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This health survey was designed to tell us the frequency of various diseases in our breed, help us learn the life span of Bernese, and serve as a record of the state of the breed's health in 1999. The survey was used by Dr. George Padgett, a Professor of Veterinary Pathology and researcher in canine genetics, for his presentation in Wisconsin at the 2000 National Specialty.  This report summarizes the data.


The BMDCA conducted a breed-wide health survey from August, 1999 through January, 2000. During that time 1322 surveys had adequate information and were included in the Summary, only ten surveys submitted had inadequate information for inclusion in the Summary. 1063 surveys were completed on dogs alive in 1996-1997 for inclusion in Dr. George Padgett’s talk at the 2000 National Specialty.

This Summary is prepared by the Health Committee of the BMDCA and represents its interpretation of the data. The completed Summary, the raw data, and Dr. Padgett’s presentation will appear on the BMDCA website in the near future and be published in a forth-coming issue of the Alpenhorn. This summary will be organized by general information, then by organ system for diseases with a high incidence rate, then diseases with low incidence rates and finally a summary of areas of research interests for the future. It is assumed that a disease with less than 1% incidence, 13 or fewer cases in the survey, are of low incidence and not statistically significant. This Summary will cover the entire survey with no special consideration given to the dogs in Dr. Padgett’s subset of surveys.

Longevity Breakdown: (ages are all in months)

Number dead: 261 Average age 84.43 Autopsies: 97 Euthanized: 168

Discounting the 10 accidental deaths, Average age 85.44 months, or 7.1 years



Total 118 Average age 76.61 142 Average age 91.58
Neutered 70 Average age 92.96 105 Average age 101.77
Intact 42 Average age 59.88 34 Average age 67.21
Bred 26 Average age 85.19 60 Average age 98.52


Death from Average age at death males females
age 142.53 138.91 144.5
cancer 94.23 84.9 103.86
heart 61.23 56.14 70.12
bloat 58.27 62.05 41.25


(Note: 2 cases of malignant histiocytosis first presented as AIHA)

Cause of Death Number of Dogs Age in Months
Malignant histiocytosis 43 89.7
Lymphosarcoma 12 78
Hemangiosarcoma 7 113
Lymphoma 7 98.5
Osteosarcoma 6 93.3
Mast cell 5 81.7

It is difficult to ascertain from this survey the pervasiveness of abnormal reproduction in our breed. However, based on the information derived, there appear to be a significant number of animals who do not reproduce without a problem of some sort.

301 brood bitches had a total of 516 litters

109 breeding males

Breeders are encouraged to keep accurate records on details of breedings and whelpings which might be useful later if any specific area of reproduction appears to warrant further study due to suspected increase of incidence in the breed.


Von Willebrand’s disease give an excellent example of some of the challenges faced in interpreting the results of this survey. We had 8 reported cases out of 1322 dogs, which is a very low incidence. We had only 23 dogs tested for vWD, and 8 reported cases which might indicate a rate of vWD of 35% which is horrible. But it might be reasonable to assume that only people who have experienced vWD or who suspect it get the test done. So what can we conclude from these results? Probably very little other than vWD does exist in the breed. But with so few dogs tested, it is impossible to deduce more than that, other than the need for vigilance. We all need to learn more about the disease, how it is inherited, and what we can do to help prevent it from becoming a big problem in the breed.

The Health Committee has determined that the following are areas of concern and warrant an effort to study these diseases in Bernese Mountain Dogs:

    1. age at death is too low
    2. there is an excess of cancers in this breed particularly sarcomas, histiocytomas, mast cell tumors and lymphomas
    3. hip and elbow disease continues to plague the breed even though a large percentage of dogs are being evaluated. OCD and ACL are also problems within the breed but to a lesser extent
    4. Hypothyroidism
    5. Reactions to anesthesia are significant. The exact nature of these reactions and their severity need to be further assessed.
    6. The mortality rate from bloat is excessive. The incidence of bloat does not appear to be high but the rate of death and surgery are high. This may represent a lack of information on the part of dog owners and veterinarians and is an educational opportunity for the Health Committee.

The following are areas that have substantial incidence within the breed but are not felt to warrant an aggressive research effort at this time:

    1. Fly snap syndrome
    2. Panosteitis
    3. Cataracts
    4. Allergies-study of the nature of these allergies to look for trends may be warranted

The following diseases/syndromes have historically been associated with the Bernese Mountain Dog but had a very low incidence (<1%) in this survey. Whether this is due to underreporting or errors in historical assumptions can not be determined from the data submitted.

  1. Spinal myelopathy
  2. Cerebellar degeneration
  3. Aseptic meningitis
  4. Hypomyelination (Tremblers)
  5. PRA
  6. Lupus
  7. VWD
  8. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  9. Wobblers
  10. Renal disease

Copyright 2000 Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America
Philip Shaffer,