, then thyroid hormone supplementation is usually recommended. Thyroid supplementation is via daily medication for the life of the dog.

For further information, please visit the links below:


Fast growing, heavy-built, and strong-boned individuals have an increased risk of developing growth disturbances called panosteitis. Panosteitis is an acquired inflammatory condition of unknown etiology affecting long bones in front and/or hind legs causing limbing and pain. Nutritional disturbances and genetics can be involved. The diagnosis is based on an x-ray examination. The disease is self-limiting and the treatment includes correction of diet and anti-inflammatory medication.

Skin Diseases

Dobermanns are affected by many kinds of skin problems. However, as in other dog breeds, there could be several reasons for such conditions. Allergies and over-sensitive dogs may show symptoms through constant scratching. In some instances, these cases may be in a disease group which is easily seen but have difficulties in a diagnosis. Hormone disturbances such as hypothyroidism, can also show signs on a Dobermann‘s skin and hair coat. Demodex and staphylococcus infections sometimes tend to aggravate problems other than skin-classified diseases.

Skin diseases almost always demand an individual’s thorough examination via blood tests, skin scrapings and biopsies. The correct treatment method will naturally depend on a precise diagnosis and the availability of viable existing treatment.

Vestibular Syndrome and other Neurological Problems

Occasionally puppies are born that are restless, cry much, have difficulties in nursing and have neurological abnormalities. The disorder does not progress and if capable to suck, these puppies usually develop to normal individuals. The cause is unknown.

Congenital vestibular disease is seen in young puppies with or without deafness. The puppies are affected from birth to 3-4 months of age and have head tilt, and difficulties in moving. The signs can disappear but the deafness if present is permanent. There is no treatment.

Young and adult animals sometimes develop idiopathic head tremor. There is a sudden up and down or side to side head movement. The dog is conscious and can move but there is no method to stop the tremor which normally lasts few minutes. The dog will not develop other neurological signs. The cause is unknown and there is no treatment.