[A] Diseases of the Bichon Breeds Explained

The Group Bichon includes the Frise, Bolognese, Maltese, Lowchen , Havanese Coton de Tulear and one unrecognised presently by the British Kennel Club The Tsvetnya Bolonka or Bolonka for short.

They all appear to have come from one strain that with assistance of sailors travelling globally mixed with local dogs to become recognised eventually as the individual breeds we see in the aforementioned list. The Havanese is generally a healthy long lived little dog. This does not mean he is perfect. Just like every other dog breed, the Havanese is prone to some genetic hereditary disorders. Like other breeds with a small gene pool, some of these issues may be compounded and widespread. As the breed is still quite young in its rebuilding, some disorders are just now coming to light. If you take into account the other breeds that played a factor in the development of the Havanese, like the Maltese, Bichon Frise and Toy Poodle, it stands to reason that the Havanese will have many similar hereditary problems that are encountered in these other breeds.
Disease between all 6 within the group is very similar as one would expect understanding its origins. Much of which is never divulged to potential new owners by the more unscrupulous volume breeders. To be fair to those there are also some hobby breeders as THEY call themselves that do not give accurate information about disease. I much prefer the term puppy profiteer to hobby breeder because putting it very simply , painting or knitting is a hobby, but how can the breeding of any animal be thought of as a hobby . The sooner that rem is ridiculed for what it is will be the day of enlightenment for all serious breeders. It is serious to breed, it carries responsibility and should never be used Instead of being employed…(Rant over now to the realism)


Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). A very common eye problem. It is an insidious disease because it worsens as the dog ages and may not even show up until the dog is between two and a half to eight years of age. PRA causes destruction of the photoreceptors in the eye that are located on the retina. As the disease progresses, the retina atrophies or "shrivels up." Eventually the dog goes totally blind. One of the most common symptoms of PRA is a dog suddenly appearing afraid of darkened areas. PRA is a recessive gene and it can lie dormant in a line of dogs for several generations before showing up.


An odd condition when an extra row of eyelashes (distichiasis) occurs. Interestingly enough, distichiasis can occur at any age.

Cherry Eye

A swollen or prolapsed gland of the third eyelid. The gland protrudes and becomes irritated and inflamed. It is strongly suspected that Cherry Eye is due to a weakness of the connective tissue. It appears to be a heritable problem. If one eye develops cherry eye, then the other eye may also be predisposed. Sometimes the gland can simply be tucked back in but it may prolapse again. The most common treatment is to reposition the gland and surgically tack it into place.

Vitreous degeneration

This can be one of several conditions commonly following some types of inflammation. In these breeds , it can occur a primary condition. Vitreous degeneration may be diagnosed upon a regular CERF examination. There has been some suggestion that it may leave a dog more susceptible to retinal detachment. If retinal detachment should occur, the earlier it is caught and treated the better the outcome.


Another "eyelash" problem is entropion. When a dog has entropion problems, its eyelid rolls for some reason and the eyelashes become tucked in under the eyelid and constantly irritate the eyeball. This condition is fairly common in many breeds and most veterinarians will be able to surgically "fix" the problem.


All Bichons are prone to epiphora (excessive tearing). This is often obvious by the stains that are seen starting from the inside corner of the eyes and running down the face. Epiphora can happen on its own or be the result of distichiasis or entropion. If your doggy suddenly develops this condition, it is best to have him or her checked out by your veterinarian to rule out these disorders, corneal ulcerations or some type of eye trauma sometimes an absence of the opening at the lacrimal canal (tear duct). This condition is called nasolacrimal puncta atresia.


Cataracts are also seen in all Bichons. Often considered an "old age" disease, it can show up from only six to eighteen months. The whole group suffer from any some or all know type of cataract if caught early enough surgery is possible , however other conditions like dry eye can result from that too. 



Allergies are common in all Bichons. These can be flea, inhalant (pollens and molds) or food induced. These allergies can in turn cause seborrhea, pyoderma (moist, smelly skin) or pruritus (pustules) on the face and feet.


