The BMDCV takes an active interest in the health and well being of the Bernese Mountain Dog breed. Two major initiatives of the club in the last few years have been to conduct health survey and the establishment of a health fund. If you would like to make a contribution to the health fund, please email club secretary, Lynette Dawson at or download our Health Fund Donation form.

Health Survey





The health and well being of your Bernese is of primary importance.
Bernese, like all large breeds, are vulnerable to orthopaedic problems. This vulnerability is generally as a result of a number of contributing factors such as growth rate, genetics and environment.

Potential health problems relevant to the Bernese Mountain Dog:

Elbow Dysplasia

The term elbow dysplasia (ED) is a general term that is used to describe a developmental degenerative disease of the elbow joint. The three most common causes include united anconeal process (UAP), fragmented medial coronoid process(FCP) and osteochondrosis of the medial condyle of the humerus (OCD).

Dogs with ED may or may not be lame, therefore, using lameness to determine its presence is unreliable. However, dogs with clinical ED typically develop foreleg lameness between the ages of 5-12months of age. The lameness may be variable and periodic. Some may have lameness at rest, improve slightly with activity, but worsen again with increased activity. There may be intervals with no lameness at all. If both legs are affected, the lameness may be more difficult to detect. Careful observation would show slight rotation of the top of the paws outwardly, as well as a stiff or stilted movement of the fore legs.

The anconeal process (a) is a small pyramid shaped piece of bone on the upper end of the ulna. In young dogs it is a piece of cartilage that gradually turns to bone and unites with the rest of the ulna at approximately 4.5 – 5 months of age. If this process fails to take place, we have ununited anconeal process (UAP).

Osteochondritis dessicans (OCD) can occur in many joints, but when it occurs in an elbow, it is most commonly in the lower, inner aspect of the humerus (medial humeral condyle) (f). OCD is a vertical fracture in the articular cartilage of the humerus, which may break loose and float free in the joint, or remain partially attached to the bone like a flap. In either case, this is an extremely painful situation as the lower bony layers are exposed to trauma and to joint fluid. This leads to degeneration within the joint as a result of an inflammatory process.

OCD has at least 3 possible causes: Genetics, nutrition and trauma. There appears to be a tendency for this problem to occur in family lines, particularly in the breeds that grow rapidly. Trauma within the joint has been associated with this condition as it commonly affects joints experiencing high levels of biomechanical stress. Finally nutrition has been shown to play a role in the development of this disease. Feeding high energy foods, especially if fed in excessive volumes, and high levels of calcium in the diet have been associated with a higher incidence of this disease.
Whilst we want to keep young dogs in good physical condition, activities that create high impact on developing joints should be minimized. A good diet and weight management should also help reduce the chances of the dog developing this disease process.

The coronoid process is a small piece of bone on the ulna, which articulates with the humerus. The coronoid process starts as cartilage and gradually turns to bone as it unites with the rest of the ulna. If this fusion fails or a chipping of the area after fusion occurs, it creates a fragmented coronoid process (FCP).

Dog with OCD and FCP may present with lameness earlier than UAP cases. There have been cases as young as 3-4months, but 5-8 months category would be the more common. Cases continue to be presented up to 18 months or older.

It is suggested that once the dog has reached a minimum age of 12 months, the dog should have both the hips and elbows scored. This involves a general anaesthetic and several x-rays being taken. They are then sent to a specialist vet and reviewed. The results will then be sent to your vet for collection.

Grade 0: nil arthrosis

Grade 1: minimal arthrosis – one or more of the following findings:

  • less than 2 mm high osteophyte formation seen on the dorsal edge of the anconeal process.
  • Minimal osteophyte formation (less than 2 mm in any direction) on the dorsal proximal edge of the radius
  • Or the dorsal edge of the coronoid process
  • Or the lateral palmar part of the humeral trochlear
  • Sclerosis in the area closest to the distal end of the ulnar trochlear notch.

Grade 2: moderate arthrosis – one or more of the following findings:

  • osteophytes 2-5 mm high on the anconeal process
  • moderate osteophyte formation (2-5 mm in any direction on radius, coronoid process or humeral trochlear.

Grade 3: severe arthrosis – one or more of the following findings:

  • more than 5 mm high osteophyte formation on the anconeal process
  • severe osteophyte formation (more than 5 mm in any direction on the radius, coronoid process or on the humeral trochlear.

Felicity Broome
With appreciation to Swisskiss Kennels, Canada for their help in providing information for this site.

Hystiocytic Sarcoma

Disseminated Histiocytic Sarcoma

Disseminated – to spread
Malignant – uncontrollable or resistant to therapy
Sarcoma – a malignant tumour beginning in the connective tissue
Metastasis – the spreading of disease, especially cancer from one part of the body to another.

Hystiocytic Sarcoma (HS) was first reported in Bernese Mountain Dogs and now recognized in a number of breeds. It is a very aggressive form of cancer that is usually wide spread before any symptoms are noted. The symptoms usually include loss of appetite, severe weight loss, lethargy, weakness and general poor condition and sometimes high temperatures.
Hystiocytic Sarcoma mostly presents as a malignant neoplasia of internal organs with widespread metastasis. However, localized HS may arise in a number of primary locations including: spleen, tongue, lung, brain stem, nasal cavity, spinal cord and also can be affected are the lymph nodes, bone/marrow, liver, central nervous system, kidney, skeletal muscle, stomach and adrenal glands.
Blood tests may be normal, or may show anaemia, among many other changes. In some cases where the cancer has been detected early, it is possible to remove the cancer. It has been known for bloods to return to normal, but the disease is one that attacks many organs and it is so rapid that the dog eventually succumbs very quickly to the disease.
To date no treatment has been found to be effective against fighting this disease. There has been many studies done about this disease and many conclusions were that HC was inherited. Meaning that the dog has a much higher chance of developing this cancer, if one or both parents have had the disease.
Survival from diagnosis may vary from hours, days, perhaps weeks and very rarely months. It is truly a rapid and aggressive disease and the age of onset is generally 7 years, but can and does, occur in much younger dogs.

Written by :
Julie Venni – information provided by of the bernese mountain dog and also swisskiss kennels