The reason for this page is not to imply that poodles are 'unhealthy' as a breed. Every breed of animal has some health conditions associated with it, and conversely there are certain conditions that might be common generally or in other breeds, but are rare and unlikely to be seen in a particular breed. This is in contrast to animals whose pedigree and family health history is unknown, where it is hard to know which of a great variety of health conditions might be a risk. If you choose a poodle from a careful breeder, the odds greatly favour that your companion will enjoy good health into double figures. However, it is important to be aware of what can go wrong, as vigilance and awareness can mean prompt diagnosis and a good outcome. Some conditions require immediate veterinary help, and the risk of others can be reduced by certain measures. A study by the Kennel Club of registered breeds in 2017 found that poodles as a whole have an increased risk of Addison's disease and GDV, but are statistically no more at risk of any other problems than dogs considered as a whole population (the 'baseline'). You can read about both these conditions and what you can do by scrolling down to the relevant section. Please ALWAYS inform your dog's breeder if your dog develops a health problem. Breeders need to have this information to make informed breeding decisions, as if they do not know which problems have occurred in their line or how often, they will not be able to breed towards reducing the risk or warn owners of relatives to be vigilant or take precautions.
The majority of standard poodles make it to double figures. A significant minority survive into their mid teens. The small minority of tragic deaths in poodles occurring in youth and middle age tend to come about from accidents, birth defects, rare diseases that might be genetic or environmental, and GDV. 12 seems to be the median age at death. Cancer is rare in young and middle-aged poodles, but is a common cause of death in elderly dogs regardless of breed. The owner's attitude can have a significant effect on how long an elderly dog will go on, as some people are more vigilant about getting lumps and anomalies investigated by a vet and treated, and while some prefer to say goodbye to an ageing dog with deteriorating health while it is still reasonably well, others prefer to give the dog painkillers and palliative care and wait until euthanasia is needed.
Three diseases found in poodles have been found to be caused by recessive genes. Tests for these genes are now available, and this means it is possible to avoid ever producing dogs who suffer from these diseases without discarding carriers and losing diversity. In order to express a recessive trait, an individual needs to get one faulty gene from each parent, therefore dogs tested clear can never produce this disease. Carrier dogs (and dogs who are not tested and whose genetic status is unknown) should therefore only be bred to dogs tested clear. The three diseases are:
von Willebrand's Disease:
A clotting disorder. A dog with this condition will appear normal, unless it suffers an injury, and then it becomes extremely difficult to stop it from bleeding. Frequently the disease is only discovered when the dog goes in to the vet for a routine spay or neuter and serious complications develop on the table. vWD affected dogs can easily die of injuries that would be survivable in a healthy dog.
This is a condition of the nervous system that affects young puppies. Affected puppies do not survive long enough to leave the breeder and the dam, therefore it is not possible to buy a puppy affected with the condition. However, the laboratory which developed the test for the disease released this upsetting video showing an affected puppy having a seizure:
This is what NE looks like. You may want to consider that this is how affected puppies spend their lives before they die if you are looking for a breeder, and you may not wish to support a breeder who shows such disregard to their animals that they cannot be bothered to at least make sure one parent is tested clear before breeding.
This disease causes deterioration of the nerves in the spinal cord as the dog gets older, resulting in weakened hindquarters and ultimately in paralysis and, necessarily, euthanasia. Not every dog that is genetically affected will always develop the disease, however, as it develops late in life and the age this happens can be very variable, and some dogs will die natural deaths before it becomes apparent.
