PWD Health

Portuguese Water Dog
Health Issues

Overview of Portuguese Water Dog Health Issues
All purebred and mixed breed dogs are prone to hereditary health problems. The Portuguese Water Dog is no exception. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America encourages its members to be aware of health issues and responsible breeding practices to reduce or eliminate hereditary health problems. The information provided herein should help you in your quest for a responsible breeder.

PLEASE NOTE: The PWDCA, Inc. strongly recommends that any dog used for breeding be minimally evaluated with the PWDCA recommended health screening tests prior to breeding. This includes an annual eye exam performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist certifying the absence of inheritable eye disease, radiographic evaluation and registry determination to be free of hip dysplasia, and individual genetic testing for prcd-PRA (or certified CHIC parentage clear). In regards to a breeding pair, the PWDCA, Inc. strongly recommends that one parent be genetically tested as normal (non-carrier) or certified CHIC parentage clear for prcd-PRA, JDCM and GM-1.


Hip Dysplasia:
Hip dysplasia occurs in most breeds of dogs including mixed breeds. A dog that has hip dysplasia is said to be dysplastic and has hip joints that are not formed perfectly. The imperfection can be slight or severe. The dysplastic dog may experience no pain or problems from its condition or it may experience mild to severe discomfort and have difficulty moving. Veterinary prescribed anti-inflammatory medication can control the symptoms in milder cases. Aging, arthritis and obesity can aggravate the condition. Surgery, which is costly, may be done but only in the most severe cases. Hip dysplasia can only be diagnosed by an x-ray.

OFA Hip Rating:
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is an organization of veterinary orthopedists that evaluate hip x-rays for signs of dysplasia. The service is provided for a modest fee. An x-ray taken of the dog less than two years old will receive only a temporary "Preliminary" rating. An x-ray of a dog two years old or older, evaluated as not dysplastic, will receive a permanent certificate with an OFA number. Along with the number will be a rating status of Excellent, Good, or Fair. Dogs determined to be dysplastic, only a rating (no number) as to the degree of the dysplasia from Mild to Severe will be provided. All dogs should have their hips evaluated by OFA for a final rating prior to breeding. Those dogs too young for a final rating or not receiving a passing hip rating should not be used for breeding.

Some breeders submit elbow joint x-rays to OFA for evaluation to rule out the possibility of elbow dysplasia. The rating for elbow joints is either normal or not normal.


Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy (JDC) is an inherited fatal disease in the young Portuguese Water Dog that is caused by a recessive gene (both parents of a puppy must carry the gene to produce the defect). We do not have a genetic test to determine who the carriers are at this point, nor do we know the exact biochemical cause of the disease. The signs and symptoms of JDC include sudden or rapid death of a puppy with the average age being six weeks to seven months old (there have been cases reported younger than six weeks as well as older than seven months). Some pups have no physical signs or symptoms and are found dead by the breeder or new owner. Some have a 12 to 48 hour onset of loss of appetite, decreased energy level, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. There is no known cure or treatment at this time.

The Portuguese Water Dog is very fortunate to have two researchers from different universities involved in studying JDC in the Portuguese Water Dog. It is important that all prospective owners discuss Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy with breeders. Ask if it has been produced in their breeding program or in the genetic lines they are working with.

Available as of 2007, a new JDCM Linked Marker DNA Test for the PWD was found by the University of Penn Veterinary Medicine Research and is available from PennGen. More information is available on the PWDCA website at

Hair Loss:

Some Portuguese Water Dogs are affected with patterned hair loss or follicular dysplasia. This condition, which is believed to be hereditary, generally presents itself at between two and four years of age. The hair may fall out and grow back, or it may never grow back. It appears that most of the dogs that exhibit hair loss have curly coats and are the product of curly to curly coat breedings. However, it must be remembered that most dogs with curly coats do not have hair loss.

Addison's Disease:

Addison's's disease is a disorder found in both humans and animals and is caused by adrenocortical insufficiency. This means that the adrenal glands stop producing the hormones that control metabolism of sugar and maintain the balance of salt and water in the body. This disease can be difficult to diagnose, but once diagnosed, it is treatable. The cause of Addison's is still being researched. It is likely hereditary, but the mode of inheritance is not known. Stress is thought to be a trigger for Addison's symptoms. These symptoms include weight loss, vomiting, depression, lethargy, weakness and shedding of hair. Untreated Addison's disease may lead to death.

GM-1 Storage Disease:

GM-1 Storage Disease is a rare disease, which affects humans and Portuguese Water Dogs. It is a genetically transmitted fatal metabolic disorder. Affected puppies will not reach adulthood, and are only produced by breeding of two carrier dogs. Non-carrier, Carrier and Indeterminate Portuguese Water Dogs have a normal life expectancy. There is a direct gene test available which determines the GM-1 status of the dog. NYU Department of Neurology issues certificates designating the rating of dogs as GM1 normal or GM1 carrier. In addition to these ratings, dogs that were blood assay rated before 9/1/99 may have a rating of N95L, N99L, N95A, N99A, C95, C99. In the GM-1 assay Rating "N" means Non-carrier and "C" means Carrier. The number following the letter indicates the probability of accuracy in rating. "L" or "A" following the number indicates the rating is more accurate because it is ancestor or litter confirmed. All dogs must be tested before breeding except for dogs listed GM-1 AP which is a permanent rating indicating that both parents are N95A or N99A.

