Bull terriers, like all other dogs, pure-bred and mongrels alike, and indeed humans, are prone to diseases that are inherited. Their parents may or may not suffer from a particular disease, but if they are both carriers, then their progeny may develop it. Only a very small percentage of the total Bull Terrier population inherits these diseases, though this is scant consolation for afflicted dogs or their owners. Space precludes discussion of the underlying principles of genetic inheritance and for such information I refer readers to on of the excellent texts devoted to this topic, such as Malcolm Willis’ Genetics of the Dog (Howell Book House, USA). In most cases, however, we do not know with any degree of certainty the exact mode of inheritance and so, for practical purpose, the most important factor is an awareness of those genetic conditions from which our dogs may suffer.
The following diseases are usually genetic origin, though some can also result from trauma or in the case of kidney ailments from poisoning.


From the earliest days of the breed, deafness has occurred in Bull Terriers, as it does in many white animals. Dogs can be deaf in both ears (bilateral) or just one ear (unilateral). Bilaterals are, of course, what we term stone-deaf, whereas unilaterals can hear, but lack the ability to determine the direction from which the sound originates.
For many years, occasional instances of unilateral deafness in coloureds have been confirmed.
Researchers in America have pioneered the use of BEAR (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) testing to determine deafness in dogs. Each ear is tested separately. The screening can carried out on puppies as young as five weeks of age. Responsible breeders in America are now testing all of their puppies before sale. Australian breeders are showing an interest in BEAR testing and it is anticipated that it will become more generally available.


Slipping patellas results from malformation of the groove in which the kneecap (patella) is located. If the groove is too shallow, the patella can slip of to the side, causing lameness. Authorities have described the Bull Terrier as a Bulldog on terrier legs; as such, active youngsters put their joints under tremendous strain and so are likely to expose any potential patella weakness. Vets can grade the seriousness of the malformation. In mild cases, restricted exercise and, according to some breeders, high doses of Vitamin C help to ameliorate the condition. However, such use of Vitamin C is perhaps more effective as a preventive measure. In more severe cases, arthritis soon sets in and surgery may become necessary.


Two genetic kidney conditions have long been known to occur in Bull Terriers: renal dysplasia, which causes incomplete development of the kidney during the first few weeks of life and leads to early renal failure, and hereditary nephritis, which results in progressive failure of kidney function. Both conditions are invariably fatal. The age of onset of hereditary nephritis is highly variable (from as early as two and three years up to six or seven years), as is the rate of progression of the disease. Symptomatic of this condition is excessive consumption of water, though this may not be noticeable until the disease is quite advanced. A better indicator is an elevated level of protein the urine, which can be determined by measuring the ratio of protein to creatinine in urine sample. Asking your vet to include this straightforward test in your dog’s regular check-up is a sensible precaution. If kidney failure is diagnosed, your dog should be placed on a special low-protein diet; this and TLC (tender loving care) are the best prescriptions. Ill treatment or trauma can hasten the onset and progress of the hereditary nephritis.
Recently, a third hereditary condition, polycystic kidney disease (PCKD), has come to light. This condition is not accompanied by high protein levels and definitive diagnosis requires ultrasound screening of the kidney. Dogs with this disease may show no obvious symptoms while young and live comparatively long lives. PCKD is often accompanied by valvular heart problems. The disease is believed to be caused by an autosomal dominant gene. If this is so, it should be possible to eliminate, or at least minimize, its occurrence by breeding only from stock which has tested clear of PCKD.


Compulsive behaviours – like constant licking, fixation on an object such as a ball, spinning and tail-chasing – have been shown to be heritable in Bull Terriers. All such behaviours worsen if the dog becomes over-excited, is confined in a crate or left alone in a kennel for prolonged periods.
Adjusting the dog’s environment and seeking expert advice are recommended. In mild forms, these behaviours may represent little more than boredom and lack of exercise. However, a dog showing excessive compulsive behaviour may have to be put down. Recent researches indicate that these problems may be related to seizure disorders and some have been treated successfully as such.


This is an immune problem associated with an inability to metabolize zinc correctly.
Puppies with the disorder lose interest in nursing and often die when just a few days old. With hand-feeding, such puppies can be kept alive, though they remain small.
Later they develop splay feet and cow hocks and then skin lesions that become infected. Zinkies, as they are called, tend to have nasty temperaments and unnatural coat textures and colours. Left to their own devices, these puppies die young, which, I believe, is kindest ending for them.


Bull Terriers with this disease have difficulty passing food though the pyloric valve, from the stomach into the intestine. As puppies, when first given solid food, they can become rigid as the food reaches the valve. Later symptoms include a frothy vomit and literally throwing up food. Such symptoms become worse when the dog is under stress. The good new is that pyloric stenosis does not occur frequently in the breed and when it does, the symptoms can be alleviated with drugs that are used to control epilepsy.

Chapter nine: Health Care

For all the information about Bull Terrier's genetic diseases, we thank to Dr. David Harris ( USA ), a venerable Bull Terrier judge and breeder.
Thank you David.

Larissa & Tavi


Bull Terriers have been identified as being susceptible to varying degrees of heart disease. This usually affects the heart valves, which may fail to close properly, or a narrowing of the arteries. Affected animals can suffer from heart attacks, whilst other signs may be lack of activity or shortness of breath. A vet can usually detect these defects with a simple stethoscope, however, it is recommended that animals which are to be bred from, should first be tested by a registered veterinary cardiologist - who will be able to grade a murmur according to its severity, and will issue a certificate to that effect. Some Bull Terriers may carry a heart murmur all their lives without any ill affects being apparent, but it would be unadvisable to breed from an animal with any heart defect. Puppies can often have a murmur in early life that will disappear, as it gets older, and it is recommended that breeding animals should be heart tested when they are at least 1 year old, prior to breeding.

source of information: UK Bull Terrier Club

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