health problems in the Chow Chow breed

In the Chow Chow breed, there are some wide spread health problems. The "W.K. Hirschfeld stichting" (a part of the Dutch Kennel Club concerning health in pure bred dogs) researched the health problems in 27 different breeds during 1999. They sent a questionnaire to the owners of all Chow Chows born in the years 1994 - 1997. The results of this survey were published in 2001.

health problems

Health problems were divided in 12 categories. Below follow the category percentage results for Chow Chows followed by the percentage from all 27 breeds that had been researched.
area of healthproblems Chow Chows all researched breeds
1 - Skin and coat21,9 %7 %
2 - Spine1,6 %1 %
3 - Limbs22,2 %3 %
4 - Teeth2,3 %1 %
5 - Nerve system1,6 %1 %
6 - Eyes and sight30,4 %1 %
7 - Ears and hearing3,6 %1 %
8 - Blood and immune system0,7 %0,5 %
9 - Cardio vascular system0,3 %0,5 %
10 - Lungs and bronchial tubes2,6 %0,5 %
11 - Digesting system4,6 %3 %
12 - Kidneys and urine tract canal3,6 %2 %
We see that the main problems for the Chow Chow breed are in "Eyes and sight", "Limbs" and "Skin and coat".

eyes and sight, 30.4 %

The largest problem in this field is entropion (the eyelids or eyelashes curl inwards and irritate the eyeball), with a percentage of 27.5 %, so 90% of all eye problems of the Chow!
Entropion is not a new problem; some of Chows imported from China in the 19th century had this condition and we continue to see it today. It is a polygenetic inherited disorder (there are multiple genes involved), so it is not easy to select breeding stock simply on clear eyes. From two entropion free parents can come offspring with entropion and from two parents with entropion can come offspring that are free.
It is common in all lines, so a breeder can hardly be expected guarantee to sell an entropion free pup. Entropion can also develop when the dog is older, and I know some cases of Chows that developed this disorder when they were 7 or 8 years old. It is also worth noting that not every tearing eye is the result of entropion.
When there is entropion, the affected eye must be corrected. It is not a difficult surgery, but if an affected eye is not treated, the entropion will cause a lot of pain and even possibly loss of sight in the dog. The pain and the lost of sight can also be the cause of behavior problems!
So this is a very complex matter, that breeders try to avoid. It seems to become less common in the last few years.

limbs, 22.2 %

Knee ligaments are the main problem here: 11.3 %, which equate to 51% of the limb problems. Other problems are HD (hip dyplasia), luxating patella, OCD (elbow dysplasia) and arthritis.
The Chow-knee is vulnerable because of the straight hind legs (although recent Danish research might indicate that more angrulated hindlegs are more vunerable to knee ligament problems). The problem has gotten worse because there is a tendancy to select for straighter and straighter hind legs upon double hocks (the hock bends over to the front). Lately breeders are more aware of this problem and double hocks were no longer an issue in this survey.
A knee ligament can tear because of the way the dog is built (genetic hereditary problem), but also be the result of a freak accident. The Dutch Chow Chows Club established breeding regulations in March 2003 that all Chow Chows used for breeding should be tested for the knee-ligaments, luxating patellas and hip dysplasia.

skin and coat, 21.9 %

Problems with skin and coat are sadly common in many breeds today. The percentage for all researched breeds is 7%. In Chows it is much more: 21.9%. The main proportion of these are allergy related skin problems: 13.3%, which comprises 60% of all skin and coat problems. The researchers say this is a genetic problem.

However, I have some other thoughts about allergies, because this problem is not only increasing in pets, humans are suffering more and more from allergies too. Environmental pollution could be one of the causes; the yearly repeated vaccinations are an other possible cause, because they stress the immune system; the (over-)use of antibiotics might be a cause; and last (but not least) I want to mention the changes in feeding dogs (and humans). Over the past few decades, commercial produced dog foods have become a major industry. We changed the diet of our Chow Chows a few years ago and feed a mainly raw diet now.

For a very complete summary of all worldwide found diseases and disorders in Chow Chows, I recommend the web page Breeding guidelines for the Chow Chow breed, compiled and edited by Judith-Ann Robertson (Sengé Chow Chows, Australia).
The Canine Inherited Disorders Database is an other source of information about inherited disorders.

breed info

this page was updated at
October 6th, 2009
© Anita Meulstee

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