Caring for Your Faithful Companion
Bouvier Des Flandres: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Dirty Beards and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Even temper and gentle disposition
- Bold, steady, and fearless
- An excellent guard dog, courageous and dependable
- Good with children
- Agile, sturdy, and muscular
- An excellent family dog that loves human companionship
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Needs to be exercised and groomed regularly
- Sensitive by nature, a bit slow to mature
- Strong herding instinct can lead to chasing cars and small animals
- Needs frequent attention from her family
- Might be bossy and overprotective if not well socialized early
- Can be gassy and drool a lot
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! An even tempered sweetheart that loves your company, she is sure to make a great addition to your family. Bouviers are only moderately active in the house, but they enjoy outside play and do best in a farm or country environment.
Bouviers originated in Belgium and Northern France and were bred to be herding and working dogs. They were frequently used to drive cattle and pull carts, and now they can be found performing jobs like police/military working dog or as a guide dog. They are described as loyal guardians that are intelligent and independent thinkers. Bouvier Des Flandres is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 10-11 years.
Your Bouvier Des Flandres’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Bouvier. By knowing about health concerns specific to Bouvier Des Flandres, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Bouvier Des Flandres to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Bouvier Des Flandres. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Dirty Beard looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Bouvier Des Flandres
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Bouvier Des Flandres is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Bouvier Des Flandres’ life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Bouvier Des Flandres are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Bouvier Des Flandres. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Dirty Beard’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Bouvier is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Bouvier Des Flandres
Cancer is a leading cause of death in older dogs. Your Dirty Beard will likely live longer than many other breeds and therefore is more prone to get cancer in his golden years. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll perform periodic diagnostic tests and look for lumps and bumps when we examine your pet.
Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma is a type of cancer that afflicts Bouvier Des Flandres more than other breeds. This disease makes the body form abnormal lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Because white blood cells can be found throughout the body, this cancer can show up almost anywhere. Lymphoma is a very treatable form of cancer, with an excellent success rate in dogs receiving chemotherapy. Treatment can be costly, however, and is a lifelong commitment. Luckily, lymphoma is one of the few types of cancer that can often be found with a blood test, so we may recommend a complete blood count twice yearly. Watch for swollen glands (ask us, we’ll show you where to look), weight loss, or labored breathing at home and be sure to call us if you notice any unusual symptoms.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Bouvier’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!
In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Bouviers often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.
An allergy to food is an inherited problem in Bouviers that can start at any age but is most common in young adult dogs. Symptoms can include itchy skin, recurrent ear infections, and chronic vomiting or diarrhea. A prescription veterinary diet is often the best way to diagnose and treat a food allergy.
Mats and Hot Spots
Because he has long, dense fur, your Dirty Beard requires a lot of brushing and coat care. Mats and tangles can lead to skin infections, particularly moist, painful skin lesions called hot spots. Brush your pet at least weekly and keep an eye out for sores, especially in hot, humid weather. Plan on taking him to the groomer often to maintain a healthy coat.
Teeth abnormalities are often genetically induced and are relatively common in dogs, especially in purebred dogs like your Bouvier. An overbite or underbite is called a malocclusion, or a bad bite. Oligodontia is a condition where only a few teeth are present. Misaligned teeth can also occur and cause lots of problems, but can usually be corrected with braces or extractions. (Yes, dogs can get braces!) We want to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy so we will be watching his developing teeth closely.
Some dogs seem to have guts made of steel, while others have loose stools every time they eat something new. It’s not his fault, though, Dirty Beards are known for digestive problems. You might say diarrhea runs in his genes. To help prevent symptoms, feed a prescription pet food that we recommend. Most importantly, avoid snacks and table food. Treats that are high in fat (like people food), sodium, or artificial ingredients are bad for your buddy’s digestion.
