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Breed Health Study - January 2022


With regard to some of the health issues sometimes experienced in our breed, we could start by thinking about the skin and its problems.  All species, whether human, animal, bird or reptile have skin, and we all take pretty good care of it where we can.  But do you really know what can potentially lay beneath these beautiful double coated dogs of ours?

It is important to adopt a good maintenance of the skin and coat. Good grooming of our dogs is part of the health care and what we can learn about what goes on beneath those dense coats.  Some say only bath your dog when it is necessary, because you wash the natural oils out of the coat, but others bath more frequently. Whichever you do, it’s the right time to check the skin, making sure there are no sore spots, hot spots, no bruising, grass seeds, dirt or parasites, as all of these can cause problems on the skin.  Constant scratching can become inflamed and break the skin, which could develop into something more serious.  Parasite droppings and saliva can cause an allergy, so can dust, fungi and grass seeds and always be very careful where your dog does his rolling out in the fields, there is a slim chance he could pick up ringworm or mange from the resident fox or badger who may live in that area.  There is also Rabbit mite, more commonly known as walking dandruff which some dogs will react to quite badly.  These are all classed as Environmental allergies which are more common now in dogs than they have ever been, and they must be treated as soon as possible.  Following a process of elimination is good, so start with maybe a good bath in a good gentle appropriate shampoo, rinsing thoroughly and making sure all soap is removed, this will then hopefully rule out the dust and pollen problem.  Ringworm and mange will need professional consultation.  Spring grass can also set up on allergic reaction on feet legs and undercarriage.  The dog will scratch and bite his legs, belly and feet continually; this will also need professional consultation.

Please do not forget to wash legs, feet and undercarriage after walking through woods or different areas to your normal walk. Alabama rot is still out there, there is no known cure for this disease and it causes kidney failure.  The first signs could be lesions on the legs or feet, get the dog to the vet immediately.

If your dog is constantly scratching and you know he is clean then check what you are feeding.  In these modern times the all in one foods or kibble, contain so much artificial colouring and flavouring, you will need to experiment with different foods to arrive at the right one for your dog.  There isn’t a set menu for all dogs, each dog is an individual and needs individual feeding whether it be quantity or quality.  Always check the ingredients of the foods, some contain a high percentage of fat, cereal and water.  A good balanced diet should contain the six nutrients; Protein; Vitamins; Minerals, Carbohydrates; Fats/Oils and Water.  And don’t forget, garlic is a great cleanser for the blood and has lots of additional benefits. Elkhounds generally need much less food than some manufacturers recommend, it is far better to under feed than overfeed.

CYSTS - Whilst doing your weekly grooming session, you may come across lumps and bumps of one sort or another. Some of these small lumps may just be gathered fatty tissue under the skin, others may develop into Cysts and others could be benign tumours.  Be very careful until you know what it is.  Sebaceous and Follicular Cysts are quite common in Norwegian Elkhounds and are more common in some blood lines than others they are unsightly and may fill with unpleasant, soft cheesy material (keratin).  We didn’t have them in such vast quantities many years ago except in some bloodlines.  Some say it’s because the dogs were much darker in colour in the 60’s and 70’s but personally I don’t think colour has anything to do with it.  A sebaceous cyst fills with sebum and they develop in and around the sebaceous glands that are associated with hair follicles.  These cysts are prone to secondary bacterial infection.  The follicular cysts are dilated hair follicles containing fluid or dark coloured cheesy matter, they can also become infected if not kept clean.  There is also a True cyst which has a secretory lining, and normally form within the sweat gland.  Complete removal of the lining may be necessary to prevent the cyst re occurring.  These are the most common cysts in Elkhounds although occasionally you may see an Interdigital cyst which appears between toes and if not treated can make the dog very lame.  One of my old dogs used to suffer with one of these and would be quite lame for a couple of weeks.  After treatment, he would be fine and back to normal, but they do re occur.  Cysts will look inflamed and sometimes have a shiny surface to them, do not squeeze or mess too much with them until they are ready and come to a head.  Bathe in warm boiled salt water, yes it stings, but is the best cleanser I know.  If it is a sebaceous cyst, just keep bathing, eventually it will erupt then it will need cleaning out and you must do this on a regular basis.  If not kept clean this material may become infected with bacteria or yeast producing a foul smell.  You can use diluted peroxide (10 x 1 of peroxide) to clean out the affected area, but I prefer to stick to salt for cleansing.  I have seen some really bad cysts over the years that have needed medical attention, have been cut out and then have re occurred a few months later.  If the lump does not come to a head then leave it alone, don’t squeeze it and don’t break the skin, it could well be a tumour.  Older dogs are more susceptible to them than youngsters.  A skin tag is totally different and is more like a polypus growth or an elongated wart, these are harmless so do not mess with them but be very careful not to catch it on a comb or brush or it will tear and bleed.  If in doubt always seek medical attention.

