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Health Problems of Scottish Deerhounds
During the 1990s, the Scottish Deerhound Club of America set about turning these general impressions into hard data. The SDCA's Health & Genetics Committee collected data on health problems in the breed via a Deerhound Health Survey. More than 80 people responded with information on over 450 hounds.

Survey results yielded a database of information that includes sex, dates of birth and death, mature height and weight, cause of death, health problems experienced, and the age of onset for each health problem. In addition, the survey gathered information on adverse experiences with vaccines, vaccine failures, anesthesia-related adverse experiences and anesthetic regimens that worked well, and drug-related adverse experiences.

Demographics Lifespan
Causes of Death Common Health Problems
Uncommon Health Problems Other Links

Deerhound Demographics
The data on Deerhound size and number of health problems experienced come from 192 males and 252 bitches. Thus, they represent a broad spectrum of information that spans almost 30 years of experience. Here are the numbers:

Average Height, Weight, and Number of Health Problems in Deerhounds

Height (inches)

Weight (pounds)

Health Problems

Sex

Avg.

Range

Avg.

Range

(Avg./Dog)

Males

32.6

29 to 37

103

75 to 140

2.2

Bitches

30.5

27 to 35

85

64 to 120

1.7

Deerhound Lifespan
The data on Deerhound lifespan reveal that a hound's average lifespan at birth is 8' years if he's a male and 9 years if she's a bitch. Of course, this is only the average lifespan of a Deerhound at birth. That's nice to know, but it's also nice to know what the average lifespan is at later times in life, so that you can know how long to expect your Deerhound to live. The health survey data allow this sort of calculation, and the results look like this:

Deerhound Life Expectancy at Different Ages

Males

Females


At This Age'

Average Lifespan (yrs)

% of Hounds Still Alive

Average Lifespan (yrs)

% of Hounds Still Alive

Birth

8.4

100%

8.9

100%

2 years old

8.7

96%

9.2

95%

4 years old

8.9

93%

9.5

90%

6 years old

9.4

80%

10.0

83%

8 years old

10.1

60%

10.7

65%

10 years old

11.8

20%

11.8

35%

What the table reveals is that if a Deerhound survives to its fourth birthday, which more than 9 out of 10 do, then it can expect to live on average to be 9 years old if it's male and 9' years old if it's a bitch. More importantly, one in five males and one in three bitches reach their 10th birthday. Incidentally, the longest lifespan reported in the Deerhound Health Survey was just over 14 years for both males and bitches.

Causes of Death for Deerhounds
Instead of just listing the causes of death and the number of dogs that died of each, it's useful to analyze the information in different ways. One way to organize the information is to group causes of death according to which body system was the source of the problem, such as grouping together all fatal disorders that affected the heart or the digestive system. Doing so yields the following information:

Deerhound Causes of Death

Males

Females


Cause of Death

Relative Frequency

Average Age at Death (yrs)

Relative Frequency

Average Age at Death (yrs)

Heart or Circulatory System Problems

27%

7.6

16%

8.9

Neoplasia (Tumors or Cancers)

16%

7.8

22%

8.8

Age-Related Debility ('Old Age')

12%

10.6

10%

12.0

Torsion (Stomach and/or Spleen)

10%

5.8

14%

4.5

Injury or Accident

6%

4.2

3%

1.9

Infections

6%

5.8

4%

2.2

Anesthesia- or Surgery-Related Death

3%

7.0

8%

6.5

Other Causes (none more than 2%)

15%

-----

18%

-----

Undetermined Causes

5%

6.8

5%

6.9

Another way to organize the information is to separate causes of death by the age at which dogs die in order to see which health problems account for the death of young dogs, middle-aged dogs, and old dogs. Doing so yields the following information:

Leading Causes of Death for Deerhounds at Different Ages

Males

Females

Age (yrs)

Relative Frequency


Cause of Death

Relative Frequency


Cause of Death

 

Birth to 3

 

21%

Torsion of Stomach or Spleen

42%

Torsion of Stomach or Spleen

21%

Injury or Accident

16%

Injury or Accident

14%

Dwarfism

16%

Infections

 

3-6

 

16%

Heart Failure

24%

Anesthesia or Surgery related

16%

Neoplasia (not Osteosarcoma)

18%

Torsion of Stomach or Spleen

11%

Injury or Accident

12%

Osteosarcoma

 

6-9

 

 

24%

Heart Failure

29%

Osteosarcoma

12%

Osteosarcoma

13%

Anesthesia or surgery related

12%

Neoplasia (not Osteosarcoma)

