Photo of Portuguese water dogAll dog breeds have health issues. Fortunately, Portuguese Water Dogs have fewer problems than most. Furthermore, there are tests and treatments for most of them. A good breeder will thoroughly research the pedigrees of dogs in breeding in order to avoid disease conditions. They should also disclose to all potential breeding partners and future puppy owners any concerns regarding their dogs’ health.

Here is a brief description of the major health issues faced by the Portuguese Water Dog.

Orthopedic-Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

This condition is seen in many breeds, especially the medium to large ones. It occurs when the joints do not form properly. To diagnose hip or elbow Dysplasia, X-rays are taken of the joints and are submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. If the dog is over two years old it will be given a permanent rating. Passing ratings are excellent, good, and fair. If the X-rays indicate Dysplasia is present, the dogs will be given a rating of mild, moderate, or severe, indicating the degree of malformation. Dysplasia can be painful for the dog but can be managed with anti-inflamatories or, in severe cases, surgery. Dogs with Dysplasia should not be allowed to become overweight. For more information visit

Eye Conditions

It is recommended that puppies’ eyes be examined by an ophthalmologist before leaving the breeder’s and then annually for the duration of their lives. PRA stands for Progressive Retinal Atrophy and it affects many breeds as well as the Portuguese Water Dog. This disease shows an autosomal recessive hereditary pattern. This means that the gene causing the disease must be inherited from both parents in order for the puppy to be affected. PRA causes the blood vessels of the retina to atrophy (waste away) resulting in gradual vision loss and eventually total blindness. The condition is irreversible. There is a DNA marker test available named Optigen to determine if a dog is clear, a carrier, or is affected. An Optigen A or A1 rating indicates a dog is not carrying the PRA gene. A puppy that has at least one A or A1 rated parent will never develop PRA. A dog that is a carrier is rated B and dogs that are rated C may be affected. Dogs rated B or C should be bred only to dogs that are A in order to prevent affected puppies from being produced.

A board-certified Veterinary Ophthalmologists should examine any Portuguese Water Dogs being used in breeding programs. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation CERF, will issue a certificate to a dog with normal eyes. This certificate is valid for one year only. Both dogs involved in a breeding should have current CERF certificates and an Optigen rating, and documentation should be provided to prospective puppy buyers.

Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy – Cardio

Like PRA, this disease follows an autosomal recessive pattern of inheritance. In order for a puppy to be affected, it must acquire a recessive gene from each parent. An affected puppy will die usually between 6 and 27 weeks of age. Symptoms include a very rapid decline in appetite and energy level, weakness, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and a rapid heart rate. Death may occur within 12 to 24 hours of the appearance of these symptoms. At this time there is no cure or treatment.

The Portuguese Water Dog is very fortunate to have two researchers from different universities involved in studying JDCM 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

GM-1 Gangliosidosis – Storage Disease

This disease is also a recessive genetic disorder. It is produced only when two carriers are bred to each other. It is caused by the lack of a certain protein (enzyme). This deficiency allows the build-up of toxic substances in nerve cells and is always fatal, usually by 5-7 months. A direct gene blood test is available to determine the GM-1 status of a dog. Thus this dreadful disease can be avoided and eliminated through proper testing and breeding practices. All dogs being considered for breeding should be tested. Dogs tested currently are found to be “Normal” or “Carrier”. Carriers must be bred to a normal so no affected puppies are produced. This test is mow performed by OptiGen and they provide certification of the rating. For more information on this disease and sampling instructions and an application form, go to, click on Health and then GM-1 storage.

Addison’s Disease

This disease is found in humans and dogs. It results from the failure of the adrenal glands to produce certain hormones that control sugar metabolism and salt and water balance. Symptoms include weight loss, vomiting, depression, lethargy, weakness and hair loss. Its cause is still unknown, but heredity may play a part. Symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, making it often challenging to diagnose. Untreated Addison’s disease can be fatal. However, treatment with daily medication or even monthly injections can allow a relatively normal life.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease – IBD

This condition can affect Portuguese Water Dogs. Its cause is still unknown, though it is believed to be autoimmune and may have a genetic component. Symptoms include bloody and/or chronic diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and weight loss. Untreated, it can be life threatening. A definitive diagnosis can be obtained only with a biopsy.

Follicular Dysplasia

This is more a cosmetic issue rather than a health issue. Some Portuguese Water Dogs are affected with patterned hair loss. It is believed to be hereditary and occurs in dogs bred from two curly coated parents. The hair loss occurs between 2 and 4 years of age and the hair may or may not grow back. The hair follicles in dogs with this condition are not formed properly. A skin biopsy is used to diagnose it.