Rottweiler Health Problems

Rottweiler health problems… if you’re a Rottweiler owner, sooner or later unfortunately, your dog is most likely going to have one.

It’s hard to believe when you’ve got 100 lbs of dog sitting in your lap, but Rottweilers are actually incredibly delicate. When you’re talking about their health, that is. Unfortunately, there are quite a few Rottweiler health problems.

Since Rotties have a reputation for being indomitable, their owners are often taken by surprise when they find out their fierce, indestructible dogs aren’t as indestructible as they thought!

If you’re the proud new owner of a Rottweiler, congratulations.

You’ve got a unique opportunity to build a relationship with one of the most protective, loyal and yes, friendly dogs in the world. As you’re building that relationship, however, keep in mind that aggressive behavior isn’t the only warning sign you need to watch out for. You also have to look for signs of these serious, chronic and yes, sometimes deadly conditions.


Bloat and Gastric Torsion

Gastric torsion is often seen in deep chested dogs like the Rottweiler and almost always rides in on the heels of a severe case of bloat. Dogs with bloat are almost always between four and seven years of age, eat large quantities of kibble, drink water in large amounts after meals and exercise vigorously after eating. Eventually, excess gas and fluid are going to cause the stomach to expand-and possibly rotate. A partial rotation is known as gastric torsion, full rotation is known as gastric volvolus. Both conditions are extremely life threatening.


Rottweilers suffering from gastric torsion and volvolus present with excessive salivation and drooling, extreme restlessness, attempts to vomit and defecate and abdominal pain and distension (bloat). You may also see rapid breathing, pale gums and shock-like symptoms as the twisted stomach strangulates the blood supply to the stomach and spleen.


Gastric torsion requires immediate life saving surgery. Your vet will recommend some basic lifestyle changes for your dog to prevent bloat, even if torsion didn’t occur (this time); however, there’s a 15% chance that even with surgery, if it’s happened once it’s going to happen again.



Yes, dogs get cataracts the same way people do. Cataracts are the most common, treatable form of blindness in dogs and the most commonly reported eye disease in Rottweilers. Cataracts usually develop when the dog is about eighteen months old; however, it’s not unusual for cataracts to wait until the dog reaches its fourth, fifth or even sixth birthday to make an appearance.

Cataracts can develop quickly or over a period of several years, as the dog progressively loses its vision until it is completely blind, and may be hereditary or occur as a secondary condition. The good news is, even though they look like they should be painful they’re really not. Rottweilers, unlike people, don’t particularly notice that their field of vision is decreasing. They simply learn to compensate using their other senses.The bad news is, cataracts are bad news. They can be seen along with progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma, inflammatory uveitis (inflammation in the front of the eye, sometimes seen with systemic autoimmune disorders), diabetes and trauma. If left untreated, cataracts can also cause a serious reactive inflammation inside the eye known as lens induced uveitis (LIU). LIU can lead to glaucoma or a detached retina and can seriously harm your dog’s chances of ever getting their vision back.


It’s hard to miss the development of cataracts. As they develop, your Rottweiler’s eye(s) will go from their usual sparkling brown-to-black to a filmy, cloudy gray, the result of the lens losing its clarity. You may also notice that their vision isn’t as keen as it used to be, they seem to have a hard time finding their food dish and, especially in cases where the cataracts develop quickly, a loss of depth perception.


To date, surgery is the only treatment option for dogs with cataracts. Surgeons will remove the lens with the cataract and perform a lens implantation. This procedure is becoming increasingly common in dogs, and most dogs are able to enjoy normal or close to normal vision by the time they’re done.



If you thought diabetes was reserved for people, think again. All of our bodies produce insulin in the pancreas. This insulin stops glucose production by the liver and stores the excess glucose from food. Like their masters, Rottweilers can develop diabetes as the result of either a deficiency of insulin or an insensitivity to it. The amount of glucose in the blood climbs until the kidneys can’t dispose of it properly, and you’ve got a problem.


Diabetic Rottweilers have many of the same symptoms people do. They may urinate excessively, consume huge quantities of water, and lose weight despite a normal diet. They may develop cataracts, experience an increase in appetite, suffer from frequent and recurrent infections and develop an intolerance to exercise, something that is extremely noticeable in this otherwise active breed.

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) as a result of ketones produced by the liver. Ketones are a by-product formed when the dog’s body can’t break down glucose for energy and starts burning fat instead. Diabetic ketoacidosis presents with the same symptoms of diabetes, as well as sudden blindness, lethargy, vomiting, weakness, dehydration and the smell of acetone on their breath. In time, DKA causes metabolic acidosis (excessive acidity of the blood) and electrolyte abnormalities, leading to poor function of cells, tissues, muscles and organs and death.