10%

Heart Failure

10%

Torsion of Stomach or Spleen

 

 

 

Over 9

 

 

36%

Age-Related Debility

28%

Age-Related Debility

32%

Heart Failure

21%

Heart Failure

12%

Neoplasia

15%

Osteosarcoma

 

 

13%

Neoplasia (not Osteosarcoma)

Looking at the information on causes of death from various angles reveals some general points:

  • Osteosarcoma is the leading cause of death for Deerhound bitches but comparatively rare as a cause of death in male Deerhounds. In fact, bitches are three times more likely than males to die of osteosarcoma.
  • Heart failure is the leading cause of death for male Deerhounds. A male is twice as likely as a bitch to die of heart failure.
  • Torsion of the stomach and/or spleen is an important cause of death in both
  • A reassuring number of Deerhounds die of 'old age.'
  • Many Deerhounds die during or shortly after anesthesia or surgery. Almost three times as many bitches as males died in this way, probably because more females than males undergo abdominal surgery (for spaying).

Common Deerhound Health Problems

Anal Sac InfectionsFractures & LamenessBloat
Heart ProblemsInhalant AllergyFlea-Bite Allergy
PyometraFalse PregnancyOsteosarcoma
HypothyroidismFood IntoleranceHead or Neck Pain

The Deerhound Health Survey results tell a lot about the health problems experienced by Scottish Deerhounds and give a good picture of how relatively common or rare certain health problems are in the breed. More importantly for those thinking about choosing a Deerhound to share their lives, the survey gives a good idea about what sorts of health problems to expect. Discussed below are the more common health problems of Scottish Deerhounds. The incidence numbers given are calculated from Deerhound Health Survey data, and may exaggerate the true incidence because of inherent biases in the survey.

Anal Sac Infections (Incidence = 11%)
Anal sacs are located beneath the base of the tail, on either side of the anus. Infection can cause dogs to lick in the area, rub their rumps against objects, or scoot along the ground (not an easy maneuver for a Deerhound!). Anal sac infections are caused by bacteria, but the underlying factors that allow bacteria to set up housekeeping in the sacs are unknown, and there are no preventative measures recommended. Treatment involves emptying the sacs and a course of antibiotics.

Anal sac infection is a problem of young hounds, with an average age of onset of just over 2 years old. Males are affected about twice as often as bitches.

Fractures (Broken Bones) and Lameness (Incidence = 11%)
Accidents and injuries affect all breeds. Not surprisingly for a large, active, athletic breed, most of the injuries that Deerhounds suffer are running and jumping ones. Most fractures occur in foot (toes) or leg bones. Most lamenesses involve the knee joint'many of these are attributed to cruciate ligament injuries. Treatment for fractures involves setting the pieces back into nearly normal position and keeping them there with various devices (bone pins, bone plates, bone screws, cast, and/or splint) for about six weeks until they knit together. Minor fractures, such as broken toes, may require nothing more than a support bandage and exercise restriction. Treatment for lameness due to soft tissue injuries (torn ligaments or strained muscles) involves external support and exercise restriction only.

The incidence of running injuries in Deerhounds seems high, but no data exist for other breeds to allow a comparison. Fractures occur mostly in young Deerhounds'the average age is 2 years old'and mostly involve feet, broken toes being the most commonly reported fracture. Considering that Deerhound youngsters become highly active and heavy well before they become agile, and that learning to control four long legs requires numerous spills and tumbles, these findings begin to make a lot of sense.

Bloat (Incidence = 10%)
Bloat, also called Torsion or Gastric Dilation/Volvulus, occurs when the stomach twists out of position and fills with air that cannot escape. Bloat is a life-threatening emergency, because affected dogs rapidly go into shock. Immediate treatment involves deflating the stomach, either by passing a tube down the throat or puncturing the stomach through the body wall with a hollow needle, as well as intravenous fluids and medications to control shock. Long-term treatment is a surgical procedure to return the stomach to its normal position and attach it to the body wall so that it cannot twist again.

The cause of bloat is unknown, but some risk factors have been identified. At present, the only actions that can reduce a dog's risk of bloat are to compel the dog to eat slowly (fast eaters are at greater risk) and feed several small meals a day instead of one large one (because eating a large meal increases the risk of bloat). Luckily, many Deerhounds are so-called 'self-feeders,' which means they won't overeat and become obese even if given free access to food. Thus, food can be left down and the dogs allowed to 'graze' at leisure.

Bloat is an important health problem in most large and giant breeds, so Deerhounds aren't alone. In Deerhounds, bloat is a problem of all ages, occurring in dogs as young as 1 year old and as old as 11 years old. 'Bloat is half-again as common in bitches as in males.

