Five Genetic Diseases of Bichons
- Hyperadrenocorticism - (Cushing's Disease) While technically not a genetic problem, Bichons are more prone than other breeds to develop this endocrine dysfunction. The problem may stem from a tumor in the pituitary gland or less commonly, an adrenal gland tumor. Common symptoms include panting, excess thirst and urination, pot belly, hair loss, muscle weakness, and lethargy. Diagnosis is made with blood testing (often including and ACTH stim/Dex suppression) and abdominal ultrasound. Liver enzymes are usually elevated. Treatment may include medications, herbs, and dietary changes. Diabetes and hypothyroidism are other endocrine diseases than can affect this breed.
- Oxalate bladder and kidney stones - Dogs with concurrent Cushing's disease may be more prone to forming these stones. There may be a genetic predisposition to this disease, as the dogs may lack a substance called nephrocalcin, which inhibits oxalate stone formation. These stones are more common in male dogs and put them at risk for urinary obstruction. Stones must almost always be surgically removed, as they will not typically dissolve with diet therapy. Prevention is the key. The stones form in acidic urine (pH 6.5 or lower). Diet and water consumption should be modified to promote urine pH of 6.5 to 7.5. High moisture diets and increased water consumption will help flush the bladder. Test the pH of your pet's water with pH test strips. Water should have a pH of 7.0, but due to additives it will commonly test far from the desired pH.
- Allergies - Chronic skin infections, itching, and ear infections are the number one disease reported in Bichons. Dogs with allergies commonly have digestive issues, as well, showing the importance of gut health for immune system health. A species-appropriate, low-carbohydrate diet will often work wonders for these dogs. Dogs are commonly treated with immune suppressants such as cyclosporine, oclacitinib, and prednisone, all of which will lead to long-term poor health and may predispose the dog to developing cancer.
- Patellar luxation - The stifle is the hindlimb joint that is anatomically equivalent to the human knee joint. The patella is the kneecap. Patellar luxation occurs when the kneecap slides out of the trochlear groove, which is the depression between two ridges on the lower end of the femur, or thigh bone. The depression is too shallow in many small breeds of dogs, resulting in slippage of the patella. The most common luxation occurs when the patella slides to the inside of the leg. Many dogs with this problem will not show signs of pain or problems, others will limp or skip or hold up the hind leg. Depending on severity, surgery may be an option for repair. Other treatment options include supplements for joint support, cold laser therapy, acupuncture, and physical therapy.
- Hereditary cataracts - A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. Blindness will eventually occur when the cataract is fully mature, causing the eye to appear white. Lens luxation, uveitis (inflammation of the eye), and glaucoma are common secondary problems when cataracts occur. Removal of the cataract can often return the eye to full vision, if there are no complicating factors such as retinal detachment.