When a dog breed becomes popular its health usually declines, especially in the United States. “Back-yard” breeding and puppy mills often are the root of the problem. Dogs are bred without regard to correct breeding practices – the goal being high numbers of puppies for a higher profit, rather than fewer healthy puppies. Dogs may be used for breeding even though they may have obvious signs of physical problems, such as skin disorders or hip dysplasia, let alone problems that don’t show themselves on the outside of the dog. Since the Bracco Italiano is not yet a popular breed, back-yard breeding is not (yet) a problem. For that reason, the Bracco has fewer genetic disorders than many more popular breeds, such as the Golden and Labrador Retrievers, the Bernese Mountain Dog and the German Shepherd, just to name a few. However, certain disorders do show up in individual dogs – and much thought should go into whether or not to breed a dog with any of these problems., since many are thought to be genetic in origin. Here are the health problems most often seen in the Bracco Italiano.
Probably the best known genetically passed orthopedic problems in the Italian Pointer are hip and elbow dysplasia, where the ball/socket joints gradually degenerate. X-rays and certification should be done on any dog being considered for breeding to be sure he doesn’t pass these problems along to further breeding generations.
Kidney disease shows up in only a few genetic lines of Braccos, but it is definitely out there. A good way to monitor your Bracco for this is to have his blood tested every year, which should indicate if anything is causing a problem, including kidneys, liver, etc. Ask your breeder if he or she is regularly checking his breeding dogs for this (possibly) hereditary issue.
Bloat, or gastric torsion, can occur in many large deep-chested breeds, such as the Doberman, German Shepherd and Bracco Italiano. This problem can occur when the stomach, for unknown reasons, expands with gas, and turns over on itself, effectively shutting down the blood supply. This is a life-threatening condition, and immediate surgical correction is usually required. It is not known for sure, but it is thought that methods of feeding may prevent bloat. We include hot water in our dry food (enough to see the water through the food) and allow it to soak for a short while before feeding. This also allows a couple of spoonsful of canned dog food, cottage cheese, etc. to be easily mixed in the dry so the taste gets spread all through – our dogs seem to like the moistness as well. Perhaps having the food soaked before feeding stops the dry food from absorbing water in the stomach? We also never feed and then exercise – remember your mom’s 1-hour rule before swimming? We can’t say for sure, but we haven’t had a case of torsion yet (knock on all the wood there is!) 9/2014 – correction! Leila bloated a couple of months ago, and luckily, we caught it in time. She had surgery to flip the stomach back over, and our vet then “tacked” down her stomach so that the possibility of it happening again is pretty small. She’s doing very well at this point.
Entropion (turned -in eyelids) and ectropion (turned-out eyelids) are not unusual in dogs with extra skin, such as the St. Bernard, Bassett Hound and Bracco Italiano. These genetic problems can vary in intensity, from a mild irritation to a serious problem requiring surgery.
Cherry-eye is a problem with the tear gland in the third eyelid, which can become swollen and displaced. Surgical correction is often needed.
There are several types of hernias, but the one seen most often in the Bracco Italiano is the umbilical hernia, where the abdominal wall does not close at the area of the umbilical cord. Many smaller umbilical hernias will close over time – others will require surgical closure.
Bracco Italiano dogs have the perfect ear structure for infections – ears are long, “dropped” or hanging, and dark and moist. At the very least, regular cleaning is a must – often,ear infections can occur in this environment.
We often hear of less-serious problems in the Bracco (although no less vexing) including, for example, diarrhea, upset stomach and ear and skin infections being cleared up dramatically by a change of diet. The Bracco’s need for higher-quality food (as with many breeds with these problems) can’t be over-stated. Although we can’t prove it, we believe that this breed has very little tolerance for the preservatives and other additional ingredients in many lower-quality dog foods, and this has been anecdotally proven by the numerous Bracco owners who have told us that their dog’s problem cleared up very quickly after an upgrade in diet. A general rule of thumb is that if your Bracco isn’t doing well and has one of the above problems, consider a more expensive (and generally therefore, better-quality) diet. The dog food industry is not regulated, although ingredient lists must be truly stated, so check the list for words like “whole chicken” (rather than “chicken meal”) or the words “human-grade” on the bag. Stay away from corn – we know how well humans digest that. Gradually change the diet over several days (to reduce stomach upset) and try that food for at least a month before making an opinion. Remember, also, that you may feed a very expensive and high-quality food, but different dogs assimilate a diet in different ways – so if it’s not working, try changing. Additionally, remember that it may not be the cost of the food that should be upgraded – it may just be the ingredient, i.e., changing from chicken to lamb or fish as the main ingredient. Some dogs just do better with a change to a more easily (for him) digested ingredient.