Today we’re continuing our look at the pit bull breed. You’ll know, if you read our Breed Spotlight post about pit bulls, that the term “pit bull” isn’t actually a breed at all, but an umbrella term for a family of breeds. In that post, I mentioned that pit bulls don’t have a ton of health problems. In fact, as pure bred dogs go, they are generally very healthy.
But learning about pit bulls does mean facing some of the common health issues they do have, even if those issues are few and far between. If you are trying to decide if pit bulls are good family dogs for your family, this is something you’ll need to know. So, let’s take a look at the seven common health problems that these dogs can struggle with.
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Why Are Pit Bulls Generally Healthy?
What is it that sets this breed group apart from other pure bred dogs that suffer from many health problems? For example, German Shepherds frequently suffer from intestinal issues, allergies, and other problems. So, why are pit bulls different? Well, in order to understand this, you have to ask the question, “What were pit bulls originally bred for?”
These dogs were originally bred to participate in fighting for entertainment. They were frequently used to bait bears and bulls, until such practices were outlawed. Today, the breed is a loving and loyal family dog when trained properly – but their hardy roots still show in their muscular builds and overall toughness. They were bred to be sturdy, dependable dogs, rather than to look a certain way. That focus allowed breeders to really focus on rooting out dogs that had health issues that made them less robust.
Many breeders of other breeds didn’t have this same focus. All they cared about was whether a dog had the right look – the right coloring, the right shape, the right posture. This led to breeding dogs that had some health issues into bloodlines, simply because they threw exemplary puppies.
That’s probably the only good thing about the pit bull’s history. This poor dog has had to deal with a lot of discrimination because of it in all other ways – check out the post I wrote for the blog about the history of pit bull bans to learn more about that!
So, which health problems do pit bulls suffer from? Here are seven things to look out for with your pit bull.
(1) Hip Dysplasia
Like many other larger breeds, the pit bull group can suffer from hip dysplasia. This is a condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop correctly – or gets injured – and starts to lose proper function.
There are a lot of things that can exacerbate hip dysplasia. First, this is a genetic disorder that is passed down from an ancestor. However, the reason that this condition exists in larger breeds is due to the way their bodies develop during the puppy stage. Often, they grow too fast for their joints, which is why it’s very important to use a puppy food meant for large breeds – it contains joint-supporting nutrients that help to avoid this very issue.
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Hip dysplasia can be a very painful issue for a dog. This condition means that the joint is rubbing and grinding in the socket with no protective tissue – that can make it hard to walk or run. Some dogs can even lose mobility entirely. In some cases, just using a joint supplement can help your dog stay active. In other cases, you may need to consult a veterinarian about surgery.
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(2) Heart Disease
Heart disease is another genetic issue that pit bulls may suffer from. If you buy a pit bull from a breeder, it’s always a good idea to check that the parents have been tested for heart disease, or for the genetics that could cause a pup to develop this disease. Heart disease is only treatable by a vet, and can be a very sad experience if it isn’t treated early enough, or if luck just isn’t on your side. You might be surprised to learn that heart disease symptoms don’t really look like what you’d think. For example, one symptom of heart disease is coughing – which most people would interpret as something wrong with their dog’s lungs or respiratory system.
Pit bulls can be prone to many different kinds of allergies. Skin allergies are the most common type of allergy this breed experiences. This means that the dog could be allergic to grass, pollen, or some other environmental factor that comes into contact with their skin. It could even be the shampoo you use. In this case, a vet may suggest a special shampoo, or even giving your dog Benadryl to help calm down the hives and itching.
Food allergies can also occur in pit bulls. The most common ingredients that a dog can be allergic to are beef, wheat, eggs, dairy, chicken, and soy. There are foods that remove these ingredients so that your dog can eat food that doesn’t upset their stomach. If you are asking yourself, “What is the best dog food for pit bulls”, the answer is: something that is high in nutrients that they can and will eat. It’s as simple as that for most dog owners. However, some dogs need a little bit more attention to their food choices.
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Pit bulls can sometimes be prone to infections all over the body. This includes skin infections, dental infections, eye infections, ear infections, and so on. Ear infections are probably the most common. These are pretty easy to get, and usually easy to treat – unless they are allowed to linger. Untreated infections can get a lot worse very quickly.
In order to keep your pit bull safe from infections, be sure to check and clean their ears often. Look for any sort of swelling, discharge, bad smells, or discoloration in or around the ear. You should also be sure to keep fleas and ticks off your pit bull so that they don’t get infections through bites.
