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Common Pitbull Health Issues

Updated on January 12, 2011

First - The Typical Pitbull Temperament

Pitbulls go by several names. While the official name of the breed is the "American Pit Bull Terrier," these medium-sized, short-haired

dogs are often referred to as "Pitbulls," "Pit Bulls," "Pit Terriers" or simply "Pits." They are also often confused with American Staffordshire Terriers, which are essentially identical. No matter which name you use, however, "strong" will probably be the first word to pop into your mind when you see one of these dogs. Although they have a stocky build, they are muscular, powerful dogs that are far stronger than their size would imply.

The Typical Pitbull Temperament

Despite their powerful appearance, properly trained and socialized pitbulls are eager to please. Far from being the "people-eaters" they are sometimes said to be, pitbulls are affectionate, loyal, obedient, good-natured dogs that interact well with children as well as adults. In fact, pitbulls tolerate pain well and are happy to put up with having their tails or ears pulled by children.

Maligned as being unusually aggressive toward people, well-adjusted pitbulls can actually be outstanding companion dogs.

The bad reputation pitbulls have been saddled with is primarily due to unscrupulous people who encourage them to be highly aggressive in order to use them as fighting dogs. The breed can be willful, however, so they are not recommended for the meek or those who do not understand how to raise and treat a dog properly.

Pitbull Health Issues

Pitbulls are sturdy dogs, and pitbull health is generally excellent. In fact, as a breed these dogs are usually very healthy. Some individual pitbulls are, however, prone to developing hip dysplasia, hereditary cataracts, allergies, or congenital heart disease. In addition, parvo can also be a pitbull health issue. As a rule, therefore, pitbull owners need to watch out for the usual health conditions any dog can develop (distemper, ear infections and mange, to name just a few) as well as these few pitbull health issues.

Hip Dysplasia

This particular pitbull health problem is primarily genetic and the tendency to develop it can be passed from one generation to the next. Hip dysplasia is a painful, often debilitating malformation of the hip joint. It affects one or both hips and can severely reduce a dog's mobility, in some cases rendering the dog incapable of walking.

Pitbulls that are known to suffer from hip dysplasia should never be bred, because this particular pitbull health problem has a distinct hereditary component. Responsible breeding (ensuring that all potential breeding stock has been certified as being clear of hip dysplasia) is the best way of reducing the incidence of hip dysplasia in pitbulls.

Some dogs, however, carry the hip dysplasia gene but never display any symptoms. If two carriers are bred to each other, their offspring will have drastically increased odds of developing hip dysplasia. Excessive inbreeding (where the male and female are very closely related and both carry the gene) often results in puppies that develop hip dysplasia. Once again, responsible breeding can reduce the occurrence of hip dysplasia.

If your pitbull suffers from a severe case of hip dysplasia, his quality of life may be affected. It's important to realize, however, that in some cases the effects of hip dysplasia can be ameliorated through proper exercise (swimming), dietary changes, medication or even surgical intervention.

Hereditary Cataracts

Another pitbull health issue which is primarily genetic in origin, hereditary cataracts can affect many dog breeds. Although pitbulls are somewhat prone to developing hereditary cataracts, they occur more frequently in several other breeds.

Cataracts in pitbulls are very similar to cataracts in people. The lens of an eye is normally clear, but it becomes cloudy and less able to transmit light to the eye's retina when a cataract forms. Vision is impaired as a result. The degree of impairment depends on the size and placement of the cataract on the lens. Generally, pitbull cataracts do not progress to blindness, and they are easily corrected by surgery.


Allergies are one of the more common pitbull health issues. Typically, allergies cause recurring, itchy skin rashes, bumps and hives. They can cause a dog to scratch persistently, and in some cases the scratching can be sufficiently vigorous to cause serious skin problems. Seasonal allergies (ragweed and other pollen) as well as allergies to grass, dust and fleas are fairly common in pitbulls. Some people suspect a pitbull's allergies might be the result of an auto-immune disorder. Medication and over-the-counter skin moisturizers can help alleviate the symptoms.

Congenital Heart Disease

A condition called aortic stenosis is a congenital heart disease that afflicts some pitbulls. Basically, these dogs are born with an abnormally narrow connection between the aorta and the left ventricle of the heart. Some dogs with a mild aortic stenosis may not have any symptoms other than a heart murmur, but more severely afflicted dogs may lack energy or even die quite suddenly. This potentially-fatal pitbull health issue is diagnosed by chest X-rays and an electrocardiogram.


Parvo is an extremely dangerous, highly contagious disease that can strike down unvaccinated dogs of any age, although young pups are most susceptible. The symptoms of Parvo include dehydration, decreased appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. If it remains untreated, Parvo is usually fatal. It is also easily transmitted to other dogs, and all areas in the home (as well as any shared bowls) must be scrupulously sterilized with a bleach solution. Parvo can be prevented by a simple series of injections given at three to six weeks old and annually thereafter.

Does "Pits" prone to develop more health issues than other breeds ?

These are the main pitbull health issues any owner should look for. You might be wondering whether pitbulls are prone to develop more health issues than other breeds of dogs. The answer is "no," because every dog breed is susceptible to at least a few problems. Compared to some breeds, the list of potential pitbull health issues is actually fairly short. Although there are always exceptions, a pitbull's vet bills shouldn't be any higher than any other dog's. However, if veterinary expenses remain a concern, you can always consider obtaining pet health insurance.

For a complete handbook on stress-free dog care, including complete and detailed advice on when your dog needs to see the vet.

The way to react to pet emergencies, dog First Aid and all common health disorders, find out The Ultimate Dog Health Guide.

It is an entire book on dog health care, and shows you how to get a proactive and prepared method to educated dog ownership.


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