On a whole in contrast to other breeds, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a fairly healthy breed. However, each and every breed has their own issues and potential new owners should be educated about the possibly issues, and what health testing can be done to try our very best as breeders to prevent these issues from happening to your beloved friend.
Von Willdebrands Disease (VWD)
Von Willdebrands is the most common inherited (which means genetic, for those of you that don't know :)) bleeding disorder. It can affect both dogs and humans (but obviously since it is inherited, it cannot cross contaminate between species). Essentially it is caused by a necessary protein in blood, known as Von Willdebrands Factor (VWF). This protein is important to have in blood because it circulates in the blood stream and must be present at the site of a blood vessel injury in order to control the bleeding from that vessel. In canines, there are 3 different forms of VWD - type 1, 2, and 3. Pembroke Welsh Corgis fall under the type 1 category. Clinical signs of the disease range from mild to severe bleeding - dogs can carry the trait without having symptoms. In affected dogs, VWD can cause spontaneous bleeding from their mouths, nose, urinary, reproductive, or intestinal tracts. It can also cause skin issues. In puppies, dew claw removal and teething can cause excessive bleeding. VWD can make wounds, injuries, and even simple procedures such as spay/neuters really dangerous. There is no drug or procedure that can cure VWD, so it is important to test for it.
Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC)
Most recently it has come to the attention of scientists and researches that the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (and Cardigan Welsh Corgi for that matter) breed. Exercise Induced Collapse is a recessive disorder which means that it is also an inherited disease. Exercise Induced Collapse presents as an exercise intolerance in otherwise presentably healthy dogs. Affected dogs are usually symptomatic and can be diagnosed by 2-3 years of age. They appear normal during moderate to low physical activity, however after high physical, strenuous activity they can begin to walk with a wobbly gait that only affects the hind limbs. The severity of these attacks range based on the individual dog, and generally occur 5-25 minutes after extreme exercise. The attacks only last about the same length, however, an attack can lead to seizures and can also be fatal. In some circumstances, the attacks can trigger full body weakness with low muscle tone and confusion, however most of the time during an attack the dog is mentally alert. Although Exercise Induced Collapse is not ridiculously common in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (out of 100 that were tested, only 2 percent were "at risk"/affected), it is still present in the breed and should be tested for to ensure the best health of puppies that we as breeders are producing. Some breeders are completely ignorant and blind to the fact that EIC does exist in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and refer to it as a "lab disease" (meaning Labrador Retriever, as it is way more prevalant in the Labrador Retriever breed for certain). In my personal experience and pedigree research, I have found that certain American (champion/show pedigrees) are heavily linked to EIC. I have been asked previously if I personally have ever had a dog test as EIC "at risk"/affected (C) or EIC "carrier"/not affected, but would carry one copy of the gene (B) - and the answer is yes, I absolutely have. I also know people who have lost their Pembrokes from what we can presume was an EIC episode, some as young as 5 years old.
Degenerative Myleopathy (DM)
I was going to save this one for last, because this is going to be fairly lengthy. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi does have an increased risk in contrast to other breeds, of developing Degenerative Myleopathy - more commonly referred to as "DM". DM affects the central nervous system, the spine, and the brain stem. Clinical symptoms of DM include muscle atrophy, partial or full limb paralysis, and decrease muscle mass. It is basically the canine version of ALS in humans (Lou Gehrig's Disease), and as of right now, there is no cure for DM (nor ALS, for that matter). DM is a progressive disease that has an insidious onset typically between the ages of 8 and 14 years of age. Internally, the disease begins with the spinal cord and chest area. It begins with a loss of co-ordination in the dog's hind limbs, the dog will begin wobbling when they walk. It can begin in one hind limb at the start and gradually affect the other hind limb. As the disease worsens, the affected dog does lose mobility and becomes unable to walk. Eventually, as the disease progresses, the dog will begin to experience urinary and fecal incontinence and it can begin to affect the front limbs. It is seriously important to note that DM is not a painful disease. It is far more painful emotionally for the owner of the dog who has to watch their beloved pet through the progression of DM. Although not entirely everything is known about Degenerative Myleopathy and the development of the disease yet, DM has been proven to be a recessive disease. At this point, there is not a completely conclusive test that is 100 percent affective in testing for DM. There are 3 genes that are linked to DM, as well as environmental factors. So right now, while we as breeders do have a test for DM, it is not 100 percent accurate. Some breeders completely ignore DM being in their lines, and that isn't exactly appropriate to better our breed either. DM testing is important, but it is one of many factors a breeder should take into consideration when pairing two dogs together. In my personal experience and research, those who are simply breeding for DM clear are sacrificing so many things that have made our breed so wonderful.
Important facts to know about DM:
- The only way to currently truly diagnose DM is by necropsy after the passing of the animal unfortunately. There are many other conditions such as (but not limited to) hip dysplasia and IVDD (intervertebral disk disease - also known as a slipped disc or slipped disc disease; which is known to commonly affect the Daschund breed, but does affect the Pembroke Welsh Corgi also) that can mirror symptoms of DM and are often misdiagnosed as being DM.
- In a recent study, 70 percent of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed tested DM "at risk"/affected (C). Of that 70 percent, 2 percent ended up actually developing the disease. So just because your dog tests "at risk" does not mean they are going to ever develop the disease. The chance is very small and as previously mentioned, most research studies now believe there are also some environmental factors linked to the development of this disease (obesity likely being one). The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is known for getting quite "fluffy" weight-wise easily, so it's just another reason to keep your dog an appropriate weight.
Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)
Unfortunately one of the more prominent health issues that involves the breed is hip dysplasia, which affects the development of the hip joint and causes loss of joint function as time progresses. CHD is again an issue that has a recessive (inheritable) component to it. Obesity and lack of exercise (or too much exercise at a young age, before growth plates close which happens around 18 months of age) are leading factors that are known to causing and exacerbating hip dysplasia. Until the growth plates close when dogs leave puppyhood, they're soft and vulnerable to injury. Growth plates are scientifically known as "epiphyseal plates" or "physis", and again exist in both canines and humans. They are the zones of cartiliage that exist at the end of both canine and human bones as each grows and develops. They contain rapidly dividing cells that allow bones to become longer until the end of puberty. Growth plates gradually thin as hormones change approaching puberty. The growth plates become a stable, inactive part of the bone - however, until then they are suspectible and vulnerable to injury which can cause other issues as time progresses - such as CHD and later on, arthritis.
Here is a great chart that shows growth plate closure:
Also a great link to a study on growth plates:
To try to prevent hip dysplasia and growth plate related issues, I always recommend low activity in my puppies. To be clear: this means no 5-10KM hikes/runs until they are old enough, not allowing them to run up and down stairs, or jumping on and off furniture or other things.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
Although this disease occurs mainly in the Cardigan Welsh Corgi and is very infrequently seen in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, akin to Exercise Induced Collapse, it has previously occured. It is also a degenerative condition. In the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, PRA is not proven to be hereditary. It affects the photoreceptors in a dog's eyes and degrades their vision over time, eventually leading to total blindness. Like DM, it is not painful for the dog but obviously requires life changes and different management. There is currently no known treatment for PRA, but the testing is pretty accurate and as I mentioned, it is very rare in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (as opposed to the Cardigan Welsh Corgi). Other eye issues tested for in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi are Persistent Pupillary Membranes (PPM), and Retinal Dysplasia. The inheritedability of these eye issues is not yet proven in our breed.
I briefly touched on the topic of obesity in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi above. Obesity can be a problem in our breed, it is actually probably the largest problem health wise in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi... as they do like to eat.