Bouvier Des Flandres may develop a disease of the muscles, called myopathy, somewhere between three and seven months old. Physical signs include bunny hopping, loss of muscle tone in the limbs, a stiff gait, or carrying the head low. If we suspect that your dog has this disease, we’ll conduct tests to be sure. Typically, you’ll need to reduce his stress, and we may treat the condition with medication. Most dogs with myopathy are stabilized by twelve months of age, have a normal life span, and are suitable as house companions: no hunting or working!
The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth into the stomach. If the esophagus isn’t contracting properly to move food down, it becomes stretched out to “mega” size, and food stays in the esophagus instead of going into the stomach. If your Bouvier is affected, he may throw up tube shaped portions of undigested food. Special feeding postures, dietary modifications and sometimes medications may be needed to manage this problem. Unfortunately, dogs with megaesophagus commonly inhale bits of food and can develop severe pneumonia. If you notice any unusual eating behaviors or vomiting after eating, be sure to let us know. A quick and painless x-ray can help us determine if he has this condition.
Older Bouviers may develop this disease, in which the vocal cords become paralyzed and hang down into the airway. Watch for noisy breathing, especially when exercising or in hot, humid weather. In severe cases a pet can collapse and have difficulty breathing. Mild cases can be managed with changes at home and possibly medication. Bring him in right away if you notice signs because you don’t want this problem to become a surgical emergency!
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, also known as GDV or Bloat, usually occurs in dogs with deep, narrow chests. This means your Bouvier is more at risk than other breeds. When a dog bloats, the stomach twists on itself and fills with gas. The twisting cuts off blood supply to the stomach, and sometimes the spleen. Left untreated, the disease is quickly fatal, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes. Your dog may retch or heave (but little or nothing comes out), act restless, have an enlarged abdomen, or lie in a prayer position (front feet down, rear end up). Preventive surgery in which the stomach is tacked down or sutured in place so that it is unlikely to twist is an option. If you see symptoms, take your pet to an emergency hospital immediately!
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Boston Terriers can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Bouvier Des Flandres and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Bouviers. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Entropion is a condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea (surface of the eyeball). This is an extremely irritating and painful condition that can ultimately lead to blindness. It can happen in any dog breed; however, your Bouvier is especially at risk for this heritable disorder. Surgical correction is usually successful if performed early.
Bouviers are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.
When Bouvier puppies are allowed to grow too quickly, the cartilage in their joints may not attach to the bone properly. This problem is known as osteochondritis dissecans or OCD. If this occurs, surgery may be required to fix the problem. It’s best to stick to our recommended growth rate of no more than four pounds per week. Don’t overfeed him and don’t supplement with additional calcium. Feed a large-breed puppy diet rather than an adult or a regular puppy diet. Weigh your puppy every three to four weeks.
Sometimes your Bouvier’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.
Subaortic Stenosis or SAS is a heart defect involving a narrowing just below the aortic valve. This causes the heart to become overworked as it tries to pump blood past this narrow opening. The result can be an irregular heart rhythm leading to sudden death. A characteristic heart murmur can sometimes be heard with a stethoscope. If this is heard in your Bouvier Des Flandres, we may recommend further testing, including an echocardiogram to rule out other likely causes and to help guide treatment. Medications can sometimes help, but many puppies with SAS die suddenly.
Your Dirty Beard is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, we’ll test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, we can treat with a special diet and medication.
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Bouviers. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Dirty Beard live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- She has a shaggy coat that requires weekly brushing and trimming at least 3 times a year.
- Bouvier Des Flandres generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- Her long beard can get messy while eating and drinking and will need some attention to keep it clean.
- She is easy to train but early obedience and socialization are required to keep her from becoming overprotective and dominant.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Bouvier Des Flandres needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands, unexplained weight loss
- General reluctance to run or play
- Matted fur, hairloss, sores
- Tubular vomit, undigested food
- Louder than normal panting, especially when hot or after exercise
- Dry heaving or a large, tight, painful abdomen
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
- Coughing, fainting episodes, tiring easily
- Slow or stunted growth; sometimes seizures after eating
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Bouvier counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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- Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
- Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/bouvier-des-flandres
- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=bouvier-des-flandres