CANCER - Dogs suffer with the same types of Cancer as humans and there are 200 or so forms of Cancer in dogs and at the moment it affects 1 in every 4 dogs.  It is the number one cause of death in all dogs over 10 years.  I will only mention a few here that I know have been experienced by our Elkhound owners.  Tumours can sometimes be visible and can be mistaken for cysts, sometimes small lumps, sometimes large masses.  Sometimes with cancer a dog will show visible signs of not being 100%, sometimes not.  

Mast Cell Tumours are quite common and are immune cells that are responsible for allergies.  Mast cells can be found in all tissues of the body but typically form tumours on the skin.  They range from relatively benign to extremely aggressive but can be successfully treated.

Internal cancer in females may show signs of discharge from the vulvar, other signs from both sexes could be swelling of the anal glands.  Females are also at high risk for developing malignant mammary tumours, regardless of whether they have been spayed or not, but they are operable.

The male dog of course can have testicular cancer where one or both testicles will swell or one will have a distinctive lump.  These are normally operable, and the dog will recover well.  A brain tumour is much more aggressive with maybe tell-tale signs of an epileptic type fit.  Have the dog checked out immediately by your vet should this happen.  A dog could have really bad breath even though teeth are in good condition, this could be a sign of mouth or nose cancer.  Visible monitored lumps on the skin which you know have grown in size need veterinary consultation.

Lymphoma can affect any dog of any breed at any age. Most of the time, it appears as swollen glands (lymph nodes) that can be seen or felt under the neck, in front of the shoulders, or behind the knee.  Occasionally, lymphoma can affect lymph nodes that are not visible from outside the body, such as those inside the chest or in the abdomen.  This can cause serious respiratory problems but can be treated quite successfully.

Symptoms to look for if you know there is something not quite right are lethargy, loss of appetite, coat in poor condition, in fact if the general wellbeing of the dog is not 100% consult your vet.  Then there are those tumours that are so dangerous and cannot be detected until it is too late.  My Leaha was a very fit and healthy dog, 24 hours after her normal boisterous day, she was dead.  From the PM it showed the protective sack around her heart had two tumours, one of which erupted flooding her heart and killing her, so you see, it is vital that you keep a vigilant check on the health of your Elkhound at all times.

Cancer is caused by damage and breakdown of DNA, or uncontrolled growth of cells in the body’s tissue, but why this happens we are yet to find out.  Human research is just as intense and the sooner we find a cure for it in humans, they will be able to move forward in animals, and the sooner the better.

It all sounds quite dismal doesn’t it, but let me assure you, that the Norwegian Elkhound is one of the healthiest breeds around.  We are extremely lucky, we have breeders who care, and owners who dote on their every movement, so not a lot gets past us.

We are not only breeding for the best in health but also for the best in soundness, this is why we test for as much as we possibly can.

We Test For:

Prcd/PRA  - Progressive Rod Cone Degeneration/ Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a disorder in which the cells in the retina of a dog degenerate and die.  It is commonly known as night blindness, which will progress eventually to total blindness. Tested dogs will either be Clear, Carrier or Affected.  It is acceptable to mate Clear to Clear and Clear to Carrier.  Clear to Clear will of course produce all clear offspring.  Clear to Carrier will produce 50% clear.  50% carrier. Carrier to Carrier will produce 50% carrier, 25% affected and 25% clear.  Affected to carrier will produce 50% carrier and 50% affected.  It will be unlikely that you will come across this disease nowadays unless you buy from untested dogs.  