Additionally, there are three more recent genetic tests for eye conditions that have become available. These conditions all cause visual impairment which is painless but incurable. Dogs who are visually impaired will live a normal lifespan and should enjoy good quality of life with a sympathetic owner:
This is a recessive eye condition that has been known to exist in the smaller varieties (Toy, Miniature, and in some countries there is also a Medium size) and been testable in these breeds for some time. More recently, the mutation has been identified in some Standard Poodles. It is not clear if this is something that has always been in the breed's gene pool, but at a vanishingly low level and so had not been seen before, or is a recent mutation, or has entered the gene pool from outcrossing to the smaller sizes. The different varieties of poodles have been considered different breeds for many generations in the UK and offspring from parents of different sizes can't be registered, but in some countries poodles are considered one breed and this is allowed. It may be sensible to make sure at least one parent is genetically clear before deciding to breed two dogs if either of them has any history to suggest this gene in its pedigree or any recent ancestry tracing back to smaller sizes of poodle.
This is a recessive eye condition similar to above, but with a late onset. It causes visual impairment in old age.
This is another recessive eye condition that was recently discovered in a bloodline of poodles in the USA, and a genetic test developed thanks to the efforts of researchers and the breeders whose line was affected. As above, it may be a worthwhile precaution to make sure at least one parent is tested clear if there is any reason to think either of the parents' ancestry might be a risk.
This is one of the more common autoimmune diseases in all kinds of dog, and quite possibly the most common disease in standard poodles. In a dog with Addison's, the adrenal glands stop working properly, which means they are unable to produce necessary hormones. Addison's is treatable with medicines to replace the hormones and affected dogs can live normal lives, but it can be dangerous if left undiagnosed. The most common symptoms are tiredness and gastrointestinal upset, that may seem to come and go over time, but symptoms can vary, and so Addison's should always be the first point of inquiry by your vet if your dog shows a change from normal in any way and there is not a more obvious explanation. The test for Addison's is the ACTH stim test, which involves two blood samples being taken with an injection in between. This is the only test that will definitively diagnose or rule out Addison's, so you should ask for this test first as it has been known for vets not familiar with the condition to use other tests which can show a false negative.
If Addison's is not diagnosed and treated, stressful situations can trigger an Addisonian crisis, which is a life-threatening situation. Because of this, it is important that your vet does not perform any procedures on your dog that are physiologically stressful (this includes any procedure requiring general anaesthetic) unless they are absolutely necessary until Addison's has either been ruled out or diagnosed and treated accordingly.
Although careful breeders research pedigrees and try to make breeding decisions to reduce the risk of Addison's, its mode of inheritance is unclear, and it is now so widespread it is becoming extremely difficult to avoid it completely. It's important to be vigilant of your dog's behaviour and to investigate any unexplained illness. If your dog does develop Addison's, please report the condition to PHR and the Standard Poodle Club. This ensures your dog's condition is recorded on a database that will help scientists studying the disease in their search for a genetic marker that will help breeders to eliminate the condition.
This condition causes the dog's hip joints to slide apart and become deformed, resulting in pain and lameness. Depending on the degree of the deformity, the condition can be managed with painkillers and by keeping the dog's weight down, or by surgery to repair or replace the hip joints. Hip dysplasia occurs in most large breeds of dog and is thought to occur as a result of both genetic and environmental factors. We have started using PennHip on our dogs due to dissatisfaction with the lack of usable information involved with the more commonly used BVA method and its dependency on correct positioning. This became very apparent when we had one of our dogs x-rayed for scoring under the BVA system, and the dog was so badly positioned the radiograph wasn't fit to be scored, despite the vet who made it insisting the positioning was correct. PennHip is a method developed specifically to assess hip laxity, and the researchers who developed it have published a significant body of good research that laxity is the strongest predictor of a dog's risk of developing DJD (hip dysplasia) in later life, and that laxity is more heritable than any other factors thought to contribute to the development of the disease. PennHip measures the difference of the looseness of the dog's hips in a position that makes them look as tight as possible with a different radiograph of the dog in a position intended to show the maximum natural looseness, and expresses the result as a distraction index (DI) from 0-1, with 0 being impossibly tight hips that do not move and 1 being total dislocation. PennHip's research has shown that DIs around or less than 0.3 suggest hips are unlikely to ever develop DJD, whereas dogs with DIs of 0.7 or worse are at high risk of developing DJD. The current median average DI for poodles is 0.47.
