Rivendell Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs


A few Health Issues that can affect the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog

Although the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog does not have any "breed specific" health problems,  we do encounter all of the health problems of any of the large breeds.     At Rivendell we screen for Hips, Elbows, Eyes and Shoulders.  



The summary descriptions provided below are some of the Health Problems
in the breed and are provided courtesy of Brigitte Rhinehart at Brush Creek Farms.

The "Swissy Lick"

This is an entirely unscientific term to describe the sudden onset of frantic licking of anything in range such as carpet, bare floor, walls etc. and the indiscriminate eating of anything that can be swallowed such as grass, leaves, fiber from carpets etc. and gobbling up of air. It is obvious that the behavior is due to severe gastrointestinal discomfort. It sometimes can be alleviated with medications such as Digel, Gas-X or other gas and acid reducing remedies. What exactly causes the "Swissy Lick" is a matter of discussion among Swissy owners but there seems to be no single or definite factor responsible for this condition. Any number of theories have been offered, from exessive gas pressure to acid reflux to allergic reaction to a food substance. Some believe that it is a precursor to GDV but this cannot be clearly substantiated either as many Swissys who have had these licking episodes never went on to develop GDV. While the condition appears to affect primarily young dogs, it has also been reported in older Swissies. Often, young dogs eventually will outgrow the condition.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

Commonly called bloat and stomach torsion, this is a potentially fatal condition in which a dog's stomach distends with gas, food or fluid and then rotates and twists. The twisting action blocks both the entrance to and the extit from the stomach. Distention and twisting can occur independently of one another. But when both take place, rapid veterinary intervention is absolutely critical. Signs of GDV may include: - Abdominal swelling and tenderness - Unsuccessful attempts to vomit - Excessive drooling - Restlessness - Panting or labored breathing GDV requires immediate surgery. This entails possible removal of dead stomach tissue, repositioning of the stomach followed by stomach attachment (gastropexy) to prevent the risk of future volvulus. There are several types of stomach tacks. A popular procedure today is the belt-loop gastropexy in which a portion of the stomach is attached to a belt loop flap created in the abdominal wall. Like many other large, deep-chested breeds, Swissys are definitely prone to GDV. While the condition occurs more frequently in dogs over 5 years, it can happen at any age. To date, research on the condition has remained inconclusive, it seems to be multifactorial in nature, i.e. no single food type, ingredient or feeding method has been shown to cause GDV. Indeed, some Swissys have bloated on entirely empty stomachs. Stress may be the triggering factor under certain conditions. And while heredity is suspected by some researchers, no conclusive evidence has been produced to date. At present there are no clear cut preventives for bloat. The most important tool to prevent a fatal ending to GDV is to recognize the signs and get immediate veterinary care.

Splenic Torsion

With this condition, the spleen rotates around its own axis, either away from or towards the stomach. The spleen then becomes engorged with blood and may expand to several times its normal size. If the spleen rotates away from the stomach it may torsion several times. As many as six revolutions have been observed. If the spleen rotates towards the stomach it may pull it along causing a partial or even complete gastric torsion, creating a very dangerous and potentially fatal situation calling for instant medical attention. Unless the stomach is involved and obvious signs of GDV are present, unfortunately the signs of splenic torsion are often quite vague and may vary from case to case. Signs may include: - Inappetence - Vomiting - Diarrhea or constipation - Low level fever - General listlessness - Tucked up abdomen, tenderness of the abdomen or slight abdominal distention - Pale gums Splenic torsion is a life-threatening condition which requires immediate veterinary care. In a surgical procedure called splenectomy, the spleen is removed. Often, a gastropexy (stomach tack) is performed at the same time if the animal's conditions allows this additional procedure. The causes of splenic torsion are not known. Like with GDV, the condition seems to primarily affect large deep-chested breeds. In Swissys, dogs over the age of 5 years appear to have a higher incidence, however, quite a few cases of younger Swissys have been reported. As with GDV, the most important tool to prevent a fatal ending to splenic torsion is to recognize the signs and get immediate veterinary care. Remember, splenic torsion will kill if not recognized in time to perform life-saving surgery.

 Idiopathic Epilepsy (IE)

This is the term used by most experts to describe the condition of frequent seizures with no identifiable cause. Seizures occur when nerve cells in the brain become hyperexited and send rapid-fire messages to the body. If nerve cells in an isolated part of the brain are defective, only part of a dog's body is affected resulting in a partial seizure. Partial seizures are exhibited by localized body movements, such as head bobbing or imaginary fly-biting. If circuits throughout the entire brain misfire, the dog has a generalized seizure. Tonic-clonic seizures involve teeth gnashing, frantic thrashing of the limbs, excessive drooling and loss of bodily functions resulting in uncontrolled urination and defecation. Treatment of IE depends on the severity of the case and may involve daily administration of anticonvulsant drugs such as phenobarbital, primidone, potassium chloride and others. Unfortunately, all anticonvulsants have some undesired side effects. Some affect liver functions, others can make the dog drowsy or hyperactive or may cause vomiting and constipation. IE is present in all Swissy lines. It typically surfaces between the ages of 1 to 3 years but it can become evident as early as 12 months and as late as 5 years.Unfortunately, no method to identify carriers of epilepsy exists to date. It is only after a dog or a bitch has produced offspring with IE that we can assume that this particular sire or dam is probably a carrier of epilepsy. However, the mode of inherintance of IE is so complex that at the moment no one management method will assure complete control of the disease. Prudent Swissy breeders will not continue to breed a dog or a bitch that has produced 2 or more offspring with IE, and of course no serious breeder will ever consider breeding an affected animal. Many Swissy breeders and owners participate in the all breed DNA research project to locate the genetic marker for IE conducted currently at the University of Missouri/Columbia. We all hope that this research eventually will produce a reliable method to identify carriers of IE and thus help the breeder to better control or even erradicate this heartbreaking, unpredictable and often lethal disease.


Also known as Shifting Leg Lameness or Pano. This is a spontaneous, self-limiting inflammatory disease of the long bones in the legs of young, fast-growing breeds. Most dogs are diagnosed between 5 and 12 months but pano can occur as early as 2 months and as late as 7 years. The vast majority of pano cases are resolved by by the age of 2 years. The cause of the disease is unknown but it has been associated with reactions following viral or bacterial infections, von Willebrand's disease and hyperestrogenism in females in association with the first estrus. Clinical signs are persistent or intermittent lameness that may shift from leg to leg, hence the term -shifting leg lameness. Deep palpation of the affected bone will ellicit a painful response. X-rays may demonstrate an increased patchy density of the bone cavity with a roughened surface. Diagnosis of pano is very important as acute lameness may signal any of several orthopedic conditions such as OCD or elbow dysplasia. There is no cure for pano because the disease is self-limiting and hence research on the condition is almost non-existent. Treatment consists of alleviating the pain with analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs and plenty of rest as restricted activity can prevent more severe pain from developing. Because this disease is self-limiting and causes and heredity are not fully understood, most Swissy breeders do not consider it as breeding excluding condition.