What Problems Do Staffies Have? 7 Health Issues To Know


staffy ears down

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is my absolute favorite breed of dog. I have been a happy owner of one for over 10 years. The Staffy is generally a healthy breed of dog, especially when adopted from a proper breeder. They are however prone to certain health conditions and genetic illnesses more so than some other breeds.

What health problems do Staffies have? Staffies are more genetically prone to the following health problems:

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
  • Skin Conditions – Atopy and Food Sensitivities 
  • Eye Conditions – Juvenile Cataracts and Distichiasis, 
  • Certain Cancers – Mast Cell Tumours
  • L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria
  • Patella Luxation
  • Heart Disease

Though the Staffordshire Bull Terrier can be more likely to be afflicted with these various conditions, they can be screened for many as puppies, and treated comfortably for others.

The Staffy is a robust and healthy dog overall. Prevention and treatment of these health issues can be very manageable when you are armed with the right understanding and resources.

7 Common Staffy Health Issues – Prevention & Treatment

Staffy health issues can vary in severity. It is important to know that you can screen for some of these conditions before you bring your puppy home. Any reputable breeder will have conducted genetic screens of a puppy’s parents before breeding.

Any breeder unwilling to provide the health records of the parent dogs should be avoided.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America in fact strongly recommends

“all breeding stock is DNA tested for L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria (L2-HGA) and Hereditary Juvenile Cataracts (HC) as well as having a current CERF clearance (within a year) before being bred.”

Reputable Staffy breeders should be held to high standards when it comes to their lines. Never hesitate to ask questions about their bloodlines. Obtaining health clearances from the puppy’s parents, grand-parents and further ancestry line is recommended. Ensure your dog has the best chance of avoiding any genetic disorders.

That being said, some conditions cannot be entirely avoided with 100% certainty. There are also factors such as the environment influences that can play a role in some conditions. Ask your breeder about all the health certifications and prior screens done to ensure your Staffy puppy’s health.

Some of the recommended screenings recommended by the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America include:

  • L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria
  • Juvenile Hereditary Cataracts
  • Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous
  • Hip Dysplasia (HD)
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Patella Luxation
  • BAER Testing (Congenital Deafness)
  • Cardiac (Heart Testing and disease)
  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

staffie smile

One of the more common health problem Staffies have is hip and elbow dysplasia. This is where the ball and socket joint of the hips grow abnormally and instead of sliding in the joint. This causes more of a grinding and slow deterioration over time. Elbow dysplasia is a similar abnormal development of the elbow joint.

Both types of dysplasia can cause inflammation, swelling, and instability in your dogs joints and mobility. This can be very painful and uncomfortable for your dog. This can be caused through the passing of genes within the Staffy breed. Sometimes it’s a result of some lifestyle factors.

Too much or too little exercise can lead to dysplasia. Strenuous activity on hard surfaces can wear down your Staffy’s joints. Too little exercise leading to obesity can also place strain on their bodies.

Improper nutrition can also lead to dysplasia. It is important to be feeding your Staffy a premium quality dog food.

Treatment and Prevention of Dysplasia

There are several ways to treat and prevent dysplasia in your Staffy. When it comes to treatment of a dog already exhibiting signs of dysplasia (Decreased activity, Decreased range of motion, Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs, etc…) many vets will recommend one of several treatments.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Weight loss regimes
  • Decreased exercise programs
  • Joint supplements
  • Surgery

When it comes to prevention of dysplasia, being proactive in your Staffy’s health is always your best bet. My Staffy gets most of these preventative measures in her food and supplements.

Ruby gets a premium quality dog food, rich in Omega fatty acids, as well as an extra shot of Pure Wild Alaskan Fish Oil to give her that extra joint health protection

For the past couple years as my Staffy has gotten a little older I have added in a Glucosamine supplement from the same brand that we use for her salmon oil. Zesty Paws has a terrific bacon flavored chew that helps support joint strength, mobility and lubrication. I highly recommend adding both of these supplements to your dog’s diet.

CBD Oil has also been a newer and effective method of treating the inflammation in joints and managing pain associated with dysplasia. I have a bottle of HolistaPet 300mg CBD that I use with my Staffy now that she is 10, and from my experience it has been great for her mobility, as well as her skin and coat.

