Scottie Health

The statements on this page represent the current scientific research.
References may be requested from the Club.

By the way:
more detailed information on diseases can be found in the “Members only” section of this website


Generally speaking, the Scottish Terrier is a healthy and agile dog species.Kranker Hund

He normally enjoys to be active and requires some exercise to keep him in good condition. With sufficient training, he can easily go on longer walks with you and have a lot of fun.

Sufficient exercise also prevents from unhealthy weight gain, a common issue of our Scotties, particularly when they are getting older. In any case, Scottie owners often get comments like “he looks really big”, even from vets. But those people often don't understand the Scottie's cobby shape and believe they are overweight.

Due to his strong and cobby body, a Scottie rarely suffers from back problems like Dachshunds and other short-legged breeds. Other skeleton problems, e.g. HD or arthritis, or also not very common.

The same is true for skin/ hair/ coat issues which are otherwise relatively common among other terrier breeds - Scotties are not prone to them.

With respect to all diseases reported for Scotties, they are just the same as all other breeds, including mixed breeds. This means also that they develop all sorts of cancer with age - but this is no difference to human beings!

From a health perspective, a Scottie is just a very normal dog - not over-bred in any way and prone to illnesses,
with a life expectancy in line with a medium-sized dog (with short legs)!

When you continue reading, please always keep this in your mind!

Common diseases (existing in all dogs)

In the literature about the Scottish Terrier, you will often find reports about certain diseases which, on the other hand, are proven to exist in Scotties at a similar rate of incidence as in other breeds or mixes.
The reason for mentioning them may just be for completeness, as Scotties may be affected by them, just as all other dogs.

These include:

Cushing's Syndrome
Overproduction of the hormone Cortisol leading to severe and generalized health problems if not treated.
Can in most cases be controlled by means of (live-long) administration of certain specific modern drugs.

Lack of production of the thyroid hormone leading to a reduction of quality of life and temperament, but not life-threatening.
Can easily be compensated by daily administration of tablets containing the hormone.

Lymphosarcoma, malignant lymphoma
A very aggressive form of cancer leading to death in a short period of time (a few weeks).
Lymphosarcoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in dogs of all breeds.
The progression may be slowed down (mean survival 1+ yrs.) via chemotherapy which dogs are able to tolerate much better than humans.

Liver cancer
Due to the general issue with elevated liver enzymes (see below), there is the incorrect rumor/ assumption that Scotties suffer more frequently from liver cancer. But science proved that this is not true - liver cancer exists in all dogs at a similar rate!

Epilepsy is the frequent and widest spread neurological disease in dogs. Current research estimates that about 4% of all dogs are affected.
Epilepsy is classified as either symptomatic epilepsy which can determine an underlying disease causing the cramps, or idiopathic epilepsy which cannot be associated with an underlying disease and is considered as inherited epilepsy.
It turned out that certain breeds or families are affected on a more than average rate, but the Scottish terrier are not considered to be a high risk breed.

Breed-specific diseases

Diseases are considered as breed-specific if there occurence in a particular breed, in this case the Scottish Terrier, is more frequent than the average of the general dog population.

Consequentially, that means that the disposition for those diseases is determined in the genes of the particular breed. One potential reason may be that the founding dogs of a breed (accidentally) carried that disease und thus inherited that disposition to all other dogs to some extent.

On the other hand, such a breed-specific genetic component offers the chance to find the underlying issues by an analysis of the DNA with modern screening methods. As a result, genetic tests may be developed which then help to avoid or at least reduce the incidence of such diseases.

The main diseases in this category are (the order indicates the rate of incidence):

Elevated liver enzymes
Rate of incidence: very common, but mostly not substantial

Starting at the age of 6-8 years, many Scotties often show significant elevation of certain liver enzymes, particularly ALP/AP (Alkaline Phosphatase) while other liver enzymes stay in the normal range. The reasons are believed in a more general dysfunction of the complex enzymatic system, which are not fully understood yet. If other serious liver diseases, e.g. liver cancer (see above) were ruled out, the liver is not significantly negatively affected by this situation and the life expectancy of your dog is in the normal range.

Research about the underlying mechanisms and potential genetic causes is underway (USA).

Bladder cancer
Rate of incidence: the most typical cancer with age
Bladder cancer is actually the only type of cancer that occurs much more frequently in Scotties (up to 40 times) than in other breeds. but mostly at a higher age. With targeted treatment, survival rates of 1-2 years are very realistic.

Research about an improved treatment scheme and potential genetic causes is underway (USA).

Enlarged prostate/ prostate cancer
Rate of incidence: very common, but mostly not substantial
Generally speaking, intact Scottie dogs have a larger prostate (up to 4 times) than other dogs of similar size. Therefore, you don't have to consider a worst case if your dog is diagnosed with an “enlarged prostate” - the vet just may not know the greed specifics. But you should regularly get the prostate checked for cystic inflammations or cancer.
In many cases, neutering helps to keep this problem under control.

Scottie cramp
Rate of incidence: relatively rare
Sporadic loss of coordination, particularly in movement associated with a cramping of the back, which occurs is situations of excitement. It is already visible at puppy age. The root cause seems to be a lack of serotonin which serves as the neurochemical pathway from the brain to the muscles.
The cramp disappears when the dog calms down, and many affected dogs learn to control this situation (“keep cool”). Therefore, some owners get the impression that the problem disappeared over time.

The mode of inheritance is well-known. Research about the genetic causes is underway (USA).

Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA)
Rate of incidence: relatively rare
Rare loss of coordination, particularly movement, which can be observed permanently in affected dogs. It is caused by the progressive loss of certain cells in the cerebellum, the so-called purkinje cells, which control coordination. It rarely shows up before the age of 1-2 years, sometimes even later, and progresses over time.

As the symptoms are quite similar to Scottie cramp, it was not considered as a separate disease in the past. But it differentiated by a later onset and its permanent and progressive symptoms. And it has a very different root cause,

The mode of inheritance is well-known. Research about the genetic causes is underway (USA).

Bleeding (van Willebrand disease/ vWD)
Rate of incidence: eradicated to a great extent
An inherited genetic disease which is very rare in recent years. The mode of inheritance and the defect gene are identified since a number of years.

There are commercial genetic tests available which, when used by responsible breeders, help to avoid this disease completely. Therefore, vWD became a very rare disorder in Scotties nowadays.

Craniomandibar Osteopathy (CMO)
Rate of incidence: very rare in Scotties (as compared to other Terrier breeds)
Painful excessive growth of bone of the jaw affecting young dogs during the growth period. Disappears at the end of the growth period.
CMO is much more common for other Terrier breeds, i.e. Westie, Cairn, and not very frequent in Scotties.
In the old days, many affected dogs were even euthanized, but today symptomatic treatment with pain relievers and cortisol can help the puppies to get over the limited period of the disease successfully.

The mode of inheritance is well-known and the defective gene is identified.
Starting on Dec. 1, 2012, the University Bern/ Switzerland offers a genetic test for the gene.
Details and a test order form can be found ----->here.