Common health problems with Jack Russells

August 24, 2023 - 6 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.
jack russell dog giving owner paw in front of grassy green background

Jack Russell Terriers* are energetic, loyal dogs who love to run, play, and occasionally yip. They're some of our favorite pups here at ManyPets — we even featured one in a pet insurance ad.

So what’s the story on their health? What conditions are Jack Russells prone to developing, and how long do they tend to live?

What Even Is a Jack Russell Terrier, Actually?

Okay, here's the terrier in the room: Over the last decade or so, Jack Russells have been going through an odd identity crisis—or at least, the fine folks at the American Kennel Club have.

The AKC doesn't currently recognize a single "Jack Russell Terrier" breed, just two distinct breeds stemming from the Jack Russell: the "Parson Russell" and the "Russell Terrier." When we refer to "Jack Russell Terrier" in this post, we're referring to the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America's definition, not The AKC's.

(For what it's worth, the UK Kennel Club has kept things simple.)

Purebred Jack Russell Terrier lying at the window.

Jack Russell Terrier Health Concerns

The average lifespan for a Jack Russell is around 13–16 years, which isn't too shabby for a purebred dog! And with proper care, they can live even longer.

Whether you’re already a proud Jack Russell parent or thinking about whether the breed is right for you and your family, it's important to know which canine health problems your furry friend could run into down the line. That way, you can take action to avoid any preventable illnesses, catch any other dangerous illnesses early on, and prolong your time with your pup.

Eye Problems

Eye problems such as hereditary cataracts are fairly common in Jack Russells. They can suffer from "Primary Lens Luxation," a hereditary condition where the lens of the eye becomes dislocated. If left untreated, it may cause glaucoma or even blindness.

Liver Problems

Jack Russells can also be prone to developing liver problems such as Portosystemic Shunt (PSS). This condition occurs when the blood bypasses the liver, leading to a buildup of toxins in the body.

Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease) 

Cushing’s Disease is another condition that Jack Russells can develop. This occurs when your pupper's body produces too much cortisol, leading to symptoms such as increased thirst and appetite, as well as excessive and frequent urination.

1. Bladder or Kidney Stones 

Jack Russells can be prone to developing bladder or kidney stones (ouch!), which can cause discomfort and urinary issues. Left unchecked, these can escalate into life-threatening issues.

2. Joint Problems 

Keep an eye out for limping or lameness. Jack Russells may be more likely to develop joint issues such as Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, Patellar Luxation, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia, all of which may lead to pain and mobility issues.

3. Allergies 

A-CHOO! Does your Jack Russell seem to be afflicted with seasonal allergies, food allergies, or itchiness? Allergies might sound mild enough, but left unchecked, they may lead to Atopic Dermatitis, a skin condition that causes itching and inflammation and may require lifelong allergy treatment.

4. Neurological Problems 

Not only are seizures in your dog frightening to behold, but they can also be life-threatening. Some Jack Russells may fall victim to epilepsy, a condition that involves recurrent seizures. Dogs who suffer from epilepsy may need regular evaluations and medication to keep symptoms in check.

5. Dental Disease 

Like most pups with small jaws, Jack Russells commonly suffer from dental issues that can lead to decay and, eventually, extractions. Regular check-ups with your vet are important so you can catch any dental decay, as is proper at-home care, like brushing your dog's teeth. Occasionally, your dog may need professional dental cleanings.

6. Mast Cell Tumors

Jack Russells can develop Mast Cell Tumors, a type of skin cancer. Keep an eye on their skin for any lumps or bumps during your regular grooming sessions, and report any concerns back to your vet.

How to Avoid Common Conditions in Jack Russell Terriers

First things first: If you’re currently in the market for a purebred Jack Russell Terrier puppy, buy from a reputable breeder.

Certain hereditary conditions just tend to be common to certain dog breeds; this much is true. However, a responsible breeder won't sell you a dog whose immediate relatives have suffered from major hereditary health conditions. In other words, they'll try their hardest to send you home with a pup who's primed for lifelong health.

Unfortunately, there are many unethical “backyard breeders” who may breed Jack Russells—or at least dogs that resemble the breed—from dogs with known (or unknown yet untested) conditions such as epilepsy and luxating patella.

While a puppy from a high-quality breeder may cost more up front, you'll likely save money on the health issues you'll avoid down the road.

Make Your Vet Visits (and Vaccines) a Priority

The best thing you can do after you get your Jack Russell is find a fantastic vet. (Do your research and find your ideal vet before you get your pup, if possible.) Your vet is a valuable partner who can provide expert advice to help you and your Jack Russell enjoy as many years together as possible.

A nervous Jack Russell is calmed by a female veterinarian in an animal hospital prior to a surgical procedure.

And while the up-front cost of seeing a vet or paying for a vaccine might give you pause, it can cost you far more down the road if your pup develops conditions due to missed vaccinations and checkups.

Pay Attention to Shifts in Behavior

There’s no need to obsess over every little change, but if you notice something abnormal in your Jack Russell's condition — whether it's their appetite, energy levels, or behavior — take note and report back to your vet. Again, it’s much easier to treat a health condition if it’s caught early.

Make Sure They Get Regular Exercise

One of the best ways to avoid preventable diseases is also the simplest: exercise. All dogs benefit from regular exercise, but bouncy Jack Russells require more than many other breeds. Ample physical activity will keep them fit and prevent obesity.

Jack Russell Terrier dog on leash running with owner

Jack Russells are smart dogs, too, so you may want to incorporate puzzles or agility classes to keep them occupied. If you don’t exercise their bodies and minds, they may figure out creative—and destructive—ways to stay entertained.

Feed Them a Balanced Diet (in the Right Portions)

The right balanced diet — in the right amount—is monumentally important for every dog, but perhaps especially so for small-statured pups like the Jack Russell.

While those extra treats and table scraps might make your dog happy in the moment, in the long run, overfeeding and excess weight can cause serious health conditions. Treats aren’t off the table, but make sure you're not pushing past a healthy daily calorie intake. Be careful which human foods you feed your Jack Russell, and be vigilant about serving sizes.

Dog with banana

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Provide Regular Grooming

While it may feel tedious to brush your Jack Russell’s teeth every day, it can really pay off in the long run.

The same goes for cleaning ears, clipping nails, and other grooming practices every preventative pet care measure you take now can impact your Jack Russell's long-term health.

A little jack russel terrier at the dog groomer stock photo

At ManyPets, we offer an optional (non-insurance) Wellness Plan that can help reimburse the cost of routine care—things like dental cleanings, dog dental care products, parasite prevention, wellness exams and vaccinations, and more.

Dog being cleaned

ManyPets Wellness Plan for Dogs

Save on preventative care for your pup

The non-insurance ManyPets Wellness Plan can help reimburse you for the cost of routine and preventative care, including routine vet visits and certain over-the-counter products.

Dog being cleaned

These can all help keep your Jack Russell in tip-top shape, so they'll continue melting your heart for as long as possible.

The Bottom Line

Your pup is more than just a pet; they're a cherished part of your family. (Do we even need to say that?) But taking care of their health can get expensive.

Pet insurance is designed to ease the financial burden of emergency or unplanned veterinary care. ManyPets offers dog insurance for your Jack Russell that’s free of pesky hidden fees and annual payout limits. Here's to many more years with your frisky terrier!


Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.