Heart Failure and/or Heart Arrhythmia (Cardiomyopathy) (Incidence = 5-8%)
In the Deerhound Health Survey, heart failure (incidence = 5%) and heart arrhythmias (incidence = 4%) were reported as separate health problems. In reality, in most cases, both are manifestations of an underlying heart disease called cardiomyopathy, whose true incidence may be as high as 8% in Deerhounds. Cardiomyopathy is not solely a Deerhound problem; instead, it occurs in most large and giant breeds.

With cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle gradually deteriorates. The underlying cause of the deterioration is unknown. Affected dogs may die suddenly, develop irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias, or go into heart failure. Arrhythmias and heart failure can be treated with medications to relieve some of the symptoms, but there is no cure for the underlying heart disease.

Cardiomyopathy primarily affects male Deerhounds'in fact, it's almost four times as common in males as bitches. Its manifestations (heart failure and arrhythmias) appear in older hounds, with an average age of 6' years old.

Inhalant Allergy (Incidence = 6%)
Inhalant allergy, also called atopy, is an allergic reaction to inhaled substances like pollen, dust, and molds. The underlying problem is the same as hay fever in people, but instead of the runny nose, runny eyes, and sneezing that people get, dogs get itchy skin. Deerhounds with inhalant allergies lick, bite, and scratch at their ears, feet, face, armpits, and groin'sometimes so persistently and severely that they can't sleep, lose weight, stain their feet brown with saliva, rub out their hair, and cause sores on their skin. Dogs allergic to pollen get symptoms seasonally; dogs allergic to dust or mold suffer year-round. Treatment consists of relieving symptoms with baths and medications (antihistamines and/or corticosteroids) and, in severe cases, skin testing to identify what the dog's allergic to and desensitization shots to reduce the reaction.

Inhalant allergy is more common in several other breeds than it is in Deerhounds. In all breeds, including Deerhounds, inhalant allergy begins in young dogs. The average age of onset in Deerhounds is less than one year old, and most affected hounds begin itching before their second birthday. Males are twice as likely as bitches to develop inhalant allergies.

Flea-Bite Allergy (Incidence = 6%)
Flea-bite allergy is an allergic reaction to substances that a flea injects into the skin when it bites a dog. As with inhalant allergies, the main symptom is itchy skin, but the pattern of itching is different. With flea-bite allergy, dogs concentrate on the rear of their body, especially the base of the tail, lower back, and the backs of the thighs. Treatment consists of medications (antihistamines and/or corticosteroids) to relieve symptoms and flea control to reduce or eliminate the cause of the problem.

Flea-bite allergy is common to all breeds, and Deerhounds seem no more or less affected than others. 'As would be expected, it is more of a problem in hounds living in warm, moist climates where fleas are more abundant. Flea-bite allergy begins when dogs are young. The average age of onset in Deerhounds is 3 years old. Males and bitches are equally likely to become allergic to flea bites.

Pyometra (Uterine Infection) (Incidence = 6%)
Pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus. Affected bitches may be obviously ill or instead have only a vaginal discharge or an increased need to urinate. While the immediate cause of pyometra is bacteria, the underlying cause is the changes that the uterus undergoes during the weeks after estrus (heat period or season), which lower the organ's normal resistance to infection. The risk is increased further in dogs that experience false pregnancies in the weeks after estrus.

Pyometra can be prevented by spaying, a surgery in which the uterus is removed. Treatment consists of a course of antibiotics and one of two other options'surgical removal of the infected uterus (for dogs that won't be bred again) or a series of prostaglandin injections (for dogs that might be bred in the future).

Pyometra is a problem in all breeds, and Deerhounds are no more or less prone than others. Pyometra doesn't generally occur on the first few heat cycles; instead, it's more of a problem in middle-aged bitches of all breeds. This is true of Deerhound bitches, where the average age of onset is just over 6 years old.

False Pregnancy (Incidence = 6%)
False pregnancy describes the condition in which a bitch develops the signs and symptoms of pregnancy after estrus (heat period or season) despite the fact that she's not pregnant. Affected bitches develop enlarged abdomens and mammary glands and often exhibit behavioral changes associated with pregnancy (increased appetite, nesting, guarding toys, etc). The underlying cause of false pregnancy is unusually vigorous hormone production by the ovaries. There is no treatment for false pregnancy, which will resolve on its own.

