Common Pit Bull Health Issues

We all want our pets to live a long and healthy life. Sadly, all dogs will face some health problems in their life and specific dog breeds can be prone to some issues more than others.

Being aware of these problems can lead you to a prompt diagnosis, which will hopefully lead you to quickly treat it and give your pit bull a better quality of life.

Thankfully, pit bulls don't seem to be as prone to as many life-threatening conditions as some other dog breeds. However, there are still a few pitbull health issues to watch out for to make sure your pup is as healthy and comfortable as possible.

Cute black and white Pitbull looking at you


Is My Dog a Pit Bull?

The Pit Bull is not really a single breed. It's normally used as an umbrella term for dogs such as American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Bullys, Bull terriers, and a few others. 

These pit bull breeds may differ slightly, but both pure breeds and pit bull mixes may be prone to the same genetic conditions. Some, such as the Staffie, may be more prone to certain health concerns, such as knee problems, but all of them have similar issues.

Hip Dysplasia

Almost all pit bulls have a genetic predisposition towards hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is common among large dog breeds but can occur in any size dog. There is no definite cause, but it's believed to be a result of both genetics and poor nutrition.

The Texas University Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital describes hip dysplasia as an abnormal development of the hip joint that results in the hip becoming lax (loose). As the pit bull ages, this can result in pain, permanent damage, and even osteoarthritis in the affected leg. [1]

Pit bulls with hip dysplasia may struggle to use their hind legs, have pain in their hind legs, struggle to jump, not be as active as other dogs, or run with a so-called ‘bunny hop’ gait.

Sometimes, this can be seen in puppies as young as six months old.

Another common sign is muscle atrophy in their hind legs as they begin to favor their front paws.

Severe hip dysplasia can often be corrected surgically, often with a full hip replacement, but there are also conservative treatments available. This normally involves pain management, joint supplements, weight loss, and even some physical therapy.

Many pit bulls with hip dysplasia can live quite comfortably with conservative treatments but be on the lookout for increasing signs of lameness or pain in their hind legs.

Knee Joint Issues

Some dog owners may not even be aware that their pit bulls have proper kneecaps in their joints, but they do. Some breeds, such as the Staffordshire bull terrier, are prone to getting ‘trick knees.’ Much like hip dysplasia, this is when the socket on your pit bull’s knee is more prone to getting pulled out of place.

If this results in a ligament tear, then it will require surgery.

However, you can often minimize the damage. Dr. Mark Dos Anjos, a vet with over 40 years of experience[2], recommends taking early signs of knee pain and limping seriously. Making sure your pit bull gets regular short walks, maintains a healthy weight, and gets a balanced diet with plenty of raw food and vitamin C will help prevent complications.

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Skin Problems

Nearly all pit bulls have a short coat. This may help keep them cool, but it also leaves them vulnerable to a number of skin related health issues.

A short coat means that your pit bull is more susceptible to sunburns. This may not be a big problem at first but it could lead to issues such as skin cancer and other skin diseases further down the line. 

Pit bulls may also be at a higher risk of tick and flea bites, putting them in danger of contracting diseases from these insects. Scratching at these itchy bites may mean opening sores and increasing their risk of skin infections, scars and lesions.

Ensure your pit bull is washed and groomed regularly to keep a healthy coat. Also, remain vigilant on any sores, marks, or spots that seem unusual or that have changed.

Skin Allergies

Pit bulls are prone to suffering from allergies, including skin allergies. This can either be from food allergies that cause a rash, a reaction to insect bites, or an environmental allergy such as pollen or mold.

A pit bull with an allergy may lick, scratch and drool more. You may also notice a visible rash on their skin or bald patches from where they have scratched away. 

Sometimes applying a topical cream that is approved by a veterinarian or giving them steroidal medication may help, otherwise finding out what they’re allergic to and keeping them away is a good start. 

Vet surgery sign


This is a big name for a simple skin condition. Though somewhat uncommon, Ichthyosis is an inheritable skin condition that causes thick, scaly patches to form on your pit bull’s skin and paw pads.

The Canine Inherited Disorders Database (CIDD) recognizes Ichthyosis as a recessive autosomal disorder. Though unsightly, ichthyosis does not affect the general health of the dog, though sometimes the scaly patches may crack and peel, causing pain and risk of infection. In some cases, the skin changes can be very reactive and severe. [3]

There is no cure for Ichthyosis, but the symptoms can sometimes be managed under veterinary surveillance using methods such as anti-seborrheic shampoos and moisturizing rinses.


Many types of parasites are common to dogs, and pit bulls are no exception.