Do not buy from untested dogs.

All breeding stock in the UK now has to be tested.

GLAUCOMA - What is Glaucoma?  Glaucoma is increased pressure within the eye (intra ocular pressure = IOP).  Cells inside the eye produce a clear fluid (aqueous humor), this is not what we know as tears.  Aqueous humor bathes the inside of the eye, tears bathe the outside of the eye.  When the drainage for the aqueous humor becomes blocked it caused pressure to build up inside the eye, this increased pressure usually causes irreversible blindness in addition to stretching, and the enlargement of the eye causing great pain.

Glaucoma is either classified as Primary or Secondary.

Primary Glaucoma is an inherited condition and usually begins in one eye.

Secondary Glaucoma is when other eye diseases such as Cataracts or Cancer etc. cause decreased drainage of fluid from the eye.

Open-angle glaucoma is a painless and gradual development of blind spots or loss of vision over a long period of time.

Closed-angle glaucoma is a sudden increase in eye pressure with severe pain, redness, and loss of vision. Sometimes it is necessary to remove the dogs’ eye for his own comfort.

CHONDRODYSPLASIA - Dwarfism is an inherited bone and cartilage disorder in Norwegian Elkhounds which stunts the growth of many parts of the body, especially the bones.  It is an autosomal recessive disease.  A wider complex group of bone and cartilage disorders is known as skeletal dysplasia’s.  Forms of the disorder within this bigger group vary in modes of inheritance, symptoms and causative mutations.  They affect dogs and humans.  Canine chondrodysplasia has been reported in many other breeds.  The Elkhound will have short legs badly angled and can sometimes have great difficulty in walking because of the deformity in the legs.  I have only ever encountered two dogs in this country with this debilitating disease, it is mostly abroad.

ANNUAL EYE TESTING - All breeding stock in the UK must carry a current Eye Examination Certificate issued by the BVA/KC Scheme. This is to certify that the dog does not have any other eye defects such as cataracts or growths etc.  Most tests can be carried out at either Ch Shows or at your local Veterinary Eye Hospital.  

HIP DYSPLASIA - All breeding stock in the UK must also carry a certificate and score of their hips.  This is also carried out and scored by the BVA/KC.  The average hip score in Norwegian Elkhounds is just under 14.  This x-ray only needs to be done once in its lifetime.  We don’t normally x-ray elbow as we don’t seem have a problem here, although there have been a couple of reports of elbow displacement but have not been reported officially.

We test because we only want the best that there is.  If good health is our main priority, which it is, then we can breed for the correct type from the healthiest dogs that we have.  Our gene pool is small so there is no room for jealousy or hidden agenda’s in our breed.  We must work as a team, we must keep our breed sound, of true type, and Fit for Function.


Jill E Cowper - Breed Health Coordinator

KC Health Coordinators Report


The last year has been a great landmark in the history of Health in the Norwegian Elkhound in the UK.  Our grateful thanks once again must go to Barbara Barganska for the efficient and excellent way she has recorded the results from tested dogs and made it much easier for us to follow.  Please continue to send in your test results so that Barbara can update.


By keeping check of these records we can see which lines we care to use, and identify which dogs are hereditary clear, tested clear or carrier.  This recorded information is vital for our future breeding programmes and it’s lovely to see results coming in from abroad also, which gives us a much wider vision of results.


Studying these records, and looking around at the Norwegian Elkhound population, I personally feel we are in a very good and healthy place, we are very lucky in the UK as we can produce some of the best and healthiest specimens in the world.


I have not had any of the Breed Health Forms completed and returned for quite some time so I am hoping this is a good sign.  Please let me have all information on the health of your dog where possible.  The loss of our most of our Elkhounds this last twelve months has been from either various age related illnesses and cancers, or just old age.


Jill E Cowper

Breed Health Coordinator

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