7 Boston Terrier Common Health Issues [+Signs and Prevention]

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Boston Terrier is dressed like a doctor

Also known as the “American Gentleman,” Boston Terriers are active, friendly family dogs that can suffer from certain health issues. 

Understanding the conditions that commonly affect this breed can help you take the best possible care of your furbaby. You’ll be able to recognize warning signs earlier and seek appropriate treatment.

Of course, your gentleman may not experience any of these problems, but almost every dog deals with at least one health concern in his lifetime. This is just a list of the more common conditions that Bostons can develop.  

The most common Boston Terrier health issues include Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome(BOAS), congenital deafness, eye problems, patellar luxation, hemivertebrae, skin allergies, and epilepsy.

I’ll walk you through health problems commonly affecting Boston Terriers in this article. Then, I’ll break down the conditions by lifecycle and give you a list of signs to watch out for. To help you care for your furbaby, I’ll list preventative and general healthcare tips.

Common health problems in Boston Terriers

As a brachycephalic breed, Boston Terriers are genetically susceptible to some eye and breathing health issues. Their small stature also predisposes them to orthopedic and other conditions.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Like other flat-faced dog breeds, Boston Terriers are prone to developing Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). 

Dog breeds like Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Boxers that have a characteristic smooshed face are likely to develop BOAS.

Even though the anatomy is present from birth, you’re most likely to notice symptoms of BOAS in your gentleman after he reaches adulthood. 

The flattened face appearance in Boston Terriers occurs because they have compressed skull bones that can lead to narrow nostrils, an elongated soft palate, a narrow trachea, and everted laryngeal saccules. These structural abnormalities can interfere with your dog’s breathing.

Signs of BOAS include:

  • Noisy breathing/snoring
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing/gagging
  • Exercise/heat intolerance
  • Pale gums
  • Collapse

If you don’t seek treatment for symptoms of BOAS in your Boston Terrier, he’s likely to have increasing levels of respiratory distress and may eventually collapse.

You can’t change the anatomy of your Boston Terrier, but you may be able to prevent breathing difficulties by keeping your dog in a climate-controlled environment when it’s hot and humid outside. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight can help to minimize symptoms.

Depending on the severity of your gentleman’s structural abnormalities, surgical treatments for BOAS may include: 

  • trimming the soft palate
  • widening the nostrils
  • removing everted laryngeal saccules

Congenital deafness

Compared to most breeds, Boston Terriers are more prone to congenital deafness or being born deaf in one or both ears.

Dog breeds that have a higher tendency to have congenital deafness include Boston Terriers, Jack Russel Terriers, Scottish Terriers, and Bull Terriers.

The definition of congenital is present at birth, so this condition is first present in puppies and continues throughout your Boston’s lifetime.

As a congenital condition, this kind of deafness is usually caused by a recessive gene, but it may also be the result of an intrauterine infection before birth.

Signs of congenital deafness may include non-responsiveness to calls or commands, confusion, or unexplained barking.

There is no treatment for congenital deafness.

The best way to prevent congenital deafness is to buy your Boston Terrier from a trustworthy breeder. Make sure there’s no history of deafness in your Terrier’s family line. You should also strive to keep the bitch healthy during gestation to prevent infections.

If your Boston Terrier is born deaf or partially deaf, you can enhance his quality of life by making adjustments to your routines and home and seeking specialized training for your furbaby.

Eye problems

 The flat face and large eyes of the Boston Terrier make them vulnerable to developing certain eye conditions, including cherry eye, entropion, dry eye, corneal ulcers, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Brachycephalic breeds like Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, French Bulldogs, and Pugs can suffer from many of the same eye conditions.

Boston Terriers are born with anatomy that predisposes them to cherry eye, so the signs can manifest in puppies. Dry eye and corneal ulcers usually develop over time and are more common in adult Bostons. Likewise, cataracts and glaucoma usually surface in mature adults or senior Terriers.

Cherry eye and distichiasis are conditions involving the eyelid. With the former, the third eyelid pops out but with the latter, the eyelashes grow inward toward the eye. Inadequate tear production causes dry eye, and this can lead to an erosion of the corneal surface or corneal ulcers. With glaucoma, the aqueous liquid fails to drain from the eye globe, causing a buildup of pressure.

Signs of eye conditions include:

  • Eye pain 
  • Swollen eyeball
  • Watery discharge from the eye 
  • Cloudiness in the eye 
  • Squinting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blinking or holding the eye shut
  • Eye redness
  • Yellow or green eye discharge
  • Tearing
  • pinkish/red mass in the corner of the eye (cherry eye)

Without treatment, cherry eye, distichiasis, and dry eye can irritate the cornea and cause ulceration. Untreated cataracts and glaucoma can lead to eventual blindness.

Many of these conditions are genetically linked and difficult to prevent. However, you can treat underlying conditions to help prevent corneal ulceration. 

The conditions of entropion and cherry eye are usually surgically corrected. For dry eye, your veterinarian will probably prescribe tear-replacing drops. Ulcers can usually be treated topically with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drops. If your dog develops glaucoma, your veterinarian will treat it medically with painