Havanese are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Havanese will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.
This article can be, on it’s face, kind of alarming with it’s list of mysterious ailments. As compared to other purebred breeds and crossbreeds, the Havanese is statistically one of the healthiest breeds available if you’re a conscientious buyer researching responsible breeders. Evidence of this can be found in getting a pet insurance quote from a site such as Trupanion. (You can get a quote online quickly with no obligation. Even in you’re not interested in insurance, consider it an academic exercise.) Pet insurance companies set premiums on actuarial data and payout histories for each breed. As evidenced by the lowest premium, the Havanese breed presents little risk to the insurer. By comparison, the premium for a French Bulldog is 3x higher. Though a wonderful and much beloved breed, the claim history is exponentially higher for them.
If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Havanese, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a degenerative disease in which the hip joint is weakened due to abnormal growth and development. This disease is found in many breeds of dogs. Although it’s a genetic disease that breeders screen for, it can show up in a puppy born to parents free of the disease. Treatments include medication, weight loss if the dog is overweight, nutritional supplements, and sometimes surgery.
- Elbow Dysplasia: Elbow dysplasia is similar to hip dysplasia; it’s a degenerative disease that affects the elbow joint. It’s believed to be caused by abnormal growth and development, causing the joint to be malformed and weakened. The disease varies in severity; some dogs only develop a little stiffness, others become lame. The treatment is surgery, weight management, and medication.
- Chondrodysplasia: This is a genetic disorder that’s commonly mislabeled as “dwarfism.” Affected dogs have abnormally short limbs for the breed. This can range in severity from nearly normal to crippling. In less severe cases, dogs can live full and healthy lives, but any dog with this disorder should not be bred.
- Legg-Perthes Disease: Legg-Perthes causes a deformity of the hip joint ball. It starts with a decrease in the blood supply to the head of the femur bone, until the bone eventually dies off, collapses, and becomes deformed. The result is arthritis or inflammation of the hip joint. It’s unclear what causes Legg-Perthes, but it may be inherited or injury related. Treatment includes rest, physical therapy, and surgically removing the deformed femoral head and neck. Dogs generally do well after the surgery, and many suffer only minor lameness, particularly during weather changes.
- Cataracts: A cataract is opacity on the lens of the eye, which causes vision loss. The affected eye has a cloudy appearance. It is an inherited disease and usually occurs with old age, but can occur at any age. Cataracts are treated by surgical removal.
- Deafness: Deafness provides many challenges for both the dog and the owner. Some forms of deafness and hearing loss can be treated with medication and surgery, but deafness usually cannot be cured. Patience and time must be given to a deaf dog and there are many products on the market, such as vibrating collars, to make life easier for you both.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as a “trick knee,” patellar luxation is a common problem in small dogs. It is caused when the patellia, which has three parts — the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap), and tibia (calf) — is not properly lined up. This causes lameness or an abnormal gait. Treatment for patellar luxation is usually surgery.
- Portosystemic Shunt: A portosystemic shunt is an abnormal blood flow where the blood from the digestive tract bypasses the liver and continues to the systemic venous circulation. When this occurs, toxins that are normally removed by the liver are circulated through the body leading to other diseases, such as hepatic encephalopath. Portosystemic shunts usually occur in conjunction with another disease and symptoms include poor balance, loss of appetite, lethargy, blindness, depression, weakness, seizures, disorientation, and coma. A change in diet and surgery can help treat the problem.
- Heart Murmur: A disturbance in the blood flow is the cause of heart murmurs. There are five grades of heart murmurs; they are graded on how audible the murmur is. Heart murmurs are an indicator of disease; treatment is necessary, which can include medication, special diet, and exercise restrictions.
- Mitral Valve Insufficiency: Mitral valve insufficiency is more commonly seen in older dogs when the mitral valve, which is found between the left atrium and ventricle, begins to fail. When this happens, the mitral valve fails to prevent the flow of blood into the left atrium. This can cause heart failure. Symptoms include hypertension, fluid in the lungs, and a decrease in strength of the heart muscle. Treatment includes medication, change of diet, and exercise restrictions.