The Health of the Bichon Frise
Based on a recent health survey, the primary health problems in the Bichon are:
1. Skin and allergy/atopy
2. Bladder infections and stones
3. Orthopedic (patellar luxation, Legg-Calve Perthes, disk degeneration)
4. Dental disease (gingivitis, early tooth loss)
5. Eye diseases (cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye)
7. Cancers (no one type predominant)
8. Metabolic diseases (Cushings, diabetes, pancreatic)
9. Disease of the liver and spleen
10. Ear (infections, deafness)
The following is a brief overview of diseases that are known to occur with some frequency in the Bichon Frise. To see ten diseases listed may be alarming especially one who has recently acquired a Bichon or anticipates acquiring one. The breed is recognized as being reasonably healthy. The following discusses what “reasonably healthy” means.
Some breeds have a high predisposition to specific fatal diseases. This cannot be said about the Bichon Frise. Many Bichon Frises have a predisposition to allergies, as do many white breeds (and as do human blondes and redheads). Dental disease is another problem that is often seen. Both of these can be easily controlled in the majority of Bichons with attention to their care. A few Bichons having such severe allergies or whose dental disease is allowed to get out of control may develop life-shortening debilitating problems.
Of the diseases listed above, only allergy is commonly found in Bichons. The majority of those with allergy or atopy (skin) problems can be treated successfully. Dental care can be managed with brushing the teeth and annual professional cleaning as recommended by your veterinarian. The remainder of the conditions listed above MAY occur in about 10 – 15 percent. Some may be of an inherited nature. All these diseases can be treated and life prolonged with correct treatment. A few may be fatal in their worst forms. Unfortunately some Bichon, especially those from for-profit kennels or puppy mills, end up with multiple inherited diseases which cause them numerous health issues throughout their lives. BFCA recommends purchasing a puppy from a responsible breeder who has knowledge of pedigrees and have performed available tests.
The Bichon Frise Club of America, Inc. has been in the forefront of assessing diseases within the breed. Health surveys have been conducted among members/breeders and participating veterinarians. The most recent survey wss done in 2006/7. Data is also collected from Bichon Frise Rescue Trust, as well as questions resulting from “Ask Us”, “Health Incident Report, and Death Report on the Bichon Frise Club of America, Inc website that is devoted to Bichon health and related subjects, www.bichonhealth.org.
Cancers can occur in any older animal. Two of the most prevalent are prostate in the male and mammary gland carcinoma in females, with neutering and spaying making these less likely to occur. Although cancer is the number one killer of dogs, we are pleased to note that it appears far down on the list in Bichons. When cancer does occur, there is no cancer that is breed specific in Bichons.
Dental care can prevent early tooth loss and gingivitis, which can lead to infections in the bladder and kidneys, as well as other organs. Professional scaling is recommended at least once a year in younger dogs and twice a year as they age unless frequent brushing has reduced buildup of tartar. Because germs from the mouth are carried throughout the body via the blood stream, dental care is a very important disease prevention technique.
Except in extreme cases, allergies do not have to be treated with steroids. Antihistamines or special baths can help. Heavy steroid use can precipitate other (sometimes fatal) diseases, such as diabetes, liver and pancreatic problems and weakens natural immunity. Be creative in finding the cause of any allergic reaction. It is usually an inhalant (trees, grasses, molds, etc.) and may be seasonal. Try bathing more often or less often to see which works best and rinse thoroughly. Diet changes and higher quality foods may help and fatty acid supplements can improve the immune system. Flea allergy is an inherited trait and fleas are more common in certain parts of the country. You must get rid of the fleas before treatment can succeed. Articles on preventives will teach you how to use these wisely.
A condition called primary ciliary dyskinesia, found in some Bichons, is an autoimmune condition that is hereditary and affects the respiratory system. The dog will have multiple signs with frequent respiratory problems, including pneumonia, excessively runny nose and repeated respiratory infections that never seem to go away. If your dog has a constant “cold”, suspect this condition and seek veterinary help to understand it.
Immunizations may affect the long term health of any dog if given all at once. In Bichons we strongly recommend that Rabies vaccine be given at least 4 weeks before or after any other vaccine. New recommendations indicate that the combination shot should be limited to core vaccines only, unless local conditions warrant the use of non-core vaccines. Under any circumstances, the current protocol allows for boosters to be given every 3 years and research may soon extend the interval. Even better is to use vaccine titers to determine the level of protection. Research proves that every unnecessary assault on the immune system can weaken it so you will want to have a discussion with your veterinarian about the accepted protocol prior to any additional booster shots. In addition to reaction to certain non-core boosters, we know that a few Bichons have reacted poorly to certain preventives (those carrying multiple ingredients beyond heartworm prevention) and you can read more about their use on the internet as well. While all dogs need heartworm prevention, discuss with your veterinarian if the PLUS-type preventives are necessary.
Plenty of available fresh water is essential to prevent bladder and kidney disease. Watch for bloody urine and plan to take a fresh urine sample along for each annual visit to check urine pH and for the possible presence of white blood cells and/or crystals. To collect a urine sample, be creative. You can use a paper cup held in the right spot, a ladle or even use plastic wrap as a diaper for collection. The sample must be fresh or refrigerated until taken to the clinic.
Bichons are prone to loose stifles (knees) and may suffer luxating patellas and injury to cruciate ligaments in the knee. Perhaps dogs that are injured are not getting good walking exercise or are too fat, though genetic predisposition is also a factor. Watch your Bichon’s weight! Obesity is a concern with any orthopedic problem and can be a factor in other health problems.
On the increase are diabetes and other metabolic diseases and you need to understand how to aid in preventing these conditions which may have an inherited tendency but can be prevented with attention to diet and improved general health. Heart disease and kidney disease can be inherited or acquired but with better long term health, it is less likely these will show up in old age.
Temperament is not a disease but can be inherited. Most shy Bichons can be brought around by socializing, gentle training and love. Book are available about training a puppy as well as training adult dogs. Articles are also available on the internet or a qualified dog trainers can assist in overcoming a shy personality in your dog.
This brief discussion of diseases that may occur in a Bichon Frise or any dog is not complete. More information on various diseases is found on this website and on the internet.
Health Committee review, 2016