Pointers as a group as opposed to a breed are overall very healthy dogs. Perhaps because they have never had the dramatic and very rapid popularity gains of some of the other types of dogs there are typically not as many genetic and inherited conditions found within any of the breeds in the type. However, as with any type of dog, poor breeding programs, not testing the parent dogs and not knowing about the lines within the breed can potentially lead to some problems.
One of the biggest health concerns with all types of pointers is hip dysplasia. This is not uncommon in almost all of the larger dogs, typically occurring after the puppy has reached maturity. In most cases hip dysplasia can be reversed or corrected, however this is relatively rare and very costly. Managing the condition can occur with medications and therapy. Testing both parent dogs before breeding is the best way to prevent any of the offspring from developing this inherited condition.
Since the field lines and show lines may have hip dysplasia in their background, breeding either for a show dog or a field dog should include hip testing. This is a simple x-ray and testing procedure that can be done with dogs and older puppies. It is non-invasive and will allow owners to know if their dog as any early or advanced stages of hip dysplasia. This can also help with early treatment and preventative programs to help dogs that may develop the condition as they age and mature.
Another condition that is found within the dogs of the pointer variety is gastric torsion. The condition occurs when the dog gulps food, drinks lots of water with their food or exercises immediately after eating. The lower part of the stomach and intestine can actually twist, either partially or fully, preventing gas and digestive material to pass from the stomach out of the body. The pressure in the stomach from the swelling food and production of gas causes extreme discomfort and anxiety in the early stages, leading to very life threatening pressure on the heart and lungs. Bloat, if not treated immediately, will result in death for the dog without emergency surgical procedures. Owners of any deep, narrow chested breed should be familiar with the signs of bloat and should discuss any concerns with their vet. Since quick treatment is the key to preventing any possible health issues if bloat is suspected it is essential to know what to do. Preventative measures such as feeding several small meals, restricting water during and immediately after eating and preventing strenuous exercise after meals can also help.
There are also specific health conditions that are more common to the various breeds that make up the pointer type of dogs within the sporting group. The English Pointer, often simply referred to as the Pointer, may have genetic conditions that include thyroid problem as well as dwarfism. Thyroid problems may be challenging to diagnoses as they often appear to be relatively mild conditions that simply cause the dog to have a lack of energy, poor coat condition and overall growth and weight problems. Often it is only when a number of the symptoms occur together is the thyroid considered to be the issue. Most thyroid problems can be every effectively managed by daily medications which may need to continue for the life of the dog. The dog, once treated, can live a very normal, active life but should not be used in any type of breeding program.
Dwarfism, which is also inherited, is found within the English Pointer but not typically within the other pointer types. Dwarfism results in malformed puppies that may be stillborn or typically will die very shortly after birth. Puppies that do survive often have physical health issues as well as significant neurological problems throughout their lives. Any breeding pair that produces dwarfism in the litter should be spayed and neutered and removed from the breeding program.
The German Shorthaired Pointer breed may be more prone to epilepsy and lymphedema than other pointers. Epilepsy in dogs is similar to that of humans, resulting in petit to grand mal seizures. Typically for most dogs a daily medication can help to greatly reduce the risk of seizure activity. Lymphedema is a swelling in the lymph tissues of the dog's body, typically starting in the legs and feet and moving upwards towards the body. It does cause pain and tissue damage and may also result in lameness and extreme swelling. While there is no cure some dogs respond very well to new medications to prevent swelling and inflammation.
Many pointers can develop ear infections because of the dropping and closed ear type. This can be managed by routinely cleaning out the ear and keeping the inner ear dry and wax free. There are several commercially available ear cleaners that also contain a drying solution, perfect for use if the dog has been in the water.
The coat of most pointer types may be prone to drying if washed too often. Although the coats are medium to short in length, they are somewhat naturally oily coats, designed to prevent the dogs from becoming soaking wet when going through brush or into the water. Bathing too often removes the natural oils and prevents the coat from providing protection. This can lead to poor coat quality but also to significant skin problems. Hot spots, skin allergies and even lesions and secondary bacterial infections can all be symptoms of improper coat care.
Ideally the pointers should be bathed only when necessary and the coats left natural. The wirehaired varieties should never be clipped or cut, rather the older hair should be stripped from the dog to allow new hair to grow in. This is typically a very easy process that involves the owner plucking out the old hair using a stripping tool or their fingers. The dogs are very tolerant of this process, especially if it is started when they are young. All pointers, even the very short coated English Pointer should be groomed once or twice a week and their feet should be carefully examined for debris or dirt trapped between the pads. This accumulation of debris and hair between the pads can lead to lameness or even infections, especially in working dogs.