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Chow Chow Health

Like all living beings, Chow Chows have their share of hereditary problems. Many of these can crop up as far back as 7 generations, so even careful breeders will encounter problems. Add to this congenital as well as acquired problems, and there is a lot to learn.
Perfect health does not exist, so accept that your dog will have or does have some health concerns. It is advisable to educate yourself as much as possible on these concerns, in order to both treat your Chow Chow's health concern in the best way you can, and also to prevent, where possible, certain health issues. The health issue your dog has/could develop, may not necessarily affect it's ability to enjoy a normal life. Particularly is this so, when health issues are dealt with in the correct manner.

We've mainly outlined the different health issues and descriptions as encountered in the Chow Chow, and will make extensive use of links to more detailed professional advice, in order to assist you in your quest for knowledge.

informative links:

Take a few minutes to participate in the chow chow health survey.

Worldwide Web Virtual Library - Animal Health & Diseases

Vetinfo4dogs.com - Coverage of multitude of health issues.

Vetinfo.com - Encyclopedia of Animal Health

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals - For information and USA statistics.

Chow Health - Articles covering various health issues in Chow Chows.

Health Testing - Hype or Hope? - Are health tests done by breeders of any use?


Reference material for definitions:
Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine - Stephen J Ettinger, Edward C Feldman
The Merck Veterinary Manual - Merck & Co, Inc.
The 5-minute Veterinary Consult - Larry P Tilley, Francis WK Smith Jr

Visual System - Eyes


Curling in of the eyelid, causing eyelashes/hair to scratch the cornea/conjunctiva & cause irritation/infection. Lower lid is more commonly affected because of poorly formed tarsal plate. Upper lid entropion likely due to excess skin or small eyeball.


The sagging of the lower eyelid, exposing third eyelid and conjunctiva causing irritatio/infection.


Hair on surface of eyelid growing towards eye, not away from it cauring irritation, epiphora, keratitis.


Hair growing out of abnormal places, such as glands along the eyelids. Also called "double row of eyelashes".

Imperforate Lacrimal Punctum
"blocked tearducts":

Opening of the nasolacrimal drainage system fails to develop or infection present, resulting in epiphora.

Persistant Pupillary Membranes:

A developmental abnormality; remnants of embryonic vascular system. Membrane forming the iris does not form properly. Varies from type that is virtually invisible to the naked eye to type that results in blindness.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

A group of conditions that are hereditary, resulting in progressive loss of vision & blindness

More on PRA

Uveodermatologic Syndrome:

Considered to be an autoimmune disorder, resulting in concurrent granulomatous uveitis, depigmenting dermatitis and rare meningoencephalitis. Sudden onset uveitis - may be painful and progress to blindness; concurrent or subsequent leukoderma of the nose, lips and eyelids. Footpads, scrotum, anus and hard palate may also become depigmented. Ulcerations may develop. Meningoencephelitis (rare).

http://www.akita-friends.com/ special/vkh.htm
for details on VKH


A change in structure of the lens in progressive cases leading to blindness.


High IOP that causes characteristic dgenerative changes in the optic nerve and retina with subsequent loss of vision. Develops when normal outflow of aqueous humor is impaired. May be result of primary eye disease (narrow or closed filtration angles and goniodysgenesis which have a genetic predisposition). May be secondary to other eye diseases (primary lens luxation, anterior uveitis, intraocular tumour or lyphema)

Johannesburg Animal Eye Hospital
(has Cape Town Branch)

More on different Eye conditions.

for more on various eye conditions.

Veterinary Opthalmology
Info Centre

for more on various
eye conditions

Body Wall - Hernia

Hernia Hiatal:

Defect of the phrenoesophageal ligament which allows displacement of the gastroesophageal junction forward into the thoracic cavity.

What is a hernia?

Hernia Inguinal:

Defect in formation of the aponeuroses of the inguinal ring and linea alba.

Hernia Umbilical:

Failure of normal closure of the umbilical ring; increasing abdominal pressure with advancing age forces the omentum or occasionally the intestines into the defect.

Treatment of various hernias


The Chow Chow seems to have a sensitivity to some anaesthetics - thus these must be approached with caution & care.

Structural - Forelegs & Spine

Elbow Dysplasia:

This encompasses a group of developmental elbow joint abnormalities.

VetImaging Specialists
For information on Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia in Southern Africa

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
For information and USA statistics on Elbow Dysplasia

Carpal Luxation "knuckling over":

Condition that occurs bilaterally and is limited to the carporadial joints; appears when puppies begin to walk at about 3 weeks of age; although it is due to weak ligaments, the ligaments are weak because of poor carpal formation or other reasons.

