Common health problems with Rhodesian Ridgebacks

4 July 2024 - 4 min read
Rhodesian Ridgeback

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are big, athletic dogs with a heart of gold. They're natural protectors, making them a caring, attentive watchdog. With good training, they become faithful, loyal friends you can depend on.

But like any pedigree, they're prone to certain health issues. Below, we discuss the most common Rhodesian Ridgeback health conditions, how vets diagnose them and how to care for one.

Most common Rhodesian Ridgeback health conditions

Rhodesian Ridgeback

Digestive problems

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are prone to a few digestive issues. The ones that stick out are gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) and bloat.

Bloat happens when a dog's stomach fills with gas, food or fluid. It usually triggers after a large meal. GDV happens when a dog's stomach twists and distorts - this can happen after exercising too soon after a meal.

Our article on bloat and GDV can help.

Preventative surgery, namely a gastropexy, can be performed to tack the stomach to the wall of the abdomen to reduce the risk of life-threatening consequences.

Although the mechanism is not understood, it appears there is a genetic hereditary component to passing this condition to offspring. This should be taken into consideration and perhaps avoided where possible.

Both of these conditions can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.


Hypothyroidism happens when a dog doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. It's usually a result of the immune system attacking and damaging the thyroid gland, which produces thyroid hormone.

The condition is thought to have a genetic component and can be inherited.

The normal function of the thyroid gland is to control all the normal functions of the body like heart rate, metabolism, coat and skin quality and the immune system.

Symptoms include:

  • Dry skin and coat

  • Hair loss

  • Susceptibility to other skin diseases

  • Weight gain

  • Behavioural changes (like fearfulness and aggression)

Vets diagnose the condition with a blood test. Treatment involves replacement hormone medication.

Hip dysplasia

Genetically inherited conditions, like elbow and hip dysplasia, are seen commonly in this breed.

Hip dysplasia is where your dog’s hip joint doesn't fit together properly, so bones rub on each other leading to inflammation (swelling), pain and arthritis.

The condition almost always leads to arthritis, and treatment involves anti-inflammatories, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy.

Elbow dysplasia

Much like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is very common. In fact, it's the most common cause of forelimb lameness in dogs. The condition refers to abnormalities in the elbow joint.

The condition has a degree of severity, where some dogs are only minimally affected, while others will suffer from severe disability. For that reason, vets will use a variety of treatment plans, involving aspects like:

  • Diet

  • Exercise

  • Physiotherapy

  • Pain relief

  • In severe cases, surgery

Dermoid sinuses

Dermoid sinuses development is a painful condition where the skin on the back develops protruding hairs and skin cavities. In Ridgebacks, they occur in the neck region, chest or over the pelvis/ tail base. The disease is hereditary, and present at birth. Dogs with the condition shouldn't be bred.

Vets diagnose the condition with examination and imaging such as CT/MRI to assess the depth of the skin problem. These are essential steps before planning surgery. In severe cases infection can invade the cavities deeply, causing neurological symptoms.

Puppies with this condition should be operated on to remove the sinus to prevent complications later.

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME)

JME is a form of inherited epilepsy. Affected dogs show symptoms of seizure activity between six months and 18 months old.

Symptoms will start with frequent myoclonic jerks or twitches, normally when a dog is sleeping or at rest. This will eventually develop into epilepsy symptoms, like seizures.

Vets will use a DNA test for breeding adults to test if they can pass on the disease. Those affected shouldn't be bred. For offspring to develop the condition, both parents must carry the faulty gene.

How to care for a Rhodesian Ridgeback

Image of a brown Rhodesian Ridgeback with its tongue out

Small, regular meals

The risk of GDV and bloat can be reduced by feeding smaller meals little and often, as well as avoiding exercise immediately after meals.

Knowing your way around pet nutrition can help too.

Health screening

Elbow and hip dysplasia screening schemes are available to prevent affected adults from being bred and passing the condition to their pups. Those with lower scores are unlikely to pass significant disease to their young.

For dermoid sinuses, adult dogs with the condition shouldn't be bred due to their hereditary nature.

DNA testing for adult dogs intended for breeding is available for JME, as both parents need to have the faulty gene to pass on the condition. Those found to have it should only be bred with another dog without the faulty gene or not bred at all.

Picking a responsible breeder

Picking a responsible breeder is the best way to avoid some of the genetic health issues we've listed above.

A good breeder will conduct all the necessary health screening tests, meaning only healthy dogs will breed.

It's the most important thing you can do as a Rhodesian Ridgeback owner.

Regular grooming

Despite their short coats, we recommend having a regular grooming routine for your Rhodesian Ridgeback.

How dog insurance helps

Rhodesian Ridgeback 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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Lily qualified from Liverpool University in 2011 and spent five years as a veterinarian in mixed animal practice. As Lily’s passion for exotics and complicated small animal medical cases developed, she stepped into small animal-only practice. By 2018, Lily was leading a busy branch of a large hospital practice with a fantastic team, enjoying working on surgical and medical cases. Since falling poorly in 2021, Lily has found a new passion in medical writing, revealing a talent for sharing medical knowledge and writing with the public.