Resources & ReviewsThe Best CBD Oils For Dogs

Skin Conditions – Atopy and Food Sensitivities 

Skin conditions in Staffies are unfortunately all too common a health problem that Staffies have. This has been one of the major health battles that I have undergone with my Staffy. She suffers from both food sensitivities as well as some environment atopy issues.

Atopy is an allergic reaction to many airborne allergens such as mold, dust, pollen, and fungus. They are often seasonal and can cause your dog to itch something fierce in the spring and summer times. My Staffy Ruby is one of these dogs prone to atopic allergic reactions. 

There are a handful of medications and preventative measures to help your Staffy if they are suffering from atopic allergies. My Staffy has a more severe case and we have opted for a combination of both medication and some preventative measures.

The first medication that was recommended to me by my vet was Atopica, and after a year of battling my Staffy’s itchy skin outbreaks, this was a miracle. It helped provide my dog with relief from the itchy and inflamed skin she was experiencing and lead a normal life.

Recently it was recommended to try and switch to a seasonal shot called Cytopoint, which has also worked extremely well for her.

Speak with your vet about possible treatments if you think your Staffy is suffering with Atopy.

Related Article: Staffy Always Scratching? – This May Be Why – 8 Reasons

Atopy Allergy Prevention

When it comes to prevention of atopic allergic reactions there are a few simple steps that I follow now to lessen my Staffy’s reliance on medications, and lessen her reactions. One is simply giving her a good wipe down from head to toe when we have been outside.

In my years with Ruby I have used a variety of different kinds of wipes. I find the hypoallergenic, unscented ones to be the best for her coat and skin. I would highly recommend any of these 3 wipes.

Personally I have used all of them at different times, and they are all top quality, and affordable ways to keep those environmental allergens off your Staffy.

My other go-to method of prevention and soothing is the Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil that I mentioned above. Not only is it good for my Staffy’s joint health, but it also helps with any inflammation in her skin.

I swear this Salmon Oil has been the best supplement I have added to her diet. Shiny coat, healthy skin, and added joint and immune support.

Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities can also be a common health issue with Staffies, and yes, my Staffy suffers with these too. These types of sensitivities can be based down genetically and develop in your dog. Symptoms of food allergies can be similar to atopy. Excessive ear scratching, biting and chewing of the feet, and excessive discomfort.

Elimination diets are typically the best way to find what foods your dog is reacting to and what foods best suit them.

For myself I tried a variety of different foods before we found that the single ingredient Acana Lamb and Apple was the best for Ruby. We also tried Orijen for a while, but found Acana worked best. Also check out some of the Premium Dog Foods I recommend.

Finding the root cause of your dog’s food issues can be frustrating, believe me, but patience and diligence in working with your vet and working through an elimination diet can work.

Once you find what works stick to that and in consultation with your vet you can talk about adding back other food ingredients.

When doing any sort of food transition make sure you do things slowly and gradually. Your Staffy has a sensitive tummy, and any sudden change in food can cause excessive gas, diarrhea, and even vomiting.

Add a little of the new food to their current diet, and each day slowly add a little more of the new food, and a little less of the current food. Do this over the course of a couple weeks to transition.

Staffordshire bull terrier puppy

Eye Conditions – Juvenile Cataracts and Distichiasis

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are genetically predisposed to a few different eye conditions. One being Juvenile Hereditary Cataracts which is a clouding of the lens of the eye and breakdown in tissue. This condition can impact your Staffy’s vision and result in total blindness.

Not all cataracts are genetic, but with Juvenile Hereditary Cataracts there is a recessive mutation that causes the early onset of cataracts between the ages of 1-3 years old.

Luckily this can be found through DNA screening of the parents to ensure the recessive mutations associated with this condition are not passed down.

Ask your breeder if screening for Juvenile Hereditary Cataracts have been conducted on the parents, and ask for a health certification to confirm. Any reputable breeder will proudly provide and display these screenings.

Distichiasis is a condition that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are prone to, but that can be easily treated. This eye condition is the growth of extra hairs that grow on the inside of the eyelids cause rubbing and irritation of the cornea. This can result in chronic eye pain, and corneal ulcers.

Luckily these hairs can be permanently removed and you Staffy can live in comfort once this procedure has taken place.

Certain Cancers – Are Staffies Prone To Tumours?

