Poodle Health in General

Standard Poodles are generally healthy, however, like all breeds —and humans —poodles may have health problems. Health tests already allow us to screen breeding stock for some of these problems. Today’s exciting era of DNA technology is putting researchers on the fast track to find abnormal genes and develop more tests to help eradicate genetic disease. Here are some health issues of concern:


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probably occurs most often when prednisone or other cortisone being administered for medical reasons are suddenly withdrawn.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 is 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 arrythmias 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.

Atrial Septal Defects in Standard Poodles

Canine atrial septal defect (ASD) is a relatively rare congenital heart malformation in which the heart has a hole between its upper chambers. Some breeds considered at increased risk for ASD include Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Samoyed and Newfoundland. The malformation has recently been recognized among Standard Poodles and seems to run in families, suggesting a genetic cause. Although dogs with ASD may have no symptoms if the hole is small, ASD signs might include coughing, trouble breathing, exercise intolerance and possibly collapse or fainting–even death from heart failure. Surgery can repair the hole in dogs suffering ASD symptoms.


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 taken.

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 eyes 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 too much cortisol because the tumor triggers too 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 too much cortisol is produced as a result of the tumor. The tumor is often malignant and is called an Adenocarcinoma. It is aggressive and it can spread to other parts of the body and organs. The non-cancerous tumor is called Adenoma.

The last form comes from dogs being on long term use of “Cortisone”. This drug comes in many forms and can cause problems with its long term use. This long term usage makes the body think it has more cortisone than it really does leading the body to misread the actual amount it has.

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.


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.

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.”

Neonatal Encephalopathy (NEwS)

Neonatal Encephalopathy with Seizures (NEwS) is a fatal disease of the brain in newborn Standard Poodles. Affected pups are weak, uncoordinated, and mentally dull from birth. If they survive the first few days, their growth may be stunted. When normal puppies in the litter start walking, some pups with NEwS cannot stand at all and others struggle to their feet with jerky steps, falling frequently. Seizures develop in most at 4-5 weeks, and the puppies die or are euthanized before they reach weaning age. Researchers have identified the gene mutation that causes NEwS, and a DNA test is now available that allows breeders to avoid producing affected puppies by never breeding two dogs to each other if they are both carriers of the abnormal gene.

Patellar 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 malalignment 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) refers to a group of diseases affecting the retina at the back of the eye. These diseases cause the retinal cells to become increasingly abnormal over time. In most cases, the eventual outcome is blindness. Some form of PRA has been recognized in over 100 dog breeds, including Toy and Miniature Poodles.

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 inherited PRA predominates, although at least one more type is present at a low frequency in the breed. This predominant form is the progressive rod-cone degeneration (prcd) form of PRA. Rod cells in the retina slowly lose function, with diminished vision in dim light and diminished field of vision. Subsequently, retinal cone cells lose function, resulting in diminished vision in daylight 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. Â In general for Toys and Miniatures, diagnosis of prcd-PRA is 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 life, while others progress to blindness in mid-life. Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure for PRA.

A DNA test offered by OptiGen is available to detect the genetic mutation that causes prcd-PRA in dogs. The disorder is inherited as a “simple recessive,” meaning that affected dogs have two copies of the abnormal gene. The DNA test is used to identify Toy and Miniature Poodles as clear, carrier (one copy of the abnormal gene and one normal gene) or affected. Identification of breeding animals carrying or affected with prcd-PRA is essential to avoid producing affected offspring.

Not all retinal disease is PRA and not all PRA is the form currently detectable by DNA testing in our breed. Accurate diagnosis is essential. A dog can test as prcd-PRA normal or carrier, yet be affected by a different type of PRA. Yearly eye examinations should be done on breeding dogs by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Optic Nerve Hypoplasia

Optic Nerve Hypoplasia is a congenital faliure if development of the optic nerve which causes blindness and abnormal pupil response in the effected eye. May be unable to differentiate from micropapilla on a routine (dialated) screening ophthalmoscopic exam. Micropapilla is a small optic disc which is not associated with vision impairment. Yearly CERF exams are important.

Sebaceous Adenitis

This is a common disorder in Standard Poodles involving inflammation of sebaceous glands that normally lubricate the skin and hair follicles. Heredity plays a role in SA, although the mode of inheritance is not yet understood. The disease has been identified in more than 30 breeds as well as mixed-breed dogs. While Standards represent the vast majority of Poodle cases, SA also has been reported in Miniature and Toy Poodles. Symptoms include scaling, flaking and thickening of the skin, hair loss (often with a “moth eaten” appearance) and sometimes odor and sores caused by secondary infection.

The disease can be difficult to diagnose, often mistaken for hypothyroidism, allergies or other conditions affecting the skin. Although there is no cure for SA, oil baths and other treatments often can keep symptoms under control. Currently the only diagnostic test available for SA is a skin biopsy evaluated by a dermatopathologist, and Standard Poodles used for breeding should have a yearly biopsy. Because the age of onset varies and some affected dogs are “subclinical” with no outward signs of disease, SA is an especially challenging problem for breeders.

Vaccination Information

Vaccinations might not seem like a “health issue” at first glance, until you consider the vast numbers of dogs killed by Distemper and Parvovirus before the era of effective vaccines to prevent these infections. Thanks to vaccinations required by law, canine rabies is seldom seen in the United States, but that dreaded disease is still a serious problem among dogs in some parts of the world. Modern vaccines can also protect our dogs against other infections when needed, such as Lyme disease, Leptospirosis, and kennel cough. Vaccination guidelines will continue to evolve with advances in veterinary knowledge and as new vaccines become available.


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 organization dealing with this topic isVetgen. A DNA test is now available to determine whether Poodles carry an abnormal gene for the form of vWD found in this breed. Because two faulty genes are necessary to produce the disease (one from each parent), this test allows breeders to avoid breeding two carriers to each other.