Common health problems with Boston Terriers

June 10, 2024 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Boston terrier

Boston Terriers are a little bundle of cheeky energy, charm and playfulness. They've got distinct personalities and will bring fun and laughs to your home. Plus, they're a sociable, small dog suitable for living in apartments, which is a nice bonus.

But like any purebred, they're prone to certain health issues. We share vet-approved advice on the most common health conditions in Boston Terriers, how vets diagnose them and the treatment options.

The most common health problems in Boston Terriers

Boston Terrier

Cushing’s disease (or hyperadrenocorticism)

A condition where the dog’s body produces too much cortisol, which plays a role in a dog's response to stress.

Signs your dog may have Cushing’s include:

But these can be signs of lots of other health conditions too. It's fairly common in middle-aged and older dogs.

It's diagnosed with blood tests, but a vet may ask for a couple of other, different tests in some cases, as it can be tricky to diagnose.

Treatment is possible and lifelong, but once on the correct dose or oral medication, it can be well managed. Regular blood tests to check the dose is correct will be needed.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

BOAS is common in breeds that have a short skull and nose. It's because smaller skulls have less space for tissues to fit in, leading to a narrow trachea and nostrils. These combine to cause breathing problems.

Signs of BOAS include:

Vets can manage some symptoms with small changes, but most dogs require surgery to widen the nostrils, shorten the soft palate or remove the laryngeal saccules (tissues in the neck).


Allergic skin disease is common. Known as atopic dermatitis, it develops between six months and three years of age.

Allergies are an exaggerated immune response to substances in your dog's environment, like food. A poor skin barrier can contribute to allergies as well.

Dogs become itchy and have patches of sore, red or abnormal-looking skin, often on the belly and feet. They may also get an upset tummy and are more likely to get skin infections.

Treatment is lifelong, and allergy testing and diet trials help understand what triggers a dog’s symptoms.

Treatment might involve:

  • Diet changes

  • Anti-allergy medications

  • Antihistamines

  • Medicated shampoos

  • Immunotherapy

  • Steroids

Eye problems

Cherry eye occurs when the tear-producing gland in the third eyelid falls out of place. It causes a red swelling in the corner of the eyes and usually appears before one year of age. It can lead to eye infections and corneal ulcers.

Vets will often need to perform surgical correction which involves putting the gland back into place inside the third eyelid. There is a high risk of recurrence even after surgery.

Dry eye is also hereditary and is caused by insufficient tear production. The surface of the eye becomes red, inflamed and irritated, leading to infections and ulcers. Treatment is possible but lifelong.

How to care for a Boston Terrier

Boston Terrier

Genetic testing and responsible breeding

Boston Terriers with severe hereditary conditions should be exempt from breeding. It's why genetic testing and health screening are an essential step in assessing a dog's health, and why picking a responsible breeder is important.

You should always buy puppies from a responsible and registered breeder, and check the dogs have had the appropriate health checks.

Boston Terriers suffer from BOAS in varying degrees, depending on the conformation of the parents. Dogs with particularly severe symptoms or who have required surgery should not be bred.

Responsible breeders will want to make sure their puppies are healthy, so always look at the parent dogs, and find out if they’ve had to have BOAS surgery.

Dry eye can only be diagnosed on a clinical examination of the eye, and a tear production test will reveal whether your dog is producing enough tears.

Cherry eye cannot be screened for, but as it's a very distinctive condition, it's easy to spot. If a dog has a cherry eye or has had to have surgical correction for the condition, it shouldn’t be used for breeding, as the pups are likely to have it too.

Cushing’s disease is tested for with blood testing in dogs with symptoms, as there's no genetic screening available.

Careful exercise

You can prevent acute or sudden breathing difficulties by avoiding exercising your dog in hot weather and preventing them from becoming over-excited or stressed.

But you should still exercise your Boston Terrier regularly. Exercise is essential for keeping your dog’s joints healthy by maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity can worsen conditions like patella luxation.

Allergen avoidance

Allergies are usually diagnosed by exclusion once other causes of skin irritation are ruled out. There are allergy tests available, and sometimes a diet trial is required too to determine what triggers an allergy.

Avoiding possible allergies like long grass in summer, washing your dog’s feet after a walk, keeping up to date with parasite treatments and avoiding foods that set your dog off will help control symptoms alongside medication.


Joint supplements might also help prevent osteoarthritis.  

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A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.