As with any purebred line of dogs or any hybrid dog breed combination, there are inherited genetic problems that can occur. It is important for dog owners to understand that there are no health issues that occur only in the Rottweiler, rather most of these conditions occur in almost all other types of large breed purebred and mixed breed dogs.
Since Rottweiler were very popular in the United States and throughout North America, especially through the 1980's and early 90's, there was a significant number of backyard breeders that attempted to cash in on the demand for these dogs. Although some of these breeders were selective, a great many were not, breeding any registered dogs together regardless of genetic issues or conformation issues. In addition puppy mills increased their production of Rottweiler puppies as they were hot sellers through chain and local pet stores.
The result of all this rather uncontrolled breeding caused a significant uptick in the number of Rottweilers that were developing genetic problems. Keep in mind the reputable breeders that completed testing pre-breeding and carefully monitored all breeding programs saw no increase in genetic problems, and still don't to this day. Buying your Rottweiler puppy from a reputable kennel or breeder is the best way to avoid any of the following genetic health issues that can occur in this breed.
One common genetic condition in almost all medium to large breed dogs that also occurs in the Rottweiler is canine hip dysplasia. This condition causes stiffness, loss of motion and pain in the hips that will become progressively more painful and problematic as the dog matures. There are many new treatments that can help manage the pain and even control the arthritis that is typical with the condition, the best option is to have the breeding pair tested prior to breeding. Elbow dysplasia, which occurs in the front legs, can also be problematic in the Rottweiler. Again, x-ray testing prior to breeding can ensure that the joints are properly formed and tight, meaning that the condition is not present. Dogs that are found to have canine hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia should be spayed or neutered and removed from breeding programs to help provide the genetic condition from being passed on to offspring.
Another genetic condition that can occur in the Rottweiler is OCD or osteochondrosis dessicans. This is a condition that occurs when the bones are growing and when the soft ends of the bone are becoming mature and hard. When the inherited condition is present the cartilage does not properly calcify but becomes hard over softer cartilage, resulting in lack of fluid to the still soft areas of bone. When this happens the bone itself weakens at the joint and results in pitting, cracking and flaps or pieces of cartilage breaking off and entering the fluid in the joint. Over time this causes wear and damage to the joint, lameness, pain in movement, lack of range of motion and eventually significant issues with degenerative bone disease and arthritis.
Depending on the seriousness of the cartilage and bone damage the treatment can be as simple as forced rest to allow the bone time to heal if it is in the early stages. In addition overweight dogs, which can be a problem with some Rottweilers, can be put on a diet, decreasing the stress on the joint and speeding the healing process. Dietary supplements for bone and joint health as well as balanced nutrition can also be helpful . For more advanced cases pain management, corticosteriods and even surgical procedures can help manage or repair the pain and loss of movement.
Rottweiler puppies and juvenile dogs may also have bouts of panosteitis, which is similar to growing pains in humans. It can cause pain for the puppy and may come and go in all limbs or just one at a time. In most cases pain management combined with good nutrition and moderate exercise will manage the condition until the young dog reaches maturity and the transformation and growth of the bones ends. Ongoing research as to the exact cause and an effective treatment or cure for this disease or condition is ongoing.
The Rottweiler may have several inherited eye conditions as well. Entropion, or a turning inwards of the lower or more rarely the upper eyelids, is not uncommon in the breed. This condition can occur when the Rottweiler is a young puppy or it may develop as they get older. Early detection will prevent scarring of the eye itself, and is easily corrected by a simple surgical procedure that tightens the skin around the eye, holding the eyelid in the correct position. Other eye problems found within the breed include cataracts and PRA or progressive retinal atrophy. Both are inherited with cataracts often corrected by surgery while PRA is non-treatable. Neither is a painful condition for the dog and, although PRA will eventually result in full blindness, most dogs adjust very well and life normal lives even with restricted vision.
As with any large breed bloat also known as gastric torsion or GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus), can occur and will be fatal if not treated. This condition most often is found in dogs that gulp their food, consume large amounts of water with their meals or exercise immediately after eating. Carefully monitoring the type and quality of food and water as well as feeding several small meals per day rather than one feeding can help prevent this condition.
As with many of the dog breeds, a blood condition similar to hemophilia in humans can be found in some lines of Rottweilers. Known as von Willebrand's Disease or VWD, many dogs will never have any serious problems, but some may be very prone to bleeding. Often vets first discover the situation when the dog is in for minor surgery or for the spay or neuter procedure. Blood in the mouth from the gums or teeth and blood in the urine area also possible indicators of VWD, although they can also be signs of other health conditions and diseases as well. Blood transfusions or even thyroid supplements and medication can be helpful in managing any possible bleeding issues. Care has to be taken with these dogs to prevent any injury and also to prevent surgical procedures unless absolutely necessary. Preventative treatments to increase the blood clotting factor need to be initiated prior to any planned surgery to assist in preventing complications during and post procedure.