Research suggests that puppies who grow up eating controlled amounts of food with the correct nutritional balance are less likely to develop hip dysplasia and other joint problems. For this reason, we recommend feeding your puppy a good quality large breed puppy food as the basis of his or her diet. Do not overfeed your growing dog. It's normal for puppies to feel 'bony' while they are growing. If you are unsure or concerned about the correct body condition for your dog, ask your vet to examine the puppy. Dogs of any age should not be allowed to become fat (this puts great strain on their joints) and puppies should not be fed high-energy diets that encourage fast growth. Puppies should also not be allowed to ascend or descend stairs when young, and should be allowed frequent exercise at their own pace.
The results of the hip test need to be taken into account along with other test results and what the dog can contribute to the breed otherwise. A dog with a score higher than would be preferred can be bred to a dog with a very low score to add some genetics that should reduce the risk in the puppies, and over time this strategy should have some effect towards increasing the frequency of genetics for good hip alignment.
While on the subject of hip scores, it's worth mentioning that with many genetic conditions that seem to be extremely widespread in the population, some of the genes involve confer benefits in other ways. Our understanding of the genetics of hip dysplasia is not yet advanced enough to know if there are any others in this case. Sighthound breeds have often been quoted as having a very low incidence of hip dysplasia. Sighthounds have been developed as 'marathon runners'. Poodles and many other breeds are not developed for speed over long distances, but as versatile dogs capable of jumping, turning, swimming, etc. It is worth bearing in mind that obsessing over producing very tight hips may have an adverse effect on traits such as agility and manoeuvrability.
Hip scoring is a useful tool to help breeders make informed decisions. Unfortunately, to many, hip scoring has turned into a witch hunt, with scores put forward by the well meaning being used by others to point fingers at breeders and individual dogs or even whole lines. This is further endangering the already critical diversity situation in many breeds, and even more unfortunately, is putting some people off x-raying their dogs and having the x-rays submitted for scoring before breeding them.
Poodles can be affected by various different types of cataracts (opaque areas on the lens of the eye). Some cataracts come about from old age or underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, and some dogs are born with small spots in their eyes that tend to be relatively benign and don't get worse over time. Other kinds of cataracts are more serious and can lead to loss of vision. The recommended eye test for the breed in the UK is the BVA annual inspection of the dog's eyes by a specialist vet to identify what the BVA classifies as 'hereditary cataracts'. These are cataracts that appear initially small but grow rapidly and tend to result in total blindness by three years old. As with any phenotype test, the result only identifies affected dogs and provides little help for moving forward with lines known to carry the condition. Visually impaired dogs need different training to fully sighted dogs, but can lead long and fulfilling lives with a considerate owner. Genetic tests have been developed for hereditary cataracts in some breeds, but unfortunately are not available at the current time for standard poodles. Cataracts can sometimes be treated and vision improved with specialist surgery.
Epilepsy can occur in any dog. Some forms of epilepsy are genetic, but as yet there is no test available. Epilepsy is not particularly common in Standard Poodles and they are probably at no greater risk than any other kind of dog. Dogs suffering from epileptic fits and other types of seizure are known to occur in some lines, suggesting a genetic cause. Milder forms can be controlled with medication, but with very severe forms, the only humane choice is euthanasia.
Gastric Dilation Volvulus (bloat & torsion, various other names):
GDV is a very poorly understood, grievous malfunction of the digestive system. It can occur in any dog, and is also well documented in wolves. It tends to occur most often in large dogs with deep, narrow chests, regardless of breed. Studies in the area have found highly strung dogs are more at risk. Studies into eating habits so far have often produced contradictory results.
GDV is a veterinary emergency that requires immediate surgery. The surgery can have complications and often is not successful. The stomach twists inside the abdominal cavity and fills with gas, exerting pressure on the heart and its blood supply. If not treated, this will result in necrosis of the stomach, heart failure, and death. Symptoms are restlessness and attempting unsuccessfully to vomit. It's important to identify your nearest emergency vet and have in place an action plan to get your dog there in the event of GDV. Always telephone your vet beforehand and inform them you suspect GDV. Anyone who has to care for your dog while you are away should be informed of the symptoms and your decided plan of action just in case.
