Staffordshire Bull Terriers: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Staffies and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Sweet, playful, and friendly
- Devoted, loyal, and protective
- Good with children
- Energetic, active, and athletic
- Adaptable to a wide variety of living conditions
- Confident, steady, and fearless
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Must be properly socialized as a puppy to avoid aggression as an adult
- Prone to boredom and separation anxiety when left alone and will find trouble
- Needs daily exercise
- May be territorial when it comes to cats and other dogs
- Doesn’t do well in the heat
- Is a bit “mouthy”—likes to carry and chew things
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’sfull of personality, and you love her for it! She is happy and animated with a smile on her face. She can be tenacious and willful, but with a patient and confident leader she makes a loving and gentle family companion.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier originated in England during the 19th century. They were initially used for bull and bear baiting and then for dog fighting. After those activities were banned, they became companion pets. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a small but powerful breed. They adore people, chewing, and playing. Their powerful jaws require a multitude of durable chew toys. The Staffordshire radiates energy and is enthusiastic in everything she does. They are highly affectionate and are content spending time with the family. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 11-12 years.
Your Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Stafford. By knowing about health concerns specific to Staffordshire Bull Terriers, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed.That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen inStaffordshire Bull Terriersto give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Staffordshire Bull Terriers. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Staffie looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Stafford is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Stafford’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections—the same ones that all dogs can get—such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, herage, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Staffordshire Bull Terriers. It is a serious disease that may causeor worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Staffie’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest herskin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into hersystem in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep herhealthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Stafford is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Staffordshire Bull Terriers
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Staffordshire Bull Terriers can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Staffords. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Distichiasis is a condition caused by extra hairs that grow inside of the eyelid and rub on the surface of the eye. This is one of the most commonly inherited diseases in dogs, and your Stafford is more likely than other dogs to develop this painful condition. If untreated, these abnormal hairs can cause corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain. Several treatment options are available, and the prognosis is good once the hairs have been permanently removed.
Eyeballs are pretty complicated structures, and sometimes they don’t grow exactly according to plan. Several different specific structural defects are sometimes seen in Staffie’s eyes. Most of these developmental errors cause no problems at all, some can only be detected by a vet using special tests, some are obvious, and a few can cause serious vision problems. We’ll check his eyes for problems, and discuss specific conditions as they apply to your buddy.
Bone and Joint Problems
A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in Staffordshire Bull Terriers. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.
Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia , an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Stafford’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!
When Stafford puppies are allowed to grow too quickly, the cartilage in their joints may not attach to the bone properly. This problem is known as osteochondritis dissecans or OCD. If this occurs, surgery may be required to fix the problem. It’s best to stick to our recommended growth rate of no more than four pounds per week. Don’t overfeed him and don’t supplement with additional calcium. Feed a large-breed puppy diet rather than an adult or a regular puppy diet. Weigh your puppy every three to four weeks.
Sometimes your Stafford’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.
Cushing’s Disease is a malfunction of the adrenal glands causing them to produce too much steroid hormone. This is a common problem in dogs, and your Staffie is more likely than other dogs to be affected. The condition usually develops slowly, and the early signs are easily missed. Symptoms include drinking and urinating more than normal, increased appetite and reduced activity level. Later, a potbelly, thin skin, and hair loss are characteristic. Treatment usually includes oral medications, and requires close coordination with us to ensure correct dosing.
Cancer is a leading cause of death among dogs in their golden years. Your Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a bit more prone to certain kinds of cancer starting at a younger age. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll do periodic blood tests and look for lumps and bumps at each exam.
Mast cell tumors are a particularly nasty type of skin cancer found more often in Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and the sooner they are surgically removed the better. Trouble is, they often look just like other kinds of skin lumps and lesions, some of which are harmful, and others not. All suspicious lumps should be tested and any questionable lump should be surgically removed as soon as possible. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, so early detection and removal is critical.
Hemangiosarcoma is a type of bleeding tumor that affects Staffordshire Bull Terriers at greater than average incidence. These tumors commonly form in the spleen, but can form in other organs as well. Unbeknownst to a pet owner, the tumor breaks open and internal bleeding occurs. Some tumors can be volleyball-sized or larger before signs of sickness show. We often find clues that one of these tumors is present during senior wellness testing, so have his blood tested and an ultrasound performed at least yearly.