Diabetes is something that pit bulls may also have to deal with. This condition means that their body isn’t producing the right amount of insulin to break down sugar for energy. This doesn’t mean you’ve been feeding your dog ice cream – simple ingredients like vegetables, grains, and fruits, have sugar in them as well. It’s what all bodies use to create energy. It is most common that dogs will have Type 1 diabetes, meaning they need insulin shots to help their body keep blood sugar levels regulated.
There are many signs that your pit bull may have diabetes. Excessive thirst, weight loss even though they eat plenty, breath that smells sweet or fruity all the time, being tired a lot, getting lots of urinary tract infections, and skin conditions are all signs of diabetes. Your dog’s eyes are of particular concern when they have diabetes. Diabetes-induced blindness is a concern that many vets will watch for with a dog that has diabetes.
So, what does a life with diabetes look like for a pit bull? With the proper care, not much different than a regular day for a regular dog. You’ll need to give your dog insulin shots, and monitor their eating a little more closely, but otherwise, your dog can live just like most other dogs.
Obesity is an issue for nearly all dogs, but pit bulls can put on weight if they don’t get the exercise they need. There are lot of reasons a dog can start packing on the pounds. Overeating and lack of exercise are the two most common. If your dog gets a lot of table scraps, or even just a few too many training treats, it can be a problem. Their daily caloric intake needs is much smaller than a humans, and those treats count towards that!
Hypothyroidism, diabetes, and other internal issues can cause weight gain. Also, due to the way it changes the hormonal production in the body, being spayed or neutered can cause dogs to be more likely to gain excess weight.
The best thing you can do for your dog is to make sure they aren’t being overfed, and to make sure they are getting lots of play time. Pit bulls are pretty high-energy dogs that need lots of recreation to keep them healthy. Walks, playing chase, tug of war, fetching toys, and other types of exercise are all very good ideas for this breed. If you can get them interested in swimming, try amping up the exercise by playing fetch in the water – they’ll get plenty of exercise, and it’s better on their joints.
(7) Cleft Lip
The last thing I wanted to mention isn’t necessarily a disease, but it can be a serious health-related issue that owners want to address. Pit bulls are slightly more prone than other breeds to have cleft lip when they are born. This actually can make life hard on the dog. It’s harder to eat, harder to drink, and not very good for their other senses. However, mild cases of cleft lip that are just aesthetic issues also exist. This can be fixed by surgery, and it’s important that a dog that had cleft lip – even if it got fixed – not be bred. It’s likely that any puppies they have could also have this issue.
A Few Other Things to Watch Out For
The seven things listed above are the most common health issues a pit bull may face. Other issues that you may see in this dog include dermatosis caused by a lack of zinc in the diet, fungosis,ichthyosis, and allergic reactions to mites.
Additionally, all dogs are prone to catching common contagious illnesses like kennel cough if they are around dogs that are sick, as well as things like rabies. This is why vaccinations are so important – you can protect your dog from common communicable diseases and have one less thing to worry about.
Signs That You Need to Change Your Pit Bull’s Routine
If you are concerned about your pit bull’s health, one of the best things to do is to watch their behavior. There are signs that they need a checkup, more exercise, a change in diet, or some other change, if you watch closely.
Common signs that pit bulls need some sort of attention to their health include excessively chewing on something other than a toy; excessively talking or barking, far more than usual; being extremely hyper active, more so than usual; being disobedient, even when well-trained; having accidents where they shouldn’t, even when well-trained; seeming anxious, guarded, afraid, or just not “themselves”.
Any of these signs are things to pay attention to in any dog. In a dog like the pit bull, which will likely express anxiety through activity, be on the lookout for changes in how much they seem to be full of restless energy.
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The Final Word
As I said before, pit bulls are a generally very healthy breed. There isn’t a lot to worry about with this dog. They make great family pets for that very reason – you won’t have nearly as many vet bills or scares as you might with, say, an English Bulldog.
However, all dogs are prone to certain illnesses or conditions, especially pure bred dogs. If you buy a puppy from a breeder, be sure to check that they have done all the proper screening on the dog’s parents and on the puppy itself. If you get a dog from a shelter, you should take them to the vet first thing and have a complete check over done to be sure they aren’t having any issues that need attention right away.
The earlier you can find health problems and treat them, the better the outlook for the dog. So be sure to keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and stick to your regular vet checkup schedule to keep them healthy.