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Blog /Genetic Diseases In Dogs
Pet Health December 14, 2023

What are the most common genetic diseases in dogs?

From hypothyroidism to dilated cardiomyopathy, learn about some of the most common genetic diseases in dogs and how to detect them.

As a pet parent, you want what’s best for your pup. And part of providing the very best care includes understanding everything you can about your dog’s overall health, including their potential for developing a genetic disease. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of genetic disorders and provide overviews of some common genetic conditions.

What is a genetic disease?

Genetic diseases are caused by mutations in the DNA. In dogs, these mutations can be hereditary (meaning they are passed down from one or both parents) or occur at some point in a dog’s life. If the latter, the genetic abnormality either occurs randomly or as the result of environmental factors. Genetic screening, such as the dog DNA tests offered by Wisdom Panel, can identify genetic mutations and deliver insights breeders, veterinarians, and pet parents can use to make informed decisions about a dog’s health and care. It’s important to note, just because a dog carries one or more genetic mutations does not mean they will go on to develop a particular disease.

Close-up of a Boxer tilting their head at the camera.

Common genetic diseases in dogs

There are hundreds of known genetic diseases in dogs, and many more that are suspected to have a genetic component but require further research to confirm. Some genetic conditions are rare, while others occur more frequently in the canine population. Following are some of the more common genetic diseases that can affect dogs.

Chondrodysplasia in dogs

Chondrodysplasia is a skeletal disorder that leads to the development of shorter-than-normal legs. Examples of dog breeds that carry chondrodysplasia as a physical characteristic include the Dachshund, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Basset Hound. However, other breeds not known for short limbs can carry the genetic variant and pass it on to offspring.

Dogs with chondrodysplasia often have an outward bend in the forelimbs. If your dog has this condition, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the stress on their joints and lessen the risk of developing arthritis. 

Wisdom Panel tests for breed-defining chondrodysplasia as part of our panel of trait tests. Additionally, our Premium dog DNA test screens for Chondrodysplasia (Discovered in Norwegian Elkhound and Karelian Bear Dog). 

Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a neurological disorder that usually affects dogs in their senior years. Early signs of the disease include loss of hind limb coordination. As the condition progresses, the hind limbs become increasingly weak. However, though loss of mobility occurs, DM does not appear to cause pain in dogs. Late stages of the disease may include paralysis and incontinence.

Though there’s no cure for the disease, pet parents can support their dog’s quality of life by keeping them at a healthy weight, slowing progression through physical therapy, and exploring harnesses and carts to help them move more easily. 

Dogs most at risk for DM carry two copies of the genetic mutation—one inherited from each parent. Dogs with one copy can develop the condition. However, not all dogs with one or even two copies of the mutation will go on to develop DM. Breeds that develop DM more frequently include the Boxer, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Wisdom Panel screens for Degenerative Myelopathy in our Premium dog DNA test.

Hypothyroidism in dogs

Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder that leads to a deficiency in one of the  hormones that regulate metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a complex disease likely caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Common signs of the condition include:

  • Weight gain
  • Dry/dull coat
  • Low energy
  • Decreased interest in exercise
  • Recurrent skin or ear infections

Hypothyroidism is not curable, but pet parents can manage the disease and maintain their dog’s quality of life through daily hormone therapy. Treatment of related conditions may also be required. 

There is currently no genetic test available for the most common type of hypothyroidism. However, the Wisdom Panel Premium dog DNA test screens for three rare congenital forms of the disease: Congenital Hypothyroidism (Discovered in the Tenterfield Terrier), Congenital Hypothyroidism (Discovered in the Toy Fox and Rat Terrier), and Congenital Dyshormonogenic Hypothyroidism with Goiter (Discovered in the Shih Tzu).

Juvenile Cataracts in dogs

Juvenile Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become increasingly cloudy, leading to a decline in vision. Only dogs carrying two copies of the genetic mutation are at risk for developing the disease. However, dogs with one copy can pass the mutation on to offspring. Breeds more susceptible to juvenile cataracts include the American Cocker Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, Poodle, and Boston Terrier

Early indicators of the condition in puppies include clumsiness and bumping into objects. Some puppies may also squint or paw at their eyes—a possible sign of discomfort. Because this is a progressive disease that worsens over time, blindness may occur. However, many dogs adapt to vision loss very well, particularly when pet parents provide a consistent physical environment.

Wisdom Panel screens for Juvenile Cataract (Discovered in the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) in our Premium dog DNA test.

MDR1 Medication Sensitivity

The Multidrug Resistance 1 (MDR1) gene plays an important role in limiting drug absorption and distribution—particularly to the brain—and enhancing the excretion and elimination of many drugs that are used in dogs.

When there is a mutation in this gene, a dog’s cells will fail to clear medications from the brain the way a dog without the mutation would. This means higher levels of the drug stay in the brain, increasing the effects of the medication. Depending on the drug used, this medication sensitivity can result in lethargy, weakness or, in severe cases, even death. 

Screening for the MDR1 mutation is important because, armed with insights into a dog’s level of risk, veterinarians can adjust medication doses or choose alternate medication not impacted by MDR1. 

Wisdom Panel screens for MDR1 medication sensitivity in all of our dog DNA products. 

Screen for genetic health conditions in dogs with a Wisdom Panel DNA test

Early detection helps manage genetic diseases. Wisdom Panel dog DNA tests screen for 265+ genetic health conditions and can be performed at any age, allowing for proactive management of your dog’s health. A simple, painless cheek swab using our at-home kit is all that’s needed to gather a DNA sample our lab will use to decode your pup’s genetics and deliver hundreds of insights on genetic health, ancestry, breed, traits, and more.