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Tibetan Spaniels- Health Issues

Updated on October 4, 2008

Earlier I had written about the Tibetan Spaniels or "Tibbies" as they are fondly referred by their enthusiasts. I thought I should address the genetic and other potenial health issues of these precious pups.

My Litle "Dusty"
My Litle "Dusty"

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This is an inherited form of blindness in dogs that occurs in two forms: generalized PRA and central PRA. Generalized PRA is primarily a photoreceptor disease and is the form found in Tibetan Spaniels. The clinical signs have been observed between 1½ and 4 years, but as late at seven years.

What are the signs of Progressive Retinal Atrophy?

The earliest clinical sign is "night blindness." The dog cannot see well in a dimly lit room or at dusk. The dog will show a reluctance to move from a lighted area into darker surroundings. The night blindness develops progressively into complete blindness. The british institution Animal Health Trust - AHT, is at present intensively researching PRA in Tibbies aiming at isolating the gene causing the ailement. Considerable progress has been made recently. More information can be obtained direct from the AHT and at

Is there any treatment?

No, this condition is hereditary and if your dog carries the genes for PRA, it will develop.

What effect will it have on your dog?

Even though your dog will become completely blind, the condition is painless. Many dogs adjust to their loss of sight and do just fine in their own surroundings.

Weeping Eyes

"Weeping Eyes" is one of those vague symptoms that can be the result of any number of different causes. Some tearing in Tibbies is attributable the natural configuration of the face. The combination of facial hair, facial fullness, "bulky eyelids" and "tight" lower lids. What apparently happens is the fullness of the face may push the facial hair against the eyes, irritate then and cause tearing. Some of the tears drain away through the nose (as they are supposed to do) but when there are a few too many tears, there's no place for them to go except to overflow those tight lower lids onto the face. Facial hair also sometimes acts like a "wick" to draw the tears onto the face. In most cases this really isn't anything to worry about with no consequence other than cosmetic.

Cherry Eye

"Cherry Eye" is actually a prolapsed third eyelid. What happens is that the eyelid becomes "loose" allowing one of the tear glands to protrude. Tacking is the recommended procedure that should only be done by a qualified vet or a veterinary ophthalmologist.

One Sleepy Little Dog
One Sleepy Little Dog


Among the less serious health problems a Tibetan Spaniel is susceptible to is allergies. This is not unique to Tibbies as allergies appear to be on the rise among all dogs. Things to be on the lookout for are very similar to human allergies symptoms such as watery eyes and scratching. Probably the number one allergic reaction among all dogs is to fleas. The dogs are allergic not to the bite, but the flea saliva.

Liver Shunt - Portosystemic Shunt

A portosystemic shunt is an abnormal vessel that allows blood to bypass the liver. As a result the blood is not cleansed by one of the bodies filters: the liver. This condition is often referred to as a "liver shunt".

What are the signs of liver shunt?

Most shunts cause recognizable by the time a dog is a young adult but once in a while one is diagnosed at a later time in life. Since the severity of the condition can vary widely depending on how much blood flow is diverted past the liver it is possible for a lot of variation in clinical signs & time of onset for the signs to occur. Often, this condition is recognized after a puppy fails to grow, making an early diagnosis pretty common. Signs of portosystemic shunts include poor weight gain, sensitivity to sedatives (especially diazepam), depression, pushing the head against a solid object, seizures, weakness, salivation, vomiting, poor appetite, increased drinking and urinating, balance problems and frequent urinary tract disease or early onset of bladder stones. If these signs increase dramatically after eating, it is a strong supportive sign of a portosystemic shunt.


Hip and elbow dysplasia are more commonly found in the large breed dogs. There have been a few rare incidents among Tibetan Spaniels. Feel free to reference information, for your pet at The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Inc.

Hip Dysplasia Information

Hip Dysplasia is a terrible genetic disease because of the various degrees of arthritis (also called degenerative joint disease, arthrosis, osteoarthrosis) it can eventually produce, leading to pain and debilitation.

The very first step in the development of arthritis is articular cartilage (the type of cartilage lining the joint) damage due to the inherited bad biomechanics of an abnormally developed hip joint. Traumatic articular fracture through the joint surface is another way cartilage is damaged. With cartilage damage, lots of degradative enzymes are released into the joint. These enzymes degrade and decrease the synthesis of important constituent molecules that form hyaline cartilage called proteoglycans. This causes the cartilage to lose its thickness and elasticity, which are important in absorbing mechanical loads placed across the joint during movement. Eventually, more debris and enzymes spill into the joint fluid and destroy molecules called glycosaminoglycan and hyaluronate which are important precursors that form the cartilage proteoglycans. The joint's lubrication and ability to block inflammatory cells are lost and the debris-tainted joint fluid loses its ability to properly nourish the cartilage through impairment of nutrient-waste exchange across the joint cartilage cells. The damage then spreads to the synovial membrane lining the joint capsule and more degradative enzymes and inflammatory cells stream into the joint. Full thickness loss of cartilage allows the synovial fluid to contact nerve endings in the subchondral bone, resulting in pain. In an attempt to stabilize the joint to decrease the pain, the animal's body produces new bone at the edges of the joint surface, joint capsule, ligament and muscle attachments (bone spurs). The joint capsule also eventually thickens and the joint's range of motion decreases.

