Bernese Mountain Dog Information


The Bernese Mountain Dog was developed in the Swiss Mountains, particularly in the area in Canton of Bern, from where he got his name. There are a number of eighteenth century paintings showing dogs which look very much like the Bernese Mountain Dog, both in colour and type. He was originally bred as an all-purpose working farm dog, used for driving cattle, pulling carts full of goods to sell at the markets. He was also used as a watchdog, guarding the farms and was considered a very faithful companion for farmers. The Bernese Mountain Dog was officially recognised in 1907.


The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large, muscular and moderately heavy dog with distinct tricolour coat markings unique to his breed. The Bernese Mountain Dog’s coat is predominately black with tan, to rust, markings above his eyes, the sides of his mouth, the front legs and a little amount round its white chest. There is a white horseshoe just around his nose together with the white ‘Swiss Cross’ on his chest, so clear when viewed from the front. The so-called ‘Swiss Kiss’ is located by a white mark typically found behind his neck, but could be a part of the neck.


Allergies, especially those that are food related, pose a problem for some Bernese. These are often difficult to diagnose and manage. Inflammatory bowel disease and sensitive digestive systems that may need special diets are present in some Bernese. There may be hereditary components to allergies and digestive conditions. Breeders and buyers are urged to consider incidence of allergies and digestive tract disease in families of dogs being selected for breeding/buying.

Autoimmune Diseases are impacting Berners just like the other purebred breeds. One such illness is Aseptic Meningitis, which can be difficult to diagnose and potentially life-threatening if not treated properly and in a timely manner. Generally dogs 3-12 months are most commonly affected, and one sex is not affected more than the other. The rate of occurrence for various autoimmune disorders is not known.

Bloat (gastric torsion and/or volvulus) is potentially life threatening and incredibly swift in onset. It is a condition that occurs when the stomach fills with gas and then may rotate. Immediate medical treatment, most likely emergency surgery, is mandatory, and minutes, not hours, may save a life. Studies on this condition have revealed so many factors that precede bloating in dogs that no single cause can be named. Further studies are being conducted to better understand this disease and the ways of preventing it. Bloat has a very high morbidity rate. Dogs that bloat once have a higher tendency to do so again.

Cancer presents great challenges to breeders in genetic selection and a greater challenge for dog owners. In Bernese, some forms of cancer are thought to have a genetic basis. Histiocytic Sarcoma has been shown to be inherited. How cancers are inherited is not known, although a polygenic mode of inheritance is suspected. In the 2005 BMDCA Health Study, 67% of all dogs that died succumbed to some form of cancer.
Histiocytic Sarcoma or malignant histiocytosis is the most prevalent cancer in the breed. Studies are ongoing to attempt to isolate the genetic basis for the disease in trying to breed away from it.
Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of the blood vessel cells, the tumors are filled with blood, and a rupture can be immediately life threatening. Long term prognosis is not good, but treatments are continually evolving and improving.

Lymphoma or Lymphosarcoma is a cancer that can occur in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver and spleen. There are several different types of lymphoma, and some are more responsive to treatment than others. Some breeds seem to be at higher risk for lymphoma, but it can occur in any breed at any age.

Mast Cell Tumors (MCT): As many as 25% of all skin tumors in dogs are MCTs. Half of these tumors are malignant. Most of them seem as raised nodular masses that feel soft to solid. 10 – 15% of them are indistinguishable from fatty cysts which lie under the skin in the subcutis. Half of them are found on the body, 40% are found on the legs, and 10% are found on the head or neck. Although these tumors may be found anywhere, including the liver, spleen, and bone marrow, most of the MCTs are found in the skin. MCTs can occur in a dog of any age, but they are typically found in middle age or older dogs, with a mean age of 8.5 years. They are found in males and females equally; there is no sex predilection. Heredity is thought to play a role.

Please note: BMDs may be affected by other forms of cancer not included in the list above.
Cataracts of various types are verified in Bernese through examination by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Depending on the type and place in the eye, cataracts may or may not present problems with vision. Owners are urged to have eyes checked by a canine ophthalmologist throughout the dog’s life.

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): Rear end paralysis can occur for a number of reasons (spinal embolism, back injuries / pinched nerves, cervical disc disease, spondylosis, etc.). DM is a progressive disease which causes eventual paralysis in older dogs. It is an inherited disease, but the exact method of inheritance is not yet fully understood. Two different genetic mutations have been identified in BMDs. As of April 2011, there is a genetic test for the more common mutation available from OFA.
Elbow Dysplasia (ED) is a general term used to describe several different abnormalities of the elbow joint. ED is another potentially crippling condition that affects some BMDs. A degenerative joint disease like HD (Hip Dysplasia, see below), ED causes arthritic changes to occur in the elbow joint. Elbow dysplasia in BMDs is most often a result of fragmented coronoid process, but the un-united anconeal process form of ED and OCD (Osteochondritis Dissecans see below) of the elbow have been seen. Elbow dysplasia can result in lameness and affect puppies as young as 5 months. The only way to confirm and check ED is by x-ray. OFA certifies elbow radiographs and issues a certificate and registry number to dogs free of this disease. Knowing the elbow status of as many family members as possible helps breeders improve their chance of producing puppies with normal elbows. Diet can also play an important role (see HD).
Hip Dysplasia (HD) results from an unstable hip socket and later degenerative arthritic changes that result from this instability. HD typically cannot be detected in pups at placement age. HD can affect young puppies but most often leads to a degenerative, sometimes crippling, arthritis as an affected dog ages. Some HD-affected dogs will experience no lameness. Some dogs with mild HD may be uncomfortable and other dogs with more severe HD may show no pain or gait problems. For some dogs the disease is completely debilitating. HD affects dogs from age 6 months to old age. Health tests are available to certify that a dog is likely to be free of HD. Diet can also play an important role. A growing large breed puppy needs food with carefully balanced amounts of calcium and phosphorous. High calorie food that promotes fast growth is to be avoided.

Hypothyroidism is a condition found fairly often in the breed. It can present itself via a variety of symptoms including hair coat changes (dryness, brittleness, brown pigmentation, sparseness), and changes in temperament. Dogs suffering from a underactive thyroid can experience reproductive failure and may put on excess weight even when fed a modest ration. A veterinarian can prescribe supplementation of thyroid hormone after a blood test is evaluated to decide whether the thyroid gland is working optimally. Heritability of these conditions is not understood entirely. This condition is usually easily treated with good results.

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) is a disease of the cartilage that also can lead to crippling arthritic changes. Like HD and ED, there are genetic components to this disease, although there are no scientific studies in Bernese Mountain Dogs to help determine the heritability of OCD. OFA certifies shoulder radiographs and issues a certificate and registry number to dogs free of this disease in the shoulder. Diet can also play an important role.

Panosteitis (Pano) is a disease of the long bones in the legs and is a condition that typically affects growing dogs from 5-8 months and up to 2 years of age. Diagnosis can often be done with x-rays, but mild forms may be difficult to detect. The disease can impair movement, cause intermittent or chronic lameness that may last for weeks or months, cause pain that makes the dog quite uncomfortable, and may “wander” from one leg to another. The condition will generally resolve with rest and subside completely when the affected dog reaches maturity. Pano is not related to trauma. The mode of inheritance needs further study but the condition does seem to run in families. Diet can also play an important role (see HD).

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a disease of the eyes, which causes eventual blindness. This is an inherited disease in Bernese Mountain Dogs, and it is likely autosomal recessive. More affected dogs are needed to research this disease, as of April 2011 the genetic mutation has not yet been identified.