All Bichons have been known to have abnormally short legs that are caused by the ossification (hardening) of the long bone cartilage. This condition is known as "achondroplasia."


Patella luxation

Patellar luxation is the slipping of the kneecap. This may be as a result of injury or be a genetic predisposition. Patellar luxation can affect one or both legs. This condition is quite common in many small breeds. Some signs to watch for are difficulty straightening the leg, a hop / skip in the gait, limping or pain. Mild grades may be almost asymptomatic. Surgery is an option to correct the problem. In most cases the veterinarian can diagnose this condition by physical manipulation of the joint. Luxation may occur at any age. Even in the case of injury related causes, an underlying weakness may have contributed. The predisposition that allows Patella luxation to develop is genetic. Seeing as this condition can occur at any age, breeding dogs should have their patellas checked annually.ALL Bichons can suffer from hip dysplasia (malformation and laxity of hip socket and femoral head).

Hip displaysia

Canine Hip dysplasia is joint malformation that occurs when the ball and socket are misaligned, loosely fitted, or misshapen often leading to arthritic changes, pain and limited mobility. Displastic dogs may need expensive corrective surgery as they age. Hip displasia is an inherited condition and diagnosis before breeding should be a priority to keep breeding stock healthy and limit the occurrence of the disease in offspring. Hip displasia can be diagnosed only by x-ray of the hip joint.

Disk disease

In between each vertebrae in a dog's backbone is a flexible cushion like disk. Aging and premature disc degeneration can cause the discs can dehydrate losing their cushioning ability. This occurs to some degree in old dogs of all breeds. Dogs with large heads or short legs or long bodies may prematurely develop degeneration of the disks. Problems happen when a portion or the entire disk is displaced from its normal position in the spine and may protrude into the spinal canal causing inflammation, pain and subsequent spinal damage. It can happen very slowly or be quite rapid in its development and can be the result of trauma, or have no apparent cause. The symptoms are dependent on the location and severity of the affected disk(s). Prompt diagnosis and treatment improve the prognosis. Surgical intervention may be necessary.

Legg Perthes disease

Also known as Calve-Perthes Disease, Perthes Disease and Avascular Necrosis of the femoral head. This condition is a hip malformation occurring mainly in small breeds in which the head of the femur (thigh bone) deteriorates and dies as a result of insufficient blood supply. Diagnosis is usually by Xray where the vet can clearly see disintegration of the bone. Most often only one leg is affected. Usually this condition strikes young animals of 4-12 months of age. There does appear to be a hereditary component to this disease. Pain, limited movement, atrophy, limping, difficulty walking can all be symptoms. Treatment depends on severity. Some very mild cases can be treated with enforced rest while more severe cases may necessitate surgery. Early intervention is critical.


Epilepsy has been reported in all sizes as well.


Liver shunt

A portosystemic shunt is the most common congenital liver problem. Most often this is the result of blood bypassing the liver and flowing directly into the system. This bypass of the liver is normal during fetal development. The bypass normally closes off shortly after birth. The liver has many functions including metabolism, temperature regulation, circulation, detoxification and waste removal. In the case of a dog with a shunt, the liver cannot do its job properly and resulting in non-detoxified blood circulating freely through the body slowly poisoning the body's tissues and cells. This poisoning can express itself as a wide-ranging impairment of bodily functions including failure to thrive, poor weight gain, sleepiness, vomiting, blindness and seizures. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment offer the best outcomes. The success of surgery depends on the severity and the location of the shunt. Medical management may be tried for inoperable shunts but can be difficult and very expensive with limited success. Responsible breeding can drastically reduce/eliminate this problem.