False pregnancy is a problem of all breeds, and there is no evidence that Deerhound bitches are more or less likely to experience it. Bitches prone to false pregnancy usually experience their first episode during an early estrous cycle. Once a bitch has had a false pregnancy, she's more likely to have another one in subsequent estrous cycles. Because false pregnancy increases a bitch's chance of getting pyometra (uterine infection), affected bitches that won't be bred should be spayed.

Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer) (Incidence = 5%)
Osteosarcoma is a cancer that arises inside a bone'almost always a leg bone. It can occur in any breed, but it is more common in large and giant breeds like Deerhounds. The first sign of osteosarcoma usually is lameness or a lump in one leg. Once the cancer appears, it grows rapidly and spreads early to the lungs. The cause of osteosarcoma is unknown, nor are there any preventative measures to take. ' Treatment options include amputating the affected leg, followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. 'Despite such extreme measures, almost all dogs with osteosarcoma die within a year after the cancer appears.

Like most cancers, osteosarcoma is a health problem of older dogs. The youngest age at which it has occurred in Deerhounds is 5 years old, and the average age of onset is 8 years old. Females are at greater risk ' osteosarcoma occurs half-again as often in bitches as in male Deerhounds.

Hypothyroidism (Incidence = 4%)
Hypothyroidism is a term that encompasses the many symptoms associated with inadequate thyroid hormone production. It results when a dog's thyroid glands don't produce enough thyroid hormone to meet daily needs, either because the glands have atrophied (wasted away) or been damaged by immune-mediated inflammation. The underlying cause for such atrophy or inflammation is unknown. Diagnosing hypothyroidism is difficult because the symptoms can be mild and variable and because laboratory tests can be difficult to interpret. Fortunately, treatment is straightforward and involves giving daily thyroid hormone replacement medication.

In the Deerhound Health Survey, four times as many males as females were reported as having hypothyroidism. However, these data have to be taken with a grain of salt, because some of the hounds were diagnosed as having hypothyroidism based solely on laboratory tests, even though they had no signs of illness. Such testing has become increasingly common in all breeds, although veterinarians disagree about how to interpret the results. At this time, while it is clear that hypothyroidism (and presumably the thyroid diseases that cause it) occurs in Deerhounds, it's impossible to say if the problem is common or rare.

Food Intolerance (Incidence = 4%)
Food intolerance is a broad term that describes an adverse reaction to a particular food or food ingredient. Usually, the adverse reaction shows up as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, or flatulence. There are many underlying causes of food intolerance, such as food poisoning or a metabolic disorder that makes a dog unable to digest a particular nutrient (for example, lactose intolerance). 'Some foods (cheeses, sausage, and pig's liver) contain large amounts of histamine, which many dogs cannot tolerate. 'Treatment involves symptomatic relief with medications. Prevention is achieved by not feeding the offending food.

There are no data to suggest that food intolerance is more or less common in Deerhounds than other breeds. 'Food intolerance usually develops in young dogs. In Deerhounds, the average age at which the problem arises is 2' years old. Males are about 3 times more likely than bitches to develop a food intolerance. Ingredients that specific Deerhounds have been unable to tolerate include corn, soybeans, tomato pummace, oatmeal, wheat, beef, horsemeat, and chicken.

Head or Neck Pain (Incidence = 4%)
Neck pain has been reported in several breeds, particularly Beagles. It develops suddenly and tends to recur at intervals. Affected dogs keep their head and neck rigidly extended, are reluctant to lie down or turn around, and may have trouble eating and drinking. They often cry out in pain if their neck is touched or bent, or when they lie down. In Beagles, neck pain is caused by vasculitis (inflamed blood vessels) within the membranes that surround the spinal cord in the neck. What triggers the vasculitis is unknown. Treatment consists of medications to relieve pain and suppress inflammation.

In Deerhounds, neck pain episodes resemble those described in Beagles, but whether or not the underlying cause is the same (vasculitis) is unknown. Neck pain can occur in hounds of any age, having been reported in Deerhounds from one to eleven years old. It occurs more than twice as often in males as in bitches.

Uncommon Health Problems

Adverse Reactions to Drugs
At least a half-dozen Deerhounds have reacted adversely to a common antibiotic combination (trimethoprim + a sulfa drug) sold under brand names like Tribrissen, Bactrim, and Septra. ' In Deerhounds, this antibiotic combination should be used with caution. It has the potential to cause life-threatening side effects such as widespread bleeding due to thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) or severe bacterial infection due to leukopenia (low white blood cell count). 'Most affected dogs recover when they stop taking the drug, but at least two have died. This sort of idiosyncratic drug reaction has been reported in other breeds.

 
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