There are relatively few hereditary diseases that Bull Terriers suffer from. Nevertheless, The BTC is keen to see these diseases eradicated from the gene pool wherever possible and, as a first stage seeks to encourage its members not to breed from any animal affected by disease.
Any member of the Club is urged to support these efforts to improve the physical well-being of the breed and also to participate in a health screening process which may, over a period of time, reduce genetically based disorders. All club members sign a declaration when they join the club stating that they will not knowingly breed from any animal that has a painful hereditary defect.
Whilst there is a great deal of research into hereditary conditions, most of it is ongoing and research is not yet conclusive, but listed below are some conditions, which can occasionally be seen in the Bull Terrier:
Deafness in Bull Terriers has been recognised since the inception of the breed. Recent studies in the USA have concluded that as many as 18% of white Bull Terriers may have less than perfect hearing and there is reason to believe that a similar number may exist in this country. For many years It was thought that inherited deafness was restricted to White Bull Terriers, however it is now known that coloured Bull Terriers can also be affected, though this is far less common and the USA research has shown that less than 2% of coloureds may be affected. Deafness can occur in either or both ears.
For many years, breeders have avoided breeding from deaf animals, and yet there are still a number of Bull Terriers that are born deaf. One possible reason may be that until recently it has not been possible to accurately identify animals which are partially deaf, and that breeders may have inadvertently been breeding from animals with less than perfect hearing.
Bull Terriers deaf in one ear are referred to as being “unilaterally deaf” and are sometimes referred to as “Unilaterals”. Unilaterals make perfectly good pets and it is often difficult to recognise that the animal has a problem, as it will soon educate itself to tell where sounds are coming from. A tell tale sign of a Unilateral puppy may be that it runs in the wrong direction when called, or “scans” the horizon when hearing a sound looking to see where it came from. However, this is not always the case and many Unilaterally deaf Bull Terriers will have lived long and happy lives without their owners having the slightest inkling that they cannot hear perfectly. Whilst this is the case, Unilaterals should not be bred from, as it is considered likely that they may pass on this gene to their offspring, and may produce either totally or partially deaf puppies.
Totally deaf Bull Terriers are usually a different matter altogether. They often find it very difficult to adapt to a normal life, are extremely difficult to train and will often not make suitable pets. They can also become defensive if woken suddenly, or startled in any way and for that reason should not be sold or bred from. There are documented cases of deaf Bull Terriers living happy lives, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule and for every happy tale there will be 10 disastrous ones. An experienced and reputable breeder would not knowingly sell a deaf Bull Terrier.
Luckily, it is now possible to test Bull Terriers electronically, to establish exactly how well the animal can hear. This test, known as the B.A.E.R. (Brain Auditory Evoked Response) Test, can carried out from about 5 weeks old and is a fairly simple and straightforward procedure. The test does not hurt or distress the animal in any way, though adult dogs may require a light anaesthetic to ensure that they keep still and enable accurate results to be obtained. Many breeders now have their puppies BAER tested prior to selling them, and the Bull Terrier Club would recommend that anyone purchasing a puppy should insist on a certificate to certify the puppy’s level of hearing. Not many veterinary surgeries are equipped to carry out this test; however, there are a number of Centres throughout the UK where this test is available which are listed below:
- Small Animal Centre
Animal Health Trust, Lanwades Park, Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 7UU
Contact: Mrs. Julia Freeman. Telephone: 01638 552700
- Animal Medical Centre
511 Willbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 0UB] Contact: Mr. Pip Boydell. Telephone: 0161 881 3329
- Hearing Assessment Clinic (Mobile)
Red Lane House, Shawford, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 2AA
Contact: Mrs. Celia Cox. Telephone: 01962 713155
- Small Animals Clinic
Royal Dick Veterinary College, Department of Veterinary Clinical Studies, Easterbush Veterinary Centre, Easterbush, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG
Contact: Prof. I. G. Mayhew. Telephone: 0131 650 1000
- Church Farm Veterinary Clinic
Neaston Road, Willaston, South Wirral, Liverpool CH64 2TL
Contact: Mr. G. Skerritt. Telephone: 0151 327 1885
- Wey Referrals
125-129 Chertsey Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 5BP
- Contact: Ms. Sue Fitzmaurice. Telephone: 01483 729194
Like deafness, Kidney Failure in Bull Terriers has been recognised as a problem for many years. It may appear at any time in a dog’s life and will often result in an early and very distressing death for the animal. Once an animal has been diagnosed as having Kidney failure, there is very little that one can do as there is no cure, but special veterinary diets may help to prolong an animal’s quality of life if the disease is diagnosed early enough. More recently a condition known as “Polycistic Kidneys” has been also identified. This disease may be diagnosed having the kidneys scanned by ultrasound, but the prognosis is similar and early death of the animal is likely.
The mode of inheritance of Kidney Diseases is not yet fully understood, however, there is a screening test available and whilst not conclusive, early signs are that this test would appear to show if an animal is likely to develop the disease in later life. The test works on the basis theory that that the amount of protein in an animal’s urine may be indicative of a breakdown of kidney function. This test is known as the urine protein/creatinine (UPC) ratio test. Most authorities seem to accept that a reading of up to 1.0 is normal, however the recommendation is that if a dog has a UPC reading of higher than 0.3, then it should not be bred from. There is no data available yet to indicate what percentage of animals with a higher reading will go on to develop the disease. This test can be carried out by most veterinary surgeons, who will take a urine sample, which is then analysed either locally or by a laboratory and certification issued.
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.
The canine patella is the equivalent to the knee joint in humans. It is located approximately halfway up and at the front of the dog’s hind leg, and should not be confused with the “hock” which is further down at the back of the leg and more easily identified. Patella Luxation is usually caused by the groove in the knee-joint not being deep enough to hold the Patella in place, thereby allowing the it to slip out to either side.
This can be extremely painful for the animal who may, but not necessarily, be seen to limp or “hop” on an affected leg. It is possible to correct this condition by surgery, which can be carried out to “deepen” the grove, but this is an expensive operation normally only carried out by a specialist vet, and can often lead to arthritis, as the animal gets older. Animals with this condition should not be bred from as it is thought to be hereditary. There is no definitive screening test for this condition currently recognised in the UK, as any result would be considered subjective, however, most vets should be able to check this joint for correct operation and advise accordingly.
Possibly the most commonly seen ailment in Bull Terriers, skin problems often appear to be allergy related and can be seasonal. The can vary from small rashes and spots, to mange and other conditions, which in extreme cases and left untreated can cause complete loss of hair and the development of “Rhino” type, hard skin. Though not fatal, affected animals can suffer extreme discomfort and itchiness, and there have been cases of animals that have been put to sleep, to save them from further suffering. Why Bull Terriers are particularly susceptible to skin complaints is not proven, but it is believed that their immune system may not be strong enough to deal with problems that they ought to be able to shrug off quite quickly. Skin rashes can easily become infected and for that reason they should be treated early and veterinary advice sought.
Whilst this is not an exhaustive list of disease’s seen in The Bull Terrier, it does cover those that may been seen most commonly and which are thought likely to be hereditary.