Heart disease

Cardiomyopathy occurs when one or more diseases cause inflammation and scarring of the heart muscle which become less efficient in supplying the body and organs with blood. The heart eventually weakens leading to congestive heart failure and death. Heart disease appears to be genetic. Though the disease itself may start at an early age ( 2-5 years) the signs may not appear for several more years (9-12 years of age) when the disease becomes severe and signs appear rapidly over a matter of days. By then, the dog may already be in the stage of severe heart failure. Symptoms of unexplained lethargy, sudden weight loss, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath may be signs of a dog developing a heart problem. Congestive Heart failure is life threatening. A visit to the veterinarian is essential to diagnose the problem and begin medical treatment. Medications are not curative but rather may help compensate for the increasing failure of the heart .

Heart murmur

Murmurs are the turbulent sounds created from blood flowing through a faulty or leaky valve. Congenital murmurs ( present at birth) are identified as puppies are clearly genetic. In BICHONS, for the most part, non-congential murmurs appear to be an insufficiency of the mitral valve which may develop at any time. Murmurs are quite common in elderly dogs (over 10 years) because of normal aging processes. In some bichons , the mitral valve ages prematurely, and murmurs may develop in middle age ( 6 to 9 yrs). In other instances, bichons are developing murmurs in young adulthood ( 2 to 5 yrs) . This very premature aging of the heart valves is likely genetic in nature. By the time this is discovered a dog may have already been bred one or more times. Heart murmurs discovered in young dogs may or may not impact their quality of life, though it is likely to increase the chances of heart failure as they age and may lessen their life span. 


Neurological disorders

such as epilepsy have been diagnosed in bichons but are relatively uncommon at this time. The most evident symptom of epilepsy is seizures. Seizures can be inherited or they may be caused by medical diseases such as diabetes, liver disease, etc They may be seen as spells in which the dog demonstrates repeated jerking of the entire body or just one part, followed by a period of disorientation. Multiple seizures are usually required to make a correct diagnosis. Determining the cause is essential to make appropriate treatment choices as well as future breeding decisions. Not all seizures are due to epilepsy. Hypoglycemia low blood sugar - is a common cause of seizures in toy breeds. Dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, kidney or liver disease may also produce seizures as can internal parasites, infections, food allergies and chemical toxins.
If no other reason can be found, then epilepsy is the likeliest cause of the seizures. Treatments for epilepsy include medications to prevent and control seizures.

What is Bandera's syndrome?

Bandera was a Coton de Tulear pup that couldn't move right. As her littermates began to get on their feet and explore their world, Bandera was left behind. She wanted to run and play with them, but she could not coordinate her movements. The harder she tried to walk, the more she would flail and fall. She was taken to see Dr. Joan Coates, a board certified veterinary neurologist now at the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr.Coates diagnosed Bandera with neonatal ataxia and began working with Dr. Gary Johnson and other researchers who ultimately found the cause of the disease.

Thyroid deficiency

Hypothyroidism - low thyroid is a common cause of skin and hair problems. Some Bichons with low thyroid will show no symptoms at all or only a few symptoms, while others show numerous symptoms. Possible symptoms include dry brittle hair, hair breakage and thinning coat, dry flaky skin, skin infections, unusual weight gain with low/normal food consumption, inconsistent bowel movements, lethargy and fatigue, irregular heat cycles, and heat and cold sensitivity. A blood test from your Veterinarian is the only way to determine a thyroid deficiency. Thyroid replacement therapy is very simple and effective. Once replacement therapy is started, it must continue for life.

Skin disorders

Problems of the skin are among the most troublesome and difficult to diagnose and treat. Among these is a perplexing condition called SEBACEOUS ADENITIS . In SA, the skin's sebaceous glands which normally produce fatty secretions to help prevent drying of the skin, become inflamed and are eventually destroyed. Clinical signs vary with severity. In long-coated breeds like the Havanese, the condition develops as dry, scaly, flaky skin and silvery dandruff along with patches of hair loss. More severely affected Havanese will have extensive hair loss and a moth eaten look. They may also have areas of thickened skin ("hyperkeratosis") accompanied by a rancid, musty odour and secondary skin infections. Sebaceous adenitis is primarily a cosmetic disorder as it affects the appearance of the dog rather than general health. SA affected dogs can be otherwise healthy and happy but are distressing to look at and unpleasant to smell and touch which make it a frustrating condition to cope with. SA cannot be cured. Symptomatic treatments are long term and can be extensive, time consuming and expensive. SA is best diagnosed by the examination of skin biopsies.


