Health problems of the Doberman Pinscher

Unfortunately, as with so many other breeds, there are many underlying conditions or genetic health problems that can appear in Doberman Pinschers.


The Doberman Pinscher’s ancestral roots have been obscured

over the centuries but the modern breed as we know it originated in Apolda in Thueringen, Germany sometime around 1890. It was first recognized as a distinct breed in 1900.

Bred to work, the intelligent, easily trained Doberman has been used extensively as a guard dog and a dog of war. Its ability to track a scent has made it a favorite among many police departments and even for the sport of hunting.

It is strongly built without the appearance of coarseness or excessive musculature.  Is carries good bone, a long wedge-shaped head with strong jaws and ears that are often cropped.

The American Kennel Club accepts black, red, blue, and fawn colors with sharply defined rust-colored markings above each eye, on the muzzle, throat, chest, all legs, and feet as well as the underside of the tail. No other colors are accepted, nor are any white markings exceeding one-half square inch on the chest. In fact, white is not allowed on ANY other part of the body.

The gait should be free and vigorous with good reach and driving ability.  The Doberman’s temperament is energetic, alert, obedient, fearless, and watchful. All in all, the breed is an excellent, all-around breed for a family or work environment. Unfortunately, as with so many other breeds, there are many underlying conditions or genetic problems that can appear in these dogs.

One of the most common hereditary problems in Doberman Pinschers is von Willebrand’s Disease. Of itself, von Willebrand’s disease isn’t really a disease but a condition that affects the platelets in the blood.

Platelets are what allow blood to clot after surgery or some type of trauma. Unlike hemophilia, the numbers of platelets aren’t lowered with von Willebrand’s disease but the protein that acts as an adhesive is changed. This protein is termed vWF and if it is lowered, the platelets can’t stick together to stop bleeding.

Von Willebrand’s Disease comes in three types and Doberman’s usually are affected by Type I.  This particular type is considered the mildest of the various types. Clinical trials conducted on 15,000 Dobermans showed seventy percent of them were carriers of the disease. Of these 15,000 Dobermans, the majority of them didn’t show clinical signs. Another study estimated 68%-73% of Dobermans had the disease.

As such, von Willebrand’s Disease can cause problems in Dobermans having any type of surgery including tail docks, ear trims, and “simple” spays and neuters. It also increases the mortality rate for the breed from Parvovirus.
While common, von Willebrand’s Disease is by no means the only problems associated with the Doberman Pinscher.

Cervical vertebral instability (CVI) or “wobbler syndrome” has become a serious problem in the breed. One of the main reasons it is appearing so often in Doberman’s is because it normally doesn’t show up until the dog is past its prime and through with its breeding career.

The exact cause of CVI isn’t known but researchers feel it is a combination of genetics and diet. Its symptoms can range from minimal rear leg incoordination to complete paralysis.
Color mutant alopecia (hair loss) is usually found in blue Dobermans although it can occur in reds. In addition to the hair loss, there is a general lack of luster to the coat, scaliness in the skin, and papule formation. Papules are cystic hair follicles that develop into pustules. After several years the dog will be virtually bald upon the body. For some reason, the head, legs, and tail are the least affected by the alopecia. This particular condition may be controllable but is not curable.

Craniomandibular osteopathy is a disease that causes irregular ossifications of the mandible, tympanic bullae, and sometimes even on other bones that make up the head.

Polystatic fibrous dysplasia is a cortical defect that causes cyst formation on the ulna and radius bones.

Narcolepsy can occur in Dobermans with many of the same symptoms that are seen in humans. Narcolepsy is a disabling neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. Symptoms in dogs with narcolepsy are excessive sleepiness regardless of the amount of rest the animal has had or the sudden blanking out of the awake dog. Cataplexy is sudden, brief episodes of paralysis or muscle weakness as well as sleep paralysis (paralysis that occurs during sleep or upon waking).  

Hip dysplasia is also an inherited problem with Dobermans. It causes malformations and laxity in the hip joint itself, which in turn can cause pain, limping, and instability of the hip.
Dysplasia is diagnosed by radiographs.

Albino Dobermans have become a hot debate among breeders, the Doberman Pinscher Club of America (DPCA), and fanciers of the color (or lack of). The first recorded albino was born in November 1976 and named Padula’s Queen Shebah. She was the result of breeding two normally colored Dobermans, Rasputin VI and Dynamo Humm. When the breeders first attempted to register Shebah with the American Kennel Club, the registration was rejected because “albino” isn’t an actual color. Eventually, Shebah was registered with the AKC as white without the DPCA’s approval.

Once Shebah’s registration became official in 1979, her owners began breeding her. For these decedents of Sheba, the AKC especially tracks them since test breedings of albinos by the Doberman Pinscher Club resulted in dogs with a wide range of conformation defects. Their test subjects also showed severe temperament problems such as aggression, fear, and trainability. It was because of these temperament problems that most of the test litters had to be put to sleep. The albinos were also photosensitive. Sheba has made a decided impact upon the breed. Since 1979 over 6500 decedents have been registered with over 1200 of them being Albinos.

Dobermans as a whole are wonderful, useful dogs and deserve to continue to be as such. It is only through the efforts of conscientious breeding programs that the genetic diseases and conditions listed above will at least be controlled if not actually eradicated.

Conscientious breeding programs require more than limiting the number of dogs produced. It requires testing all breeding stock against genetic disorders. For those such as Wobbler Syndrome that show up in later life, the stock that is descended from theses dogs shouldn’t be bred so the fault dies with the present generation. It is the responsibility of all Doberman owners and breeders to keep the breed at its optimum level and not allow it to fall into the pit of problems as so many other purebred breeds have.