Digital Hyperkeratosis:

Digital Hyperkeratosis: (actually a skin condition). Hyperkeratosis of the footpads of all four paws develops at an early age; affected pads tend to fissure, become secondarily infected and painful.

Discussion on digital hyperkeratosis

Structural - Hindlegs

Hip Dysplasia:

The term dysplasia means abnormal growth. Thus hipdysplasia is a developmental condition that results in abnormal looseness or laxity of the hipjoints; poor formation and fit of 'ball' & 'socket'.

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
For information and USA statistics
on Hip Dysplasia, Patellar Luxation

Patellar Luxation:

Condition resulting from alteration of structures that maintain the normal position of patella; usually medial, being unilateral or bi-lateral; onset usually evident at 4 - 6 months of age.

Patellar Luxaton

Info on Patellar Luxation

More on Patellar Luxation

Cruciate Ligament Injury:

Tearing - partial or complete - of ligaments in the knee joint.

Optional methods to repair
cruciate ligament damage

Another method of repair

Tarsal Luxation "double hocking":

Condition that occurs uni- or bilaterally and is limited to the tarsal joints. Although it is due to weak ligaments, the ligaments are weak because of poor tarsal formation or other reasons.

Reproductive System

Males - Cryptorchidism:

Describes a dog with one/both testicles in the abdomen. The dog is then described as a unilateral or bilateral cryptorchid, depending on whether or not both testes are affected. In most puppies the testes have descended through the inguinal canal soon after birth, and can be relatively easily detected by 12 weeks of age.

Females - Delayed Puberty:

When first season only occurs from 18 - 24 months of age. Family history helps to predict occurence.

Silent Heat:

Minimal swelling or discharge. Difficult to detect without presence of a male.

Split Heat:

Proestrus signs occur without progression to estrus. Typically occurs in young biches. Sexual receptivity does not occur. Cycle is repeated every 2 - 10 weeks. No treatment is recommended. Most bitches progress to a normal estrus period.

Hormonal Imbalances:


Management Errors:

Failure to conceive may be due to: Timing - receptive and fertile periods may not correlate with handlers choice of dates. Behaviour or physical problems may occur. Dominant bitches may not allow a male at appropriate or correct times. Strictures or septate bands may be present and painful - female won't permit male.

Timing of mating the female

Reproductive concerns for the breeder

Discussions on reproductive issues

Aural System - Ears

Partial/Complete Deafness:
(present from birth)

Congenital deafness most common type; may be partial or complete; one or both ears; unilateral deafness most common form in dogs.

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
For information and USA statistics on Congenital Deafness

Deafness in Dogs & Cats

More on ear conditions in dogs

Sensory System - Mouth

Incorrect Bite and/or Malocclusion can be congenital or developmental.

Brachygnathia "Overshot":
The upper jaw is abnormally longer than the lower jaw.

Prognathism "Undershot":
The lower jaw is abnormally longer than the upper jaw.

Abnormal Dentition:
Anodontia (absence of one or more teeth), retained deciduous teeth, supranumery teeth, dens in dente and shape abnormalities

Cleft Palate/Lips Complex:
Usually occurs as a unilateral defect in the lip or palate. May be identified as offset palatal rugae on the roof of the oral cavity, incomplete fusion of the soft palate or orsonasal fistula through a cleft palate.

Discussion of different dental conditions

Metabolic / Endocrine System

Gastric Torsion "Bloat":

Accumulation of fluid and gas in the abdomen. The abdomen becomes distended and tense. The dilation may result in rotation of the stomach within the abdomen, causing a twisting of the entrance and exit, which prevents escape of gas into the oesophagus or duodenum. Distention interferes with the blood supply causing onset of shock and the condition may rapidly become fatal. Urgent veterinary attention is necessary.

Stomach Cancer:

It appears the Chow is predisposed to this form of Cancer.

Oncolink Veterinary Oncology

VIN Oncology Gateway


Deficient production of metabolic hormones. Usually does not show until dog is 4 years or older. Classic signs: lethargy, obesity, alopecia. Classically alopecia is bilaterally symmetrical, non-pruritic alopecia (no itching or scratching) Excessive deposition of dark pigment melanin in skin, with skin feeling like fine sandpaper. Puffy, thickening of skin on neck and forehead. Patients feel the cold more.

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
For information and USA statistics on Thyroid

Diabetes Mellitus:

May become evident as early as 2 to 6 months of age. Affected individuals usually exhibit decreased rate of growth in addition to polyphagia, polyuria and soft diarrheic stools. Increased thirst results in increased urine production; muscle wasting & weight loss despite increased appetite. 25% of patients develop cateracts...