In the past several years, deafness has been identified in bichons. Affected dogs generally are not completely deaf but rather are "hearing impaired", they may still have some hearing at certain levels and tones. In terms of quality of life, "hearing impaired" Havanese appear to fare better than breeds that have total deafness. It appears to be a heritable disorder but one with a complex mode of inheritance. At this time, we do not know if deafness found in Havanese "may" be colour/ pattern linked as in other breeds, but more studies will be needed to determine if this is so in dog. You cannot check hearing yourself. Most people with unilaterally affected dogs are completely unaware that there is any problem until a bilaterally deaf puppy is produced. There is a test available to check hearing. It is the BAER test. It is a very simple test and can be done at anytime after a puppy is about 6 weeks old. Unlike CERF, the BAER test does not need to be repeated yearly. It is a one time test. It is a wise precaution to test breeding stock and test the pups. It is generally felt that affected dogs should not be bred. BAER testing clinics can be difficult to locate though are generally available at veterinary colleges. A single test may be expensive but prices are usually substantially lower if done at a hearing clinic. Some veterinarians recommend sedating the dogs to preform the test. In Havanese, sedation is generally unnecessary. At this time, there appears to be a small number of unilaterally affected dogs and very few bilaterally affected dogs, however this number may rapidly rise as untested affected dogs are bred and produce bilaterally affected offspring. Testing takes approximately 10-15 minutes. Three tiny electrodes and two small earphones are all that is needed.

Short haired gene

A Havanese which inherits two copies of this recessive gene will appear as a short coated Havanese. The coat is smooth on the face and legs with longer fringes on the ears, body and tail. In appearance, it is very different from a typical long haired Havanese. This gene appears to have been a spontaneous genetic mutation several generations ago. The trait is genetic. Dogs with only one copy of the gene will be long haired though they still carry a copy of the short haired gene which can then be passed along to offspring. Coat differences within a litter can usually be discerned at about 6-8 weeks of age. Short haired Havanese have all the same personality traits and all attributes of the Havanese except the long coat. The short coat does shed. Some people have nicknamed them "Shavanese" for Short Haired Havanese.

Ockham syndrome
_ Eurobichons and Versailles Kennels  were the only UK Bichon sites listing this problem for over 12 years , why you may ask? Most Havanese breeders have never even heard of it , ask them!
OS is said to be a syndrome which encompasses a myriad of symptoms including cataracts, liver & heart problems, some birth defects, missing dentition, skin conditions, Legg Calve Perthes Disease, patellar luxation, chondrodysplasia, and potentially other issues as well. Not enough is known about this condition at this time to know whether it truly is a condition which links many disorders found in Havanese. Studies are ongoing.


No dog is disease free  it would be foolish to believe so, but disease within this group is increasing the more popular they become , That is down to more breeding with less care to meet a demand. Some of the rarer types like the Coton and Havanese and Bolognese are seeing an increase in prevalence to disease most are following a path seen in the more popular Frise, disease is something that needs all breeders to declare that way it can be controlled. If breeders HIDE away and keep quiet then in reality the whole group will see rapid disease increases thus making the dog unhealthy and unwanted , many will find themselves in rescue and is this what we want?
New Breeders NEED to listen to the more experienced breeders and not think they know better, being clever in one field does not make a person ANY person clever in all fields, exams now in all University subjects are modulated making those with them feel superior well to be honest even the brightest Professors will state that anyone can pass a module at University these days , we simply repeat until we get it right- so next time you think the breeder you are conversing with is a really bright bugger remember it is breeders that have caused dogs to become so ill.

EXPERIENCE is what makes the start of a good quality breeder of ANY animal then comes research, understanding, low volumes and database analyses over a sustained 10 year or more period.

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