Since oral glucose isn’t a viable option with Rottweilers, dogs diagnosed with diabetes will need regular and frequent insulin injections.



Oh, sure, keep laughing-until the first time your Rottweiler enjoys a healthy dose of stomach upset and you get to see for yourself how severe gassiness can be! As we said, Rottweilers are very delicate, and in more ways than one. Poor nutrition affects them almost immediately, and flatulence is one of the first road markers it’s going to leave behind.


Foul smelling odors generated from the intestines. May be accompanied by stomach cramping and irritability (and an overwhelming need for a gas mask-on your party, anyway!).


You don’t need a vet for this one. Rottweilers should be fed twice a day, and they need a diet that includes plenty of fish, meat, milk, vegetables and cereals. Consult your breeder to find out what diet works best for your dog.


Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia affects the ball and socket joint of the hind legs and is associated with abnormal joint structure and laxity (looseness) of the muscles, connective tissue and ligaments that normally support the joint. Eventually, the surfaces of the bones lose contact with each other. This is usually a hereditary condition, closely associated with elbow dysplasia, which causes a similar condition in the elbow.

Dysplasia can show up in puppies as young as five months and eventually leads to the development of osteoarthritis. If left untreated your dog may eventually become immobile. That’s not a good thing when you’re talking about a 100lb Rottweiler!


Hip dysplasia presents as a limp during exercise, difficulty climbing stairs, stiffness and pain in the legs in the morning or after strenuous activity and resistance to any movement that requires full extension of the rear legs. Over time, dogs will lose muscle tone as the condition progresses.


If the dysplasia is mild your vet may be able to manage your dog’s condition through weight management, proper exercise, massage, physical therapy and the use of anti-inflammitories and joint strengthening supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Severe conditions may require surgery to realign the bone or a full/partial hip replacement.



Hypothyroidism is often seen in middle aged Rottweilers (between four and ten years old) and is caused by the inability of the thyroid gland to produce various thyroid hormones to regulate the dog’s metabolism. As with most chronic conditions, hypothyroidism in dogs is usually a genetic condition. It’s usually because of autoimmunity; however, it can also be the result of atrophy of the thyroid tissue, infiltration by fat or cancer, the use of certain medications or as secondary to certain diseases.


A Rottweiler with hypothyroidism is going to have a hard time controlling its weight, regardless of how strictly you regulate his diet. This goes hand in hand with a lack of energy, mental slowness (the appearance of being “dim witted”), a thin, dull coat that falls out easily and hyperpigmentation of the skin. Dogs also present with anemia, slow heart rate and a cold intolerance that can lead to refusal to go outside when the temperature’s a balmy 27 degrees.


Hypothyroidism can usually be treated using medication to replace the missing thyroid hormones. It is a chronic condition, however, and will require treatment and monitoring for the rest of their life.



Osteochondrosis is a well known family of orthopedic diseases of the joint that occur in rapidly growing animals like large breed dogs. Most types of osteochondrosis are the result of a lack of blood supply to the growth cartilage. As a result, there’s an abnormality in the cartilage-to-bone transformation process, and cartilage and bone fragments may break off into the joint space. This is extremely painful for your dog.

Types of osteochondrosis include:

– Osteochondritis dessicans of the elbow or shoulder- Fragmented coronoid process- Ununited anconeal process

Your vet will be able to tell you which your Rottweiler is suffering from and how it differs from other, similar conditions.


Dogs with osteochondrosis are in extreme pain, leading them to become moody and irritable and present with lameness and muscle wasting on the affected side. You may also notice swelling around the joint.


Available treatments are designed to inhibit further breakdown of the joint and manage your dog’s pain. Overfeeding contributes heavily to the joint pain and damage of osteochondrosis, so your Rottweiler will probably have to go on a diet.

The vet will also put them on a strict exercise regimen and prescribe anti-inflammatories to decrease the stiffness and swelling. Severe cases may require visco-supplementation to the joint and/or surgical intervention.



Rottweilers grow quickly, and as you’ve already seen, this can be bad news for your dog. Osteosarcoma is a bone tumor that develops during this period of rapid growth, usually at or near the growth plates and normally in the limbs. These tumors weaken the bones, making your Rottweiler extremely vulnerable to pathologic fractures that don’t heal. They’re also extremely aggressive; the cancer metastasizes very quickly and spreads to the lungs, at which point it may become untreatable.


Osteosarcoma often isn’t found until the dog actually fractures a bone, at which point it pops up on an x-ray. Other warning signs include pain, limited motion of the limb and tenderness, swelling and redness at the tumor site.