External parasites such as fleas and ticks may be easily visible on a short-coated dog like a pit bull and can normally be removed with medication and bathing. Be on the watch for ticks, as they can sometimes transfer other diseases, such as Lyme disease.

Internal parasites are also one of the major pit bull health problems and include parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. The most common symptoms of an internal parasite include vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, lethargy, and sometimes worms and eggs visible in the stool.

Make sure that your pit bull is regularly dewormed. Still, it is not a bad idea to see a vet, too, as an abundance of parasites can lead to other health conditions such as anemia and intestinal blockages.

Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects - Heart problems that are there from birth - are unfortunately common among pit bulls. This normally includes issues such as heart valve problems and arrhythmias (Unusual or irregular heartbeat).

Heart problems can occur at any age, but they’re most noticeable in older pit bulls. Sometimes, these conditions will not affect your pit bull’s quality of life at all or may be confused with signs of aging.

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Take note if your pit bull has - 

  • A continuous cough
  • Unexplained Weakness
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty settling down

Heart diseases must be treated by a vet. It normally involves being on medication such as diuretics and beta-blockers for the rest of their lives. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to try to correct an issue.

If your pit bull has heart problems, you can help them by limiting strenuous exercise (But not all exercise!), such as going on shorter walks, keeping a proper diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. 

A study done by the American Veterinary Association found that while diet did not make a big difference in the development of heart diseases, specifically dilated cardiomyopathy, many dogs that were already diagnosed, and who were on unusual diets, had significant improvement after switching to a more traditional diet.[4]


The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped organ that sits in the middle of your pit bull’s neck (Though humans have one too) and is responsible for regulating and producing hormones. Sometimes, a thyroid can be over or underactive and can produce too many or too few hormones.

Hypothyroidism is more common in pit bulls and is when the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones. This can affect their digestion, heart and lungs, and their nervous symptoms.

Common symptoms include fatigue, excess weight gain, depression, hair loss, skin hyperpigmentation, and neuromuscular problems.

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Thankfully it is quite easy to treat. Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ, a well-known Veterinary Journalist says “If your dog is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, don't worry!

Even though you can't cure hypothyroidism in dogs, it's usually easy and relatively inexpensive to manage with an oral thyroid supplement. The supplement mimics the effect of thyroid hormone on the body.”[5]

Effective treatment normally results in a reduction in symptoms and a good quality of life.


Cataracts can affect all dogs, and pit bulls are no exception. You have probably seen a dog with cataracts at some point in your life. They are those milky spots you see forming in the eyes of older dogs.

Aging is the main cause of cataracts in pit bulls, but they can also happen because of diabetes, trauma, malnutrition in puppyhood, or because of a genetic predisposition. Proteins in the eyes begin to break down, causing cloudy vision. This can happen in one or both eyes.

Cataracts are often painless but can sometimes cause inflammation and swelling in the surrounding tissues. Treatment for cataracts will depend on how far the cataracts have progressed, as well as your pit bull’s age and quality of life. For example, surgery may be suggested for a young pit bull, but an older dog with one cataract may just receive treatment.

Normally, you will be able to identify cataracts by sight, since the eye will begin to turn cloudy, but other symptoms may include pawing at their face or uncharacteristic clumsiness. 

Dental Disease

Dental problems will affect most dogs by the age of two. Some dogs, such as the American Pit bull Terrier, are especially susceptible.

Normally, this will start with plaque build-up on the teeth. This isn’t dangerous in itself, but it can lead to complications down the line, such as infections, loss of teeth, or even heart disease. Talk to your dentist about your pit bull’s plaque and bad breath, and make sure you have chewable objects on standby for them to clean their teeth with.

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There is no guarantee that a breed will have specific ailments, but it is a good idea to be aware of certain diseases that your pit bull may be more prone to.

This can include things such as heart disease, skin diseases, allergies, dental problems, hip and knee displacements, hypothyroidism, parasites, and cataracts. Your pit bull may not suffer from any of them, or you may encounter them throughout your dog’s life.

Be aware of changes in your pit bull’s appearance and behavior and don’t be afraid to contact a vet if you feel that something is wrong.

There may be nothing you can do to cure or fully prevent these diseases, but you can help your pit bull have the best chance if you make sure they have a healthy diet, a good home, maintain a healthy weight, and get plenty of exercise.

If you want your pit bull to exercise in style, why not check out Sparkpaws’ Walk Collection, where we have a number of safe, high visibility, and good quality collars, harnesses, and leashes?

Check out our collection here.

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