Your Norwegian Elkhound
Caring for Your Faithful Companion
Norwegian Elkhounds: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Dogs of the Vikings and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Energetic, active, and athletic
- Devoted, loyal, and protective
- Good watchdog with a loud bark
- Gregarious, extroverted personality
- Good with children
- Confident, steady, and fearless
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Can be rambunctious and rowdy, especially as a younger dog
- May have a tendency to bark excessively
- May be territorial when it comes to cats and other dogs
- Overprotective of family and territory if not socialized properly
- Can be strong-willed and difficult to train
- Sheds quite a bit
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is an alert and trustworthy guardian that can be independent and headstrong. With enough exercise and a confident owner, she can be a docile and affectionate family member.
The Norwegian Elkhound is an ancient breed that has been found in burial sites along with their Viking masters. They have been used for centuries as hunters of large game, guardians, herders, defenders, and even sled dogs: truly versatile dogs. The Elkhound is the national dog of Norway and is known for its stamina and agility. The Elkhound enjoys vigorous play and can be too exuberant for small children —they tend to jump on people in excitement. They are eager to please and thrive on love and attention from their whole family.
Your Norwegian Elkhound’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Elkhound. By knowing about health concerns specific to Norwegian Elkhounds, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Norwegian Elkhounds to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Norwegian Elkhounds. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Dog of the Vikings looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Norwegian Elkhound
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Norwegian Elkhound is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Norwegian Elkhound’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Norwegian Elkhounds are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Norwegian Elkhounds. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Dog of the Vikings’ body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Elkhound is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Norwegian Elkhounds
Glomerulonephropathy is an inherited disease that slowly damages your Norwegian Elkhound’s kidneys causing them to fail, often at an early age. Because damaged kidneys leak protein, we may be able to diagnose this disease by testing his urine for excessive protein. We recommend yearly urine analysis because early detection leads to a happier pet and an easier, more affordable treatment plan. We may also recommend a special diet as part of the therapy plan.
Fanconi syndrome is a disorder of the kidneys that allows vital blood nutrients to escape into the urine. Because these nutrients are so important, affected Elkhounds can experience excessive urination and thirst, weight loss and weakness from abnormal electrolyte levels. Symptoms usually appear between two and six years of age. The severity and course of the disease varies from dog to dog, with some remaining stable for years and others falling into fatal kidney failure. Routine urine screening can help to diagnose Fanconi syndrome in its early stages; prompt treatment can greatly extend both your pet’s lifespan and his quality of life.
You’ve probably heard of hip dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the hip joints to form improperly and leads to arthritis: it is common in Norwegian Elkhounds. You may notice that he has lameness in his hind legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis — the sooner the better — to avoid discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s joints to identify the disease as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes considered in severe and life-limiting cases of hip dysplasia. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering.
Many older dogs have arthritis , and bigger dogs tend to have more pain and disability than smaller dogs. Norwegian Elkhounds are particularly prone to developing arthritis, for which we need to use many treatments. The earlier we begin treatment, the better the results. Good nutrition and proper exercise are also very important to help reduce bone and joint problems as your pet gets older. Do not let him become overweight; this puts a huge strain on the joints.
Normally, as a puppy grows, he first builds the form of his bones in cartilage, then fills it in with bone later. Sometimes this process goes wrong, and there is an abnormal growth of cartilage and bone in early development. Some dwarf breeds, like the Dachshund or Basset Hound, have been selectively bred to have this condition. When it occurs in your Elkhound, though, it is considered abnormal. There is no treatment for the condition, which is not painful, it just means that the dog will have shorter legs than normal. The trait is inherited, so responsible breeders recommend not using affected individuals for breeding.
Diabetes mellitus is a fairly common disease in dogs. Any breed can be affected, but Dogs of the Vikings have an above average incidence. Dogs with diabetes are unable to regulate the metabolism of sugars and require daily insulin injections. It is a serious condition and one that is important to diagnose and treat as early as possible. Symptoms include increased eating, drinking, and urination, along with weight loss. If he shows signs, we will conduct lab tests to determine if he has this condition and discuss treatment options with you. Treatment requires a serious commitment of time and resources. Well regulated diabetic dogs today have the same life expectancy as other canines.
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Norwegian Elkhounds can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Norwegian Elkhounds and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Elkhounds. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, Norwegian Elkhounds are a bit more likely than other dogs to have this condition. PRA is not painful, but also not curable. In dogs with the bad gene, early symptoms such as night blindness or dilated pupils generally begin around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.
In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Elkhounds often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone tumor in dogs. It typically afflicts middle-aged large and giant breeds like your Elkhound. Early symptoms include lameness and leg pain. Early detection is critical! Call right away if you notice that your dog is limping. This is a painful and aggressive tumor, and the sooner it is removed, the better his prognosis.
There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Norwegian Elkhounds commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.
Teeth abnormalities are often genetically induced and are relatively common in dogs, especially in purebred dogs like your Elkhound. An overbite or underbite is called a malocclusion, or a bad bite. Oligodontia is a condition where only a few teeth are present. Misaligned teeth can also occur and cause lots of problems, but can usually be corrected with braces or extractions. (Yes, dogs can get braces!) We want to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy so we will be watching his developing teeth closely.
Sometimes a sweat gland goes berserk! One gland will continue to grow out of control until it gets about as big as a grape, then pops. Gross, but not usually too painful. They are fairly common on many Elkhounds. Sometimes a simple draining procedure can fix it, but more often surgery will be required to remove the annoying gland.
Every now and then a rowdy clump of skin cells gets together and starts calling themselves a Keratoacanthoma, and tries to produce a toenail. They have the DNA recipe for keratin, the same material that forms toenails, hair and horns. But they aren’t toenail cells, so they aren’t very good at making a toenail. What they actually produce is usually just a twisted knob. These annoying little tumors are fairly common on middle-aged Elkhounds, most frequently on the back, tail, and legs. Some dogs find the abnormal horns annoying and attempt to scratch, rub, or bite them off. Surgical removal is the treatment of choice.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD is an immune system disorder common in Elkhounds in which the intestinal lining becomes overrun with immune system cells called lymphocytes and plasmacytes. The stomach and/or intestinal lining becomes thickened affecting his ability to absorb nutrients properly. Chronic vomiting or diarrhea is common or it may flare up suddenly and then improve again for a time. Stress, diet change, or intestinal parasites may make it worse. If your friend has diarrhea or digestive upsets that are not explained by the more common reasons, diagnostic tests, which may include intestinal biopsy, will be needed. Lifetime medications and special diets are usually required to keep this bellyache under control.
Elkhounds are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.
A hermaphrodite is an organism that has characteristics of both sexes – male and female. The condition is caused by an abnormality in the inheritance of X and Y chromosomes. Adult hermaphrodites are usually sterile but still need to be spayed/neutered and will usually have normal lives. Because this condition occurs more often in Dogs of the Vikings, we may recommend additional diagnostic testing prior to scheduling surgery.
Taking Care of Your Norwegian Elkhound at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Elkhounds. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Dog of the Vikings live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- She needs a thorough brushing at least weekly most of the year. Twice a year she blows her coat and loses crazy amounts of hair; daily brushing is recommended during this time.
- Norwegian Elkhounds generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She’s a smart dog with lots of energy, so keep her mind and body active, or she’ll get bored. That’s when the naughty stuff starts.
- She can have a high prey drive, so she needs to be leash walked and a sturdy fence is a must.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Norwegian Elkhound needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”
- Increased hunger and thirst, weight loss
- Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Elkhound counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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- Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/norwegian-elkhound
- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=norwegian-elkhound