Heart failure is a leading cause of death among Staffordshire Bull Terriers in their golden years. Most heart disease in dogs is caused by weakening of a valve. A heart valve slowly becomes deformed so that it no longer closes tightly. Blood then leaks back around this valve and strains the heart. Pets with heart valve disease (sometimes called mitral valve disease) have a heart murmur. If your dog has a heart murmur or outward signs suggesting heart problems, we’ll perform testing to determine the severity of the disease. The same tests will need to be repeated at least every year to monitor the condition. If heart valve disease is diagnosed early, we may be able to prescribe medications that could prolong his life for many years. Veterinary dental care and fatty acid supplementation can help prevent heart disease and weight control can help diminish symptoms.
In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Staffords often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.
Demodex is a microscopic mite that lives in the hair follicles of dogs. All dogs have them. Normally a dog’s immune system keeps the mites in check, but some breeds, like your Stafford, develop an overabundance of these mites. In mild cases, pet owners may notice a few dry, irritated, hairless lesions. These often occur on the face or feet and may or may not be itchy. Secondary skin infections may occur. Prompt veterinary care is important to keep the disease from getting out of hand. Many pets seem to outgrow the problem, while others require lifelong management.
Bladder or Kidney Stones
There are a few different types of stones that can form in the kidney or in the bladder, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are more likely to develop them than other breeds. We’ll periodically test his urine for telltale signs indicating the presence of kidney and bladder stones; they are painful! If your buddy has blood in his urine, can’t urinate, or is straining to urinate, it is a medical emergency. Call us immediately!
There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Staffordshire Bull Terriers commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.
Respiratory Distress Syndrome
This disease, also known as brachycephalic syndrome, affects dogs with a short nose, like your Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He has the same amount of tissue in his nose and throat as the longer-nosed dogs, but there’s no place for it to go. As a consequence, the soft palate (the soft part at the back of the roof of the mouth), is too long and hangs down into the airway. The nostrils are often too small, and sometimes the trachea, or windpipe, is narrow and undersized. All of these things lead to a narrow and obstructed airway. Many of these dogs can barely breathe! Watch for exercise intolerance, loud breathing, coughing, bluish gums, or fainting. With his short nose, he is also more likely to develop other problems, such as flatulence from excessive air intake, pneumonia from aspirating food, or heat stroke. In severe cases, surgical correction may be recommended.
Teeth abnormalities are often genetically induced and are relatively common in dogs, especially in purebred dogs like your Stafford. An overbite or underbite is called a malocclusion, or a bad bite. Oligodontia is a condition where only a few teeth are present. Misaligned teeth can also occur and cause lots of problems, but can usually be corrected with braces or extractions. (Yes, dogs can get braces!) We want to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy so we will be watching his developing teeth closely.
Lots of dogs enjoy a healthy game of “chase the tail.” However, for some Staffordshire Bull Terriers, this can become a repetitive, compulsive neurologic disorder similar in some ways to a seizure, during which the dog may actually injure himself. If your friend appears to be a bit too interested in his tail, try to distract him with another game, and don’t encourage the behavior. If we catch it early, we may be able to prevent problems with special behavior training. Various medications may also be needed. In some severe cases, the problem may be extremely difficult to control.
L-2 Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria
L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria (L2HGA) is caused by an error of metabolism. The exact defect responsible for the disease is unknown. The disorder is considered rare but extremely serious, with symptoms including seizures, ataxia (lack of controlled muscle movement), dementia, and tremors. Pedigree studies indicate that the condition is hereditary in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance, meaning that apparently normal dogs may carry the gene, and pass the disease to their offspring. A DNA test is available, and affected or carrier dogs should be neutered to avoid passing on the condition.
Taking Care of Your Staffordshire Bull Terrier at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Staffords. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Staffie live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- She has low grooming needs. Brush her coat as needed, at least weekly.
- Staffordshire Bull Terriers generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She is well suited to apartment life as long as she is given daily walks and frequent play sessions.
- She has a strong chase instinct, so she needs to be leash walked and a fenced play area is a must.
- She can be sensitive to warm temperatures; avoid any prolonged exposure and be very alert to the signs of heat stress.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Staffordshire Bull Terrier needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
- Repetitive, compulsive whirling
- Dry, scaly, sometimes itchy hairless patches on face or paws
- Lumps or bumps – regardless of size
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- General reluctance to run or play
- Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, jump, or “bunny hopping”
- Drinks and urinates more, eats more, potbelly, poor haircoat
- Coughing, especially at night or upon rising after sleeping, rapid breathing at rest
- Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
- Loud breathing, tires easily at exercise
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Stafford counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=staffordshire-bull-terrier