BELGIAN HEALTH INFORMATION
No matter what breed you investigate, you will find that each one has its own list of health problems. Overall, Belgians are a fairly healthy breed. There are, however, some Belgian-breed health issues of which you should be aware. The following information is not meant to frighten you or deter you from considering a Belgian; it is simply to educate you on the issues present in our breed.
There are also Facebook groups devoted to Belgian health. Please contact me if you would like more information about joining one of these groups.
I try to keep the health information links up to date; however, if you find a broken link, please let me know.
- Epilepsy – There is an estimated 17% affected rate in Belgian Tervuren. Unfortunately there is no test--yet--to determine if a dog is a carrier, and the best that a responsible breeder can do is to breed only non-seizing dogs. However, just because a dog shows no symptoms does not mean he/she is not a carrier, and therefore, no breeder can guarantee that the dogs they produce will never have a seizure. Studies are currently underway to determine a genetic marker for epilepsy, which will greatly assist breeders to reduce the incidence of this disease. Please also be aware that there are multiple causes/triggers for seizures, so just because a dog has a seizure(s) does not mean it suffers from epilepsy. Consult your veterinarian and the links below for more information.
- Hip Dysplasia – from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website, “Hip Dysplasia is a terrible genetic disease because of the various degrees of arthritis (also called degenerative joint disease, arthrosis, osteoarthrosis) it can eventually produce, leading to pain and debilitation…No one can predict when or even if a dysplastic dog will start showing clinical signs of lameness due to pain. There are multiple environmental factors such as caloric intake, level of exercise, and weather that can affect the severity of clinical signs and phenotypic expression (radiographic changes). There is no rhyme or reason to the severity of radiographic changes correlated with the clinical findings. There are a number of dysplastic dogs with severe arthritis that run, jump, and play as if nothing is wrong and some dogs with barely any arthritic radiographic changes that are severely lame.”
- Elbow Dysplasia – from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website, “Elbow dysplasia is a general term used to identify an inherited polygenic disease in the elbow of dogs. Three specific etiologies make up this disease and they can occur independently or in conjunction with one another. These etiologies include: Pathology involving the medial coronoid of the ulna (FCP), Osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle in the elbow joint (OCD), Ununited anconeal process (UAP). Studies have shown the inherited polygenic traits causing these etiologies are independent of one another. Clinical signs involve lameness which may remain subtle for long periods of time. No one can predict at what age lameness will occur in a dog due to a large number of genetic and environmental factors such as degree of severity of changes, rate of weight gain, amount of exercise, etc. Subtle changes in gait may be characterized by excessive inward deviation of the paw which raises the outside of the paw so that it receives less weight and distributes more mechanical weight on the outside (lateral) aspect of the elbow joint away from the lesions located on the inside of the joint. Range of motion in the elbow is also decreased.”
- Hypothyroidism – From a former page on the ABTC website, “The thyroid is considered a "master gland" as it is involved in so many metabolic processes in our dogs. While it may not be obvious when things are going well, if your dog becomes hypo or low thyroid, you can see a number of clinical signs. Some of the first signs many people notice are problems with the haircoat. Hypothyroid dogs will often have a thin, brittle coat. They may lose undercoat and not replace it quickly or at all. Some dogs will even have symmetrical areas on the body that have very little hair. These dogs will have a low tolerance for cold weather unlike the normal Terv who loves to romp in the snow. Other signs can be more serious. Hypothyroidism can cause muscle weakness and nerve damage. A stiff gait, jumping problems in agility dogs, and laryngeal paralysis have all been associated with hypothyroidism. Difficulty swallowing and megaesophagus with the development of aspiration pneumonia also can be side effects of a low thyroid level. Changes in behavior including hyperactivity and aggressive behaviors may be connected to low thyroid levels. Or, lethargy and mental dullness may be noted. For a breeder, infertility is a sad side effect. Both male and female dogs are affected with bitches having short heats and males exhibiting testicular atrophy.”
- Eye Diseases – Progressive Retinal Atrophy and Cataracts are eye diseases that occur in Belgians.
- Cancer – From a former page on the ABTC website, “Stomach cancer (gastric carcinoma) is a highly malignant cancer and it is almost always fatal. Early detection, prevention, and improved therapies depend on recognition of factors that contribute to causing stomach cancer. In general, stomach cancer is rare in dogs. Veterinary databases indicate that about 0.1% of dogs (1 in 1000) received this diagnosis. However, certain breeds are diagnosed with stomach cancer much more frequently. Chow Chows have between 10-20 times the risk of stomach cancer compared to other breeds and we have been studying this cancer in Chows for a number of years with the goal of identifying the gene(s) that lead to stomach cancer predisposition. Now we are also investigating stomach cancer in other breeds that demonstrate an increased risk 1) based on data from the Veterinary Medicine Database or 2) in which we have identified a familial pattern of occurrence. One of these breeds is the Belgian Tervuren. Belgian Tervurens [sic] have 8 times the risk for stomach cancer compared to other dogs.”
The current ABTC Health page states, "Dr. Elaine Ostrander at the National Human Genome Research Institute Dog Genome Project has taken on the study to determine the cause of stomach cancer in breeds that have an increased risk. The study was initiated by Dr. Elizabeth McNiel who has turned over the study to Dr. Ostranger."
The study is interested in collecting blood samples and pedigrees from Belgian Tervuren that either -have stomach cancer, or -have no signs of stomach cancer and are at least 8 years old.
- Anesthesia – There is serious concern about the use of certain anesthetics in the Belgian breeds. Please review the information in the following links with your veterinarian!! The articles were written by Libbye Miller, DVM, who is not only a veterinarian, but also a Tervuren owner & breeder.
These pages should be printed out and given to every Belgian's veterinarian:
An Anesthetic Primer for the Belgian Owner
Veterinary Notes on the Belgian Breeds
Also see the BSCA Health info page for more health information also applicable to Tervuren.
Again, Belgians are overall a fairly healthy breed. The majority of breeders try very hard to breed healthy dogs, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. Should you determine that a Genesis Belgian is right for you, I will do my very best to provide you with a healthy dog, and will work with you should any health problems (minor or serious) arise during the lifetime of your dog.