Eye Conditions:

There are various inherited and congenital eye problems found in all breeds of dogs including the Portuguese Water Dog breed. Some of these problems are expressed at an early age (eight weeks) and others cannot be diagnosed until well into adulthood. It is recommended that all pups have their eyes examined by a Board Certified veterinary ophthalmologist before going to their new home and that the owner receives a copy of the eye exam form from the breeder before the sale is finalized.

Some problems that may be diagnosed at eight weeks are: entropion, ectropion, distichiasis, PPM (persistent pupillary membrane), microthalmia, cataracts, and a few others. Some of these diseases may need to be surgically corrected. And for some there is no cure.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an eye disease that will eventually cause blindness. Unfortunately it cannot be diagnosed by an eye exam until the dog is an adult. For a dog to be affected with PRA they must get a copy of the gene from each parent. We have a DNA gene mutation test that can determine dogs that are NOT carrying the gene for the prcd-PRA (progressive rod-cone PRA). Normal/Clear, Carrier, and Affected are used to designate a dogs test results. Carrier and Affected dogs should only be bred to Normal/Clear to avoid producing prcd puppies. OptiGen results should not be used to determine if a dog should be used for breeding, or not used for breeding. All pups from a litter that does not have at least one Normal/Clear parent should be Optigen tested so that information can be available to the buyer before purchasing a pup. Carrier pups will never be blind from PRA.

A new form of PRA has been recognized in Portuguese Water Dogs. This new form of PRA appears to be an early onset variety as affected dogs are approximately two years of age. Dr. Gus Aquirre and his staff at University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) are collecting data to identify affected and at risk dogs in an effort to meet our goal of obtaining future genetic test for this condition.

To ensure the overall health of the eyes, an annual eye exam by a Board Certified member of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists is recommended for dogs to be used for breeding. The Eye Certification Registry (ECR) and the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), issues a certificate to owners for dogs with normal eyes. The evaluation is only valid for one year. Both parents should have a current ECR or CERF exam and Optigen rating, and a copy should be shown to the prospective buyer.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):
Currently, the cause of canine IBD is unknown, but is believed to have an autoimmune basis. Genetics, nutrition, infectious agents and abnormalities of the immune system can all be underlying factors. There currently is no cure for IBD. However, strict diet changes and anti-inflammatory drugs will help in the control and stabilization of the dog. Early detection is of the utmost importance and can be very difficult because the symptoms can mimic other diseases. A positive diagnosis usually occurs after performing an endoscopy exam with biopsy.

Lymphangiectasia (Protein-losing Enteropathy - PLE):
Lymphangiectasia (PLE) is the excessive loss of plasma and proteins into the gastrointestinal tract. This condition can be a result of damages to the GI tract mucosal lining. PLE may have an inherited component and the inheritance may be autosomal recessive. The symptoms of PLE are non-weight gain or loss of weight. Laboratory tests and an intestinal biopsy are necessary to diagnose the specific cause. There is no cure for PLE, but it can generally be controlled through diet and medication.

Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE):
An inflammatory disorder of the intestinal tract, HGE is characterized by hemorrhage and production of a "raspberry jam" appearance to the stool. Symptoms can be a sudden onset of vomiting, bloody diarrhea, rapid dehydration, and depression. Dogs affected by HGE get very sick, very fast. The exact cause of HGE is unknown, but Clostridium species bacteria may be part of the cause.

Canine colitis is an inflammation of the large bowel known as the colon. The inflammation may be acute or chronic, disrupting your dog's normal bowel habits. Acute colitis occurs most commonly in dogs and frequently responds to one to three weeks of therapy. Chronic colitis can go on for several years or perhaps a lifetime. Some dogs may have minor clinical signs; others have severe and sometimes disabling or fatal signs. Symptoms include diarrhea with small quantities of mucus and/or blood, frequent defecation, abdominal pain, depression, fever, weight loss, and a dull coat may also be present. Treatments vary depending on whether the colitis is acute or chronic. Among many of the tests to diagnose colitis are colonoscopy exam, fecal exam, and ultrasound.

Megaesophagus is a condition, where there is dilation of the esophagus due to a loss of normal peristaltic function. Peristalsis is the process by which waves of muscular contraction move along the contents (food in this case) of tubular organs. Animals with megaesophagus regurgitate undigested food shortly after eating. Dogs may be born with esophagus or they may develop it later in life. Although it may not be noticed until young adulthood, megaesophagus is usually first recognized in puppies around the time of weaning. Affected pups regurgitate food, fail to thrive, and may develop respiratory difficulties associated with aspiration pneumonia due to inhalation of food particles. Signs include labored breathing, fever and lethargy, and nasal discharge.

Regurgitation of undigested food shortly after eating is the main sign of Megaesophagus. Veterinarians will take chest x-rays to determine if your dog has this disorder, and will perform other laboratory tests since there are several conditions that may be associated.

IMPORTANT – If your PWD should show signs of or is diagnosed with any of the above health issues please report it to the appropriate health committee.
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