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are prone to a certain type of cancer called a mast cell tumour, which is a cancer of the immune system. These mast cell tumours can often be benign and show up on your Staffy’s skin or gastrointestinal tract.

The mast cell tumour can appear as bumps on the skin, but can be hard to distinguish from other growths. Symptoms of the skin mast cell tumour can be localized itching and irritations, to more severe pain associated with the mast cell tumours present in the GI tract.

These mast cell tumours can appear at any age, but are typically present starting at the age of 8 years old. If your dog is in pain or discomfort, or you notice any unusual growths, book some time with your vet to examine and test for this kind of cancer related tumour.

SourceUniversities Federation for Animal Welfare

L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria

L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria is a very rare, and recessive Neurometabolic disorder that seems to be present in Staffordshire Bull Terriers more than other breeds. This disorder is a metabolic defect that causes elevated levels of  L-2-hydroxyglutaric acid in a Staffy’s plasma, urine and cerebrospinal fluid.

This can lead to a number of neurological symptoms such as tremors, seizures, dementia, stiffness, and behavioral changes. I have added a video below of what this rare disorder looks like when present in a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Get your box of tissues ready.

Please note that though this L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria seems to affect Staffordshire Bull Terriers more than other breeds, this is a recessive disorder passed on by both parents that have a copy of the defective gene. All breeders will screen parents for these genes, and provide health certifications of such screenings.

Patella Luxation

Patella luxation is a genetic predisposition of the knee cap of your Staffordshire Bull Terriers legs to move or dislocated from the femoral groove. This can create a limp or lameness in the leg and give your dog a hard time bearing any weight.

There are a range of varying degrees of patella luxation. Some dogs can live their entire lives with little to no discomfort, while others can have more severe cases, or cause themselves further injuries such as torn ligaments as a result. Long term this can also lead to developments of arthritis in your Staffy.

Surgery is a hopeful option with fast recovery times and ideal post op results. There can however be a lifelong arthritis related pain if the condition has gone untreated for too long, or was very severe. If you notice you Staffy limping occasionally, or having issues bearing weight, consult with your vet.

Heart Disease

Heart disease in dogs is caused by weakening of a deformed heart valve so that it is no longer tightly closed. This deformation and weakening of the value can cause added strain to the heart muscle and lead to cardiac problems in your Staffy.

Though Staffordshire Bull Terriers can be prone to this disease it usually doesn’t appear until late in their life. On rare occasions it can appear as a heart murmur in younger dogs.

Veterinarians should be checking your Staffy regular and looking for things like heart murmurs to diagnose early. Medications can be provided to prolong your dog’s life if detected early.

Supplementation to promote heart health is encouraged, and I go back to my trusty WIld Alaskan Salmon Oil. Giving my Staffy these Omega fatty acids everyday helps to promote heart health as well as joint and skin health.

How Long Do Staffies Usually Live?

Staffordshire Bull Terriers typically live a long and healthy life of 12-15 years. This article up to this point has covered some of the health problems that Staffies have, but as mentioned the Staffy is a very healthy breed overall and will be with you for years if given the proper nutrition and health care needs.

What Do Staffies Usually Die From?

What Staffies usually die from is cardiac problems related to heart disease. This is the leading cause of death for Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and typically well into their senior years. Prolonging your Staffy’s life through a good regime of diet, exercise and supplementation can promote their heart health.

Why Does My Staffy Shake?

Several reasons can be the cause of why your Staffy shakes.

  • Excitement
  • Clever Attention Seeking
  • Cold Temperatures
  • Anxiety & Stress
  • Illness
  • Old Age

It is important to determine which of these 6 reasons is the cause of your Staffy shaking and intervene accordingly.

This is a common question among new Staffy owners, including myself when I first got my girl Ruby. I noticed she would get a shaky back leg whenever we went to the park, had guests come over, or were heading out for a car ride.

Excitement

staffy good smile

This I later came to learn was what a lot of Staffies do when they get really excited, and it is completely normal for this to happen. Whenever Ruby is really excited to go somewhere or see someone, she gets the shaky legs. It presents in a steady shake and is involuntary, and something I don’t worry about.

