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Berner Health 

There is a saying in Switzerland about the short lifespan of Berners. "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog, all else is a gift." As a breeder we take every precaution when matching breeding pairs, make sure testing has been done and that there is no risk of inbreeding because we want our puppies to have that chance at much more than just those predicted 6-8 years. But even with all that Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to multiple health issues. One of our goals is to make sure our puppies go to homes that will not only love and care for them but can also afford to address health issues when they arise. A high adoption fee for a BMD puppy is not just because the breeder is trying to make money; it is also to ensure that if you can afford that adoption fee it's most likely that you will also be able to afford the possible future Vet bill. Below are the some of the genetic disorders you should have your BMD tested for. 



Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder affecting Bernese Mountain Dogs that prevents normal blood clotting and can cause extended bleeding following injury. The condition results from a deficiency or lack of sufficient Von Willebrand factor, which functions as a binding protein during blood clotting. Three 


types of VWD have been found in dogs, with VWD type 1 affecting the Bernese. Dogs with VWD1 have less than half of the average Von Willebrand coagulation factor, which is an essential protein needed for normal blood clotting. There is variability in the amount of VWf made such that not all dogs with two copies of the mutation are equally affected. Dogs with less than 35% of the normal amount of VWf generally have mild to moderate signs of the bleeding disorder. Affected dogs may bruise easily, have frequent nosebleeds, bleed from the mouth when juvenile teeth are lost, and experience prolonged bleeding after surgery, trauma, or giving birth. Dogs may show signs of lameness or stiffness if bleeding occurs in the joints or muscles. Due to the possible severity of the disorder, dogs affected may not be identified until surgery is performed, or trauma occurs, so it is crucial to complete the testing for VWD1. You will want your veterinarian to know before any surgery to have ready access to blood banked for transfusions. Despite increased blood clotting times, most dogs will have an expected lifespan with this condition.


Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive spinal cord disease in older dogs. The disease has an insidious onset, typically between 9 and 12 years. Degenerative myelopathy SOD1B is caused by a mutation of the SOD1 gene currently only identified in Bernese Mountain Dogs (BMD). BMDs are known to develop a more slowly progressive form of degenerative myelopathy associated with this mutation. In general, there is a variable presentation between dogs with this disease, suggesting that there are environmental or other genetic factors responsible for modifying the disease. The disease affects the white tissue of the spinal cord and is considered the canine equivalent to Lou Gehrig’s disease found in humans. Affected dogs usually present in adulthood with gradual muscle atrophy and loss of coordination starting in the hind legs due to degeneration of the nerves. The condition is not typically painful for the dog but will progress until the dog can no longer walk. The gait of dogs affected with DM can be difficult to distinguish from those with hip dysplasia, arthritis of other joints in the hind limbs, or intervertebral disc disease. Late in the progression of DM, dogs may lose fecal and urinary continence, and the forelimbs may be affected. Affected dogs may entirely lose the ability to walk within two years after symptoms begin. Medium to large breed dogs affected by DM, such as the BMD, can be challenging to manage during the late stages of the disease.


Histiocytic sarcoma (HS) is an uncommon but aggressive cancer in dogs. It is highly breed specific, with Bernese Mountain Dogs (BMDs), Rottweilers, and Retrievers having a high prevalence with approximately 25% in the BMD. It was first noticed in the BMD in the 1970s. Histiocytes are a type of white blood cell that reside within the tissues of almost every organ in the body and are an essential part of the immune system. They help get rid of invading pathogens and stimulate other immune system cells. Histiocytic sarcomas develop when these specialized white blood cells begin dividing uncontrollably. Because white blood cells are found in many different tissues, HS can arise almost anywhere and spread quickly. HS can occur in various forms: localized, disseminated, and hemophagocytic. Localized HS commonly occurs in bones, joints, skin, and lungs. Disseminated HS affects multiple organ systems at once. The less common hemophagocytic form is thought to arise from splenic tissue and follows a more rapidly progressive course. Unfortunately, the life span after diagnosis of HS is approximately only 45 days. Currently, there is nowhere to test for HS in the US, and many breeders don’t know to look for it. It is interesting to note that BMD breeders in Europe are required to test for HS before they can have permission to breed BMDs.


PRA is an inherited eye disease in which the retina degenerates, and the dog suffers impaired vision and often blindness.

There are early- and late-onset forms of PRA. The early version involves abnormal cell development resulting in vision problems as early as 3-months-old. In late-onset PRA, cells develop normally but degenerate later in life, causing vision problems around 3- to 5-years-old.The signs of PRA include impaired night vision, dilated pupils, appearing to be disoriented in new environments, and reluctance to explore new places. Diagnosed BMD’S will typically be blind within a year.  Your BMD should have undergo annual eye exams. 


BMD'S are a high risk breed for canine heart diseases. We recommend that you have a canine echocardiogram performed by a Veterinarian Cardiologist to rule out possible issues. 



Breeding Perfect Genetics

Some breeders believe that you should only have breeding pairs with all "non carrier" health clearances. This is not the case, in fact removing carriers from the breeding pool reduces genetic diversity in the breed which can increase other heritable diseases. To learn more watch this Embark video. 

For a more extensive list of health conditions and diseases visit the BMDCA website.

We encourage all our pet parents to upload your BMDs health results into the Berner-Garde database to help further assist the health of the breed.





Suggested Reading 

The Forever Dog

This is the most comprehensive canine book I have come across that addresses diet and health. I wish it had been around when I was a Veterinarian Technician. 



Bernese Mountain Dog - Yesterday and Today

You will not find a more comprehensive, educational book about Bernese Mountain Dogs. 

Winner of the Maxwell Medallion Award 2011 for the best book on a single breed.

Winner of the Dogwise Best Book Award

Winner of the Pro-Plan Presidents Award for the best in all catogories. 

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Page References



Genetic Labs:

Gensol Diagnostic


Embark Vet

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