At the start of 2015, we tragically lost our beloved Pasha to GDV, after leaving her overnight at a friend's house while travelling. I made a blog post explaining Pasha's strange but subtle symptoms preceding the event that I hope might help others spot the signs of a GDV brewing here. Probably the best precaution you can take against this condition is to avoid ever leaving your dog with strangers in an unfamiliar environment. Many case studies and anecdotes of GDV in people-oriented dogs like poodles have linked the event to a situation like this days beforehand. If you have to go away without your dog, try to get a friend the dog knows to come to your house and dogsit rather than the dog going to a friend's house or a boarding facility. If you have two dogs and they are friends, have them cared for together to keep stress minimised. Do not leave your poodle at the vet for routine treatments -- arrange for it to be done while you wait.
Poodles should also ideally be fed three or at least two smaller meals daily instead of having all their food in one meal -- eating large amounts in one go will not directly cause GDV, but it may over time damage the stomach wall and the ligaments holding the gut in place and make GDV more likely. If you only feed two meals, ensure they are evenly spaced, and not first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
There is no test for GDV or obvious breeding strategy to prevent it. We are trying to select for calm temperament and poodles of a moderate, functional size (24" or under) with good spring of rib to reduce the risk. Poodles like many originally working breeds are meant to have deep chests to provide good heart and lung capacity, so selecting for shallow chests and lack of bodily substance just to reduce GDV risk is not a good strategy, but selecting good rib spring and moderate size is feasible and should not affect the ability of the dog to do what the breed was originally intended for, and should also reduce the risk over time as the thoracic depth:width ratio has been found to correlate with risk in studies.
It is possible to do preventive surgery (gastropexy) that should prevent volvulus (torsion) and greatly decrease the risk of this condition. This is not something that has a straightforward 'do or don't do' answer and has to be considered carefully by the dog's owner on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it can happen that despite the best efforts of a breeder to produce moderate dogs, and the owner to feed the dog controlled amounts while it is growing, a puppy turns out a bit bigger than ideal. Prophylactic gastropexy may be worth considering in large, narrow, or stress-predisposed dogs. Gastropexy can be carried out by a vet at the same time as a surgery of the owner's choice to prevent breeding.
SA is an autoimmune disease whereby the dog's immune system attacks oil-producing glands in the skin. This causes weeping, flaking skin and alopecia (hair loss) and frequently the skin becomes infected and gives off a foul odour. Mild cases are manageable with treatments, but the severity of the disease can wax and wane over time. We use biopsies on our dogs to test for evidence of SA. Unfortunately there is no genetic test currently available, and it is thus very important to report affected dogs to PHR and the Standard Poodle Club to help researchers identify the genes involved. Studies have also suggested SA appears to be recessive or at least have a recessive component, so breeders who avoid breeding related dogs and prioritise low COI in matings reduce the risk of their dogs being affected. Reports of SA in poodles appear to have reduced significantly due to efforts by breeders to track the disease in pedigrees and breed to reduce the risk.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (toe cancer, black dog cancer):
If you have a black dog, of any breed or no breed, it's important to be aware of this cancer which starts with unexplained bleeding or other anomalies in a toenail. The genetics associated with the risk seem to be linked to the genes for black coat colour, and strangely dogs of other colours including brown and silver are rarely if ever affected. If caught in time, the cancer can be treated by removing the affected toe and dogs usually manage well. More advanced cases may necessitate limb amputation, so it is important to be vigilant and have any strange toe symptoms assessed by a vet as soon as they are noticed. Poodles don't seem to be at particularly high risk, so this should not be seen as a reason to avoid a black one, and of course cancers of all kinds can affect poodles and dogs generally as it can people.