Diabetes in your chow chow?

Respiratory System - Breathing

Overlong Soft Palate:

Mismatch of soft palate and pharynx length. In this case the soft palate often overlies most of the epiglottis, is thickened and partially obstructs the glottis. (Resulting in snorting/snoring). With excercise (some cases even limited) the soft palate becomes inflamed and edematous, causing further obstruction.

becomes dominant sound.

Veterinary perspective of the overlong soft palate

Breathing concerns of shorter nosed dogs

Tracheal Hypoplasia:

Inadequate growth of tracheal rings; commonly associated with secondary respiratory tract infection. Chronic respiratory distress is likely to occur, particularly with exercise. (Sounds like asthmatic)

Veterinary perspective of tracheal collapse

Breathing abnormalities in shorter nosed dogs

Laryngeal Paralysis:

Failure of larynx to abduct during inspiration produces muted bark and soft, moist cough; later roaring sound of inspiratory dyspnea

Veterinary perspective on laryngyeal paralysis & collapse

Dermatology - Skin

Digital Hyperkeratosis (see skeletal structure, forelegs)


Colour Mutant Alopecia:

Ectodermal defect of colour mutants characterized by partial alopecia, dry lustreless hair & coat, scaliness and papules; defects in melanization and cortical structure of affected hairs also occurs.

Sebacious Adenitis:

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals
For information and USA statistics on Sebaceous Adenitis

Tyrosinase Deficiency:

Changes in colour of tongue, buccal mucosa and portions of hair shaft are result of deficiency of tyrosinase, the enzyme necessary in chemical reactions that produce melanin.

Pemphigus (Foliaceus/Vulgaris):

Covers a group of non-infectious, blistering or ulcerative skin disorders due to auto-antibodies (autoimmune) produced against various components of the skin. Lesions can occur anywhere on the body, although the mucocutaneous junctions such as around the muzzle, ears, eyes and anal region are most commonly affected. Nailbeds may be affected and nails lost. Hair loss, loss of pigment, crusting, variable irritation, formation of blisters & ulcers.


Loss of skin pigment, especially around nose, lips, buccal mucosa and facial skin; footpads and nails as well as haircoat may be affected.

Growth hormone responsive dematoses:

Uncommon dermatoses resulting from a growth hormone deficiency or dermatoses responding to growth hormone therapy.
Pituitary dwarfism - the result of a primary growth hormone deficiency.
Adult-onset growth hormone responsive dermatosis: A clinical syndrome that responds to growth hormone therapy; patients may be strictly growth hormone deficient or may have one or more of a plethora of hormonal abnormalitiees, including possible imbalances of adrenal sex hormones. Adult onset - generally noted at 1-2 years of age, primarily affects males, although seen in both sexes (neurtered and intact) & at all ages.
Similar to this: castration-responsive dermatosis, congenital adrenal hyperplasia-like syndrome).

More on auto-immune conditions

Serious skin conditions discussed

Various skin conditions

Neuromuscular / Nervous System

Cerebellar Hypoplasia:

Uniform forms of cerebellar hypoplasia in which clinical signs of cerebellar dysfunction are present at birth and do not progress. Swaying of trunk, excessive elevation of limb, limb stopping short of the ground or slapping feet on the ground (goose stepping). Tremors of limbs and head. Over and undershooting when trying to eat/drink.

Hypomyelination /

Reduced/abnormal myelination of the central nervous system occur. Teneralised tremors that decrease at rest and exaggerated by attempts to walk. Normal initiation with exaggerated follow-through on postural reactions. Reflexes normal. Rhythmic body tremors that disappear with rest. Occurs in 3 - 5 week old pups.



Persistent muscle contraction subsequent to either voluntary contraction or stimulation; prominent stiffness of gait noted when affected animals first become ambulatory and lessens with further exercise, being worse in pelvic limbs. Stiffness exacerbates with excitement and cold temperatures. Clinical signs often stabilize once the animals mature. There is no therapy.

Myotonia in the chow chow

More on neurological diseases

Urinary System - Renal

Familial Renal Disease:

Renal function in affected individuals varies depending on degree and duration of renal involvement; polyuria and polydypsia, anorexia, lethargy, weight loss or inability to gain weight, and eventually non-regenerative anemia, azotemia, skeletal changes, gastrointestinal signs occur in most affected individuals. Renal insufficiency and azotemia occurs between 3 months & 5 years.

Hereditary kidney disease



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