Clever Attention Seeking

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier can be a lot more clever than they look sometimes, and a common trick of theirs is shaking to get attention. I saw this early in my Staffy as well, and once I was on to her, I avoided giving attention when this trick was used. It is not the best way for a dog to act, and should not be encouraged.

Staffies will use this trick when they notice that their owners show concern and attention. This usually means a leg massage, some calm cuddles, and maybe even a treat.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are such people oriented dogs that they will launch these sneaky tricks for that extra attention. It is common, and as mentioned shouldn’t be encouraged as an attention getting method.

Cold Temperatures

Staffies are prone to the cold. Those short coats don’t provide a lot of protection from cooler temperatures and this can make them shake or shiver as a result. If it’s too cold for you to be in shorts and a t-shirt outside or in the home, then your Staffy is probably cold as well.

My Staffy loves her blankets inside to keep herself warm, but anytime we go outside and I need a thick jacket, or a raincoat, I make sure she has the same. Providing that extra warmth and dryness for your Staffy will keep those cold shakes and shivers at bay.

If you live in a colder climate then finding the proper winter gear for your Staffy is important to keep them comfortable. Canada Pooch has some of the best Winter Gear for Dogs I have found online, and a great size chart to fit your pup.

Resources & ReviewsThe Best Dog Jackets, Clothing, Pajamas, Thundershirts, Bagpacks & Boots

Anxiety & Stress

Anxiety and stress can be one of the reasons why your Staffy shakes. Dogs can have all kinds of different triggers and this all depends on the individual dog. My Staffy Ruby is pretty fearless overall, and doesn’t suffer from anxiety or stress 99% of the time, but the one thing that does trigger her is the fire alarm.

Sometimes when I am “cooking” I’ll set off the smoke detector, and this sends my poor girl into a state of panic. Even if it only went off for a few seconds. She will shake, tremble, and shudder for 20 minutes afterwards.

This can be the same for some dogs at the vet, during lightning storms, during bathtime, or a host of other reasons.

Oftentimes the best thing to do is ignore the behavior by acting as if nothing is wrong. Staffies are very receptive dogs and if they see you are not concerned with the trigger, they can overcome their anxiety and stress sooner. 

Trying to comfort your dog while they are in a state of anxiety and stress can have the opposite effect, so always use discretion to avoid encouraging and exacerbating any neurotic and fearful behaviors. If you feel it is a serious issue, always consult a professional to assess your dog. 

Illness

If your Staffy is not excited, cold, or scared of the thunder outside, and they are shaking, shuddering, or displaying signs of distress or seizures, time to call your vet.

Illness from toxins and medications can cause tremors and shaking in your Staffy. If they have eaten something they shouldn’t or you have recently put them on a new medication, this could be the cause.

Dogs eat all sorts of strange things, and you aren’t watching them 24/7, contact your vet immediately if you think they have eaten something toxic.

Seizures can be another form of illness causing your Staffy to shake. Not all seizures look the same, and sometimes the shaking is a result of a post seizure episode that you may have missed.

Closely monitor you dog for signs of seizures, and always consult with your vet if they are having odd behaviors you think could be seizure related (confusion, disorientation, and general weakness)

Old Age

As old age takes place in dogs they begin to get a little shaky. While some of this is to be expected with old age, don’t completely ignore it as this could be signs of discomfort in the joints and muscles. Your senior dog can live in relative comfort without these shakes, or a reduction of them at least.

As your dog ages, always consult your vet about supplementations, medications, and general health practices to provide your senior Staffy the comfort they deserve.

Final Thoughts

staffy puppy

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier does have health problems they are prone to as a breed. Though manageable and oftentimes rare when screened by reputable breeders, it is important to understand your dog’s potential health risks.

Owning a Staffy has been the single greatest decision I have made in my younger adult life. I had done my research back when the internet wasn’t as robust, and contacted several breeders to find the perfect match. Armed with the information above I still pressed forward hoping for the healthiest puppy I could get.

Ruby is in great health, but does have her skin issues that we have painstakingly managed and assessed from the time she was a puppy. Was this ideal? Nope. Was getting her worth it? Without a single doubt. This breed is incredible beyond words, and overall very healthy, energetic, durable, and live a long time.

Know what to ask your breeder, prepare yourself for some potential health problems, and manage accordingly. The upsides of getting a Staffordshire Bull Terrier far outweigh any downsides of the problems that Staffies could have.

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