No one can predict when or even if a dysplastic dog will start showing clinical signs of lameness due to pain. There are multiple environmental factors such as caloric intake, level of exercise, and weather that can affect the severity of clinical signs and phenotypic expression (radiographic changes). There is no rhyme or reason to the severity of radiographic changes correlated with the clinical findings. There are a number of dysplastic dogs with severe arthritis that run, jump, and play as if nothing is wrong and some dogs with barely any arthritic radiographic changes that are severely lame.

Elbow Dysplasia Information

Elbow dysplasia is a general term used to identify an inherited polygenic disease in the elbow of dogs. Three specific etiologies make up this disease and they can occur independently or in conjunction with one another. These etiologies include:

  1. Pathology involving the medial coronoid of the ulna (FCP)

  2. Osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle in the elbow joint (OCD)

  3. Ununited anconeal process (UAP)

Studies have shown the inherited polygenic traits causing these etiologies are independent of one another. Clinical signs involve lameness which may remain subtle for long periods of time. No one can predict at what age lameness will occur in a dog due to a large number of genetic and environmental factors such as degree of severity of changes, rate of weight gain, amount of exercise, etc. Subtle changes in gait may be characterized by excessive inward deviation of the paw which raises the outside of the paw so that it receives less weight and distributes more mechanical weight on the outside (lateral) aspect of the elbow joint away from the lesions located on the inside of the joint. Range of motion in the elbow is also decreased.

Poisonous Plants & Medications

There are many plants and medications around your home that can be very toxic or even deadly to your pet. Plants such as oleander, azaleas, rhododendrons, poinsettias and Japanese yews are just a few of the common plants that can pose a threat to your dog's health. It is a good idea to keep all medications, gardening supplies and questionable plants out of reach from your pet. Visit the Training Your Puppy page for tips on making your house safe for your pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) has a wonderful website that should answer most of the questions you have about your pet's health.

Outdoor Problems

A few members of the Tibetan Spaniel Global Village have been unfortunate enough to have their dog meet up with a skunk. While some say that plain tomato juice will work, many say that it takes several washings and a lot of juice. However, not to worry, one of the best ways to de-skunk your dog is to wash him/her with the following mixture:

  • One quart hydrogen peroxide

  • 1/4 cup baking soda

  • Teaspoon of dishwashing detergent

Many of your local pet stores as well as many of your online pet stores have products specifically aimed at taming some of the worst pet odors.

As Our Pets Get Older

As our pets begin to age, they are affected by many of the same problems their owners face as they age. Articular cartilage plays an important role in optimal joint function. As they age, sometimes cartilage loses its ability to replenish itself. The most common supplement recommended is Cosequin.


Submit a Comment

  • Paulart profile image


    6 years ago from 2510 Warren Avenue Cheyenne,Wyoming 82001

    Nice information is given on hub.

  • Paulart profile image


    6 years ago from 2510 Warren Avenue Cheyenne,Wyoming 82001

    I like your information. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • profile image

    Norman Robertson 

    7 years ago

    Good morning. Our Tibbie, Dakota, is 2 1/2 years old and is pacing back and forth, walking in circles, whinning as if something is wrong. She shy's away as if she is afraid. Walks around with her tail down ( not between her legs, Just in a down position ) and acts as if she wants us to follow her. Of which we do to no avail. This is the second time she has done this. The last time was about two months ago but last only through the night. This time she is still experiencing the same behavior and it is going on the second day. We have had her checked by the vet and he can't find anything wrong with her. No fleas, no ticks, no worms and no ailments. Yet we know this is not common behavior coming from her. She is a very loving and socialized sweetheart. This is to people as well as other cats and dogs. Nothing we do to try to comfort her is working. It is as if she is afraid of the ground she walks on, as if it were going to open up and take her away. Her nose is to the ground most the time and when not it is sniffing the air. Please help if you know of something we have missed.

  • profile image

    Diane Adlington 

    7 years ago

    Hi, my Tibbie is 4 years old and has become very lethargic and seems disinterested in life. He seems to sit down a good deal whilst we are taking exercise. Vet has checked him over and cannot find anything wrong. Any suggestions please. He has normal exercise and is sociable when out and about. Seems to like dark corners to rest. I welcome any suggestions please. Many thanks. D.

  • St.James profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

    On Sept. 9th of 2009, My tibetan spaniel, Ch. Royal D's Dust In the Wind aka Dusty gently passed away after giving me 19 years of happiness, joy and smile.

    I miss her and she will forever be my Dusty.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Mine is 14 years old, we bought him in the U.S. and brought him to the Netherlands. He shows many of the symptoms described above but now he has started to show incontinence:-( . Every night he pees 3 or 4 times and during the day sometimes he cannot hold it and does it in front of the door when we are going out. Des anybody know what can be done in this case?


  • RGraf profile image

    Rebecca Graf 

    9 years ago from Wisconsin

    They are adorable. Why do so many purebreds have health problems.


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