Common health problems with Bernese Mountain Dogs

2 July 2024 - 4 min read
Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dogs are affectionate, athletic dogs that pride themselves on their work ethic and eagerness to please. They're intelligent dogs who always want to learn new things and love living with active, experienced owners.

But like all pedigrees, they're prone to certain health issues. Below, we discuss the most common Bernese Mountain Dog health conditions, how vets diagnose them and how to care for one.

Most common Bernese Mountain Dog health conditions

A Bernese Mountain Dog with a black, white, and brown coat, sitting against a light beige background, looking directly at the camera with its tongue out.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common conditions in dogs, and Bernese Mountain Dogs aren't exempt from this. Vets define the condition as when soft tissue that stabilises the hip joint weakens, leading to issues.

Obesity and overexercise in puppyhood can make these issues worse, and it almost always leads to arthritis. But the condition has a strong genetic component, so even if you limit these risk factors, it's likely your dog will get it.

Symptoms start between six months and a year of age. You'll usually notice things like:

  • Hindlimb lameness

  • Stiffness

  • Problems jumping

  • Issues with things like climbing stairs

Vets will usually prescribe a mix of anti-inflammatories, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy. In severe cases, dogs will need surgery to replace their hip.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is the most common cause of forelimb lameness in dogs. It refers to several abnormalities that can occur during the development of the elbow joint.

It's a genetic condition, but obesity and overexercise in puppyhood contribute to the problem. A diagnosis is usually made before a dog is two.

In the long term, it leads to pain, osteoarthritis and microfractures. It can be treated with anti-inflammatories, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy. Sometimes, a dog will need surgery to correct the condition.

Degenerative myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a neurological condition caused by a dog's genetics. It leads to a progressive and non-painful hind limb paralysis, and usually only occurs in older dogs.

The disease causes degeneration of the nerves in the lower part of the spinal cord. It's unfortunately a fatal condition, and it's challenging and distressing for owners as the pet will eventually lose the use of their back legs.

Vets can treat the condition, but it's not curable. Usually, symptoms can be managed with a mix of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy.

Acute moist dermatitis

Acute moist dermatitis, or ‘hot spots’, are skin sores that suddenly appear. They're more common in the summer and a breed with a thick, dense coat. The sores are usually combined with scratching or excessive licking, leading to further infection.

Hot spots are usually round areas of skin that are very oozy, red and sore with a foul smell. They can cause something called satellite lesions, which are lesions around the main sore, meaning the condition can spread.

Vets will recommend clipping the fur in the area, regular grooming, thorough cleaning with antiseptics, topical or oral antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories.

Malignant Histiocytosis

Bernese are more likely to develop certain cancers, in particular Malignant Histiocytosis, which is a common cause of early death in the breed. It's an inherited disease that usually develops in the skin and spreads to the lymphatic system, liver, lungs, and spleen.

Symptoms may include:

This is unfortunately an aggressive and rapidly progressive form of cancer, and there is currently no known cure. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used in treatment with some short-term success but unfortunately are unsuccessful in the long term.

Our article on cancer in dogs explains more.

How to care for a Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog

Picking a responsible breeder

Several conditions that affect Bernese Mountain Dogs are inherited and can be screened for.

There are specific screening schemes for the breed like the Kennel Club and BVA Hip and Elbow Scoring schemes. These assess the hips and elbows on x-rays of any breeding adult to see their risk of passing on problems to their young.

Adult dogs who suffer from hip or elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

Genetic testing is available for Degenerative Myelopathy and Malignant Histiocytosis, and you should not breed from affected dogs. Prompt diagnosis of these conditions and early intervention could give dogs a better prognosis.

Look out for responsible, registered breeders and always get puppies from those who have complied with these important checks.


All large-breed dogs can benefit from a supplement to support their joint function and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.

Careful exercise when they're young

You should also be very careful when your Bernese puppy is growing. They shouldn't climb stairs or jump into the car when their bones develop, and walks should be kept short.

Regular grooming

Hot spots can easily be diagnosed at the vet as they have a very characteristic appearance. Keeping your dog’s coat well-groomed, free from dead undercoats, and clean (especially in the warm summer months) can help prevent these sores. Check your dog’s skin regularly so you spot any changes quickly.

How dog insurance helps

Bernese Mountain Dog insurance has all you need to stay prepared for the unexpected and protect your pet.

Dog insurance helps with up to £15,000 vet fee cover, unlimited 24/7 vet calls with FirstVet and a host of other perks.


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After graduating from the University of Nottingham, Holly spent two years as a farm animal vet. She then travelled and volunteered in India, working at neutering clinics and with injured street dogs. Holly now works in small animal practice, balancing this with writing and volunteering with the comms team at Vet Sustain. She's also a marine mammal medic!