Common health problems with Bedlington Terriers

13 June 2024 - 4 min read
Image of a white Bedlington Terrier looking into the camera

These hard-working, affectionate dogs are known for more than just their unique looks; they're pups that thrive outdoors, with an affinity for offering laughs and companionship in equal measure. We can see why you'd want one!

But like any pedigree, they're prone to certain health issues. Below, we discuss the most common Bedlington Terrier health problems, how they're diagnosed and how to care for one.

The most common Bedlington Terrier health conditions

Image of two white Bedlington Terriers

Copper toxicosis

An inherited disease that prevents the normal removal of copper from the liver. As copper accumulates, it causes cell damage, loss of function and eventually liver failure - bad news.

Symptoms include:

An acute (sudden onset) form of the disease can lead to death within a few days. But many dogs develop a more gradual form of this condition in middle-older age.

Treatment usually consists of a low-copper diet, drugs that reduce copper absorption in the gut and medications to support a dysfunctional liver.

Patellar luxation

This occurs when a dog’s patella (kneecap), usually resting within a groove on the thigh bone, can slide out of position. This wears away at the knee joint over time, causing arthritis.

When the patella does move out of its position, it may cause a dog to skip for a few steps before returning to a normal walk. Over time, symptoms of lameness and stiffness commonly develop too.

A vet may recommend surgery in severe cases, which aims to realign the patella back into its groove. All dogs will benefit from weight management, exercise restriction and physiotherapy.

Skin allergies

This occurs when the immune system overreacts to substances (called allergens) in a dog’s food or environment, like fleas, grasses, dust or mould.

This commonly causes the ears, belly and feet to become itchy, leading to dogs scratching and licking. Over time, the affected skin becomes red, sore and infected. After treating for parasites and secondary infections, management depends on reducing exposure to common allergens.

This might involve regular house dusting, frequently washing dog beds and avoiding high-pollen areas on walks. Anti-inflammatory medications, and a specialised treatment called immunotherapy (allergy injections), can also help.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

Affected dogs are born with an abnormal retina. The retina is responsible for converting light into vision. Any issues with this cause symptoms like night blindness and disorientation. Thankfully, the condition doesn't cause any pain.

Taking steps to support dogs as the disease progresses will help them to adapt to a life without vision. Useful measures include keeping the house furniture layout consistent and developing a dog’s ability to recognise verbal commands and cues.

Mitral valve disease (MVD)

This disease starts when one of the heart valves degenerates and causes blood to flow backwards into one of the chambers. This increases the blood volume inside the heart, leading to enlargement and additional strain on the heart muscles.

Initial symptoms include a dry cough and exercise intolerance, before progressing to more extreme lethargy and breathing difficulties. After a dog is diagnosed with MVD using a specialist type of ultrasound, treatment involves using medications that improve heart muscle function and remove excessive fluid.

How to care for a Bedlington Terrier

Image of a white Bedlington Terrier on a beige background

Selective breeding and genetic testing

Many inherited conditions like copper toxicosis, patellar luxation and PRA can only be prevented by not breeding from affected animals. Screening dogs intended for mating (e.g. full eye examination to detect PRA) is essential.

Some dogs can carry a mutant gene that causes copper toxicosis and yet remain asymptomatic for a prolonged period. For this reason, performing genetic tests can also be an invaluable tool in preventing this disease from being passed on.

It's why picking a responsible breeder is essential.

Maintain a healthy weight and avoid strenuous exercise

As dogs with patellar luxation are at risk of developing arthritis in later life, it's important to prioritise good joint health at all ages.

By maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding strenuous activities like sprinting and jumping, the overall load placed on the joint can be reduced.

On the other hand, low-intensity exercises like walking, and rehabilitation programmes like physiotherapy, help to protect the joint by building strength in the muscles around it.

Avoid potential allergens

It can be difficult to identify the specific trigger(s) of a dog’s skin allergies, and therefore it often takes a lot of effort, and a degree of trial and error, to manage the condition.

Ruling out food allergies requires a dog to be fed a strict diet for up to eight weeks, at which time they cannot be fed any other foods like treats or table scraps.

Dogs are also likely to be allergic to multiple environmental substances (like grasses and dust mites) which is why taking steps to avoid the most common allergens can be beneficial.

Using medications prescribed by a vet also plays a large role in reducing itchiness, which in turn helps to prevent secondary infections and long-term damage to the skin.

Regular vet check-ups

Regular vet check-ups are essential to catch things early. That's why we recommend preventative pet care so much.

For example, the signs of heart disease can easily go unnoticed until the more severe signs of heart failure (like breathing issues, extreme tiredness) begin to set in.

For this reason, any dog found to have a heart murmur would benefit from investigations that assess heart function. Currently, echocardiography (heart ultrasound) is the only way to diagnose MVD in its early stages and might prompt the use of medications that can delay the onset of heart failure.

Being aware of the presence of heart disease also makes it possible to spot the earliest and missable signs of heart failure like a gradually increasing breathing rate when at rest.

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As a small animal vet, Liam has worked in first-opinion and referral-level practices. After enjoying educating owners about their pets, Liam dedicated some of his non-clinical time to tutoring students who were preparing for exams or struggling at school. By combining a passion for teaching others and a keen interest in raising awareness about animal health issues, Liam began writing. Writing allows him to raise awareness of important animal health issues outside the consultation room.