Many dogs with osteosarcoma have to be euthanized because of the pain, and those that survive usually become amputees. If the tumor is diagnosed early the vet may be able to save the limb via surgical removal of the tumorous bone, replacing it with a bone graft from a bone bank or “regrowing” it using a process known as bone transport osteogenesis. Regardless of which option you choose, your Rottweiler will likely go through an aggressive round of chemotherapy to stop the spread of the cancer. (Radiation isn’t usually recommended in dogs because of the increased risk of pathologic fracture.)


Retinal Detachment

The retina is the part of a dog’s eye that gives the brain the information it needs to be able to “translate” what it’s seeing into a complete picture. In retinal detachment the retina separates from the underlying epithelium, usually because of an accumulation of fluid as a result of one disease process or another. It’s important to understand that retinal detachment is a symptom, not a condition.

It’s uncommon for Rottweiler puppies to be born with a detached retina. It can, however, develop in the early months as the result of inherited birth defects like retinal dysplasia. Other causes include high blood pressure, hyperviscosity syndrome, “thick” blood as the result of leukemia, polycythemia and excessive transfusion, and poor clotting, as well as inflammation resulting from infection, autoimmune processes (more commonly seen in Oriental and sled dogs than Rottweilers), retinal degeneration, as a long term complication of surgery, and following the ingestion of antifreeze. Drug reactions, tumors on the retina or choroid, tumors of the optic nerve and trauma can all cause retinal detachment as well.


Symptoms of retinal detachment include reduced vision and/or complete blindness, visible hemorrhage or discoloration in the front of the eye.


It’s important to treat retinal detachment as quickly as possible so the retina doesn’t deteriorate, making the blindness permanent. Your dog’s vet will concentrate primarily on treating the underlying cause (remember, retinal detachment is usually a symptom of something more serious), with additional focus on reabsorbing the fluid that caused the detachment in the first place and surgically reattaching the retina.


Retinal Dysplasia

As mentioned earlier, some Rottweiler puppies are born with retinal dysplasia. Dogs with this condition have retinas that are malformed as the result of an inherited condition, a trauma or lingering damage from a viral infection. The malformation results in folds or rosettes along the outer retinal layers, which may not even be noticeable to the dog unless it affects their visual. It’s important to note, however, that retinal dysplasia puts the dog at a high risk for retinal detachment and congenital cataracts.


Many dogs are asymptomatic; owners don’t even know their puppy has retinal dysplasia until they’re examined by an ophthalmologist. Rottweilers who are symptomatic usually present with the same symptoms of blurred or impaired vision seen with cataracts (minus the filmy appearance of the eye).


There is currently no effective treatment for retinal dysplasia. Since it is known to be an inherited condition, experts recommend against breeding carriers.


Ruptured Cranial Cruciate Ligament

The cranial cruciate ligament is located in the dog’s knee and acts to stabilize the femur on the tibia. This ligament can rupture as the result of trauma or, more commonly, because of a progressive condition that causes the ligament to break down, making the joint unstable.


A rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament can be excruciatingly painful (no pun intended) for your dog. Rottweilers who have suffered a complete or partial tear are usually hesitant to exercise or bear wait and will act as though they’re in pain when you touch the joint. So if your normally friendly Rottweiler takes a snap at you when you touch his legs, make sure you start looking for damages first! You may also see some swelling and an increased thickness of the joint. The condition usually progresses into arthritis of the joint.


Treatment focuses on the lameness caused by the rupture and seeks to provide alternative stabilization of the joint. Most vets have their own preferences when deciding how to proceed with large dogs like the Rottweiler.


Subaortic Stenosis

A subaortic stenosis (SAS) is the single most common congenital heart disease found in large breed dogs. Puppies are born with SAS, a narrowing in the ventricular outflow tract below the aortic valve in the heart. As a result, the left ventricle has to work harder to push the blood through. This causes a murmur, which should be easily detectable by the time your Rottweiler is six months old.

If left untreated, a subaortic stenosis will cause the muscle of the left ventricle to thicken. This interferes with the pumping chamber’s ability to fill, and eventually the heart’s normal electrical rhythm is disrupted. As a result, the dogs succumb to fainting spells and/or sudden death during exercise. Rottweilers affected by this condition suffer from a predisposition to electrical arrhythmia, heart failure and infection of the abnormal aortic valve. Without treatment, most dogs with this condition die within the first three years.


The symptoms of a subaortic stenosis can be extremely subtle, and it’s impossible to diagnose without the proper veterinary expertise. If your Rottweiler’s sire or dam suffered from SAS, there’s an excellent chance yours does too. Have your vet evaluate his heart function as early as possible.


There is no “cure” for SAS; however, many vets will prescribe beta blockers to keep the heart from racing and symptoms from manifesting themselves. Surgery to remove the thickening in the ventricle and a balloon valvuloplasty to expand the stenosis have been done in the past; however, these surgical options have approximately the same success rate as the use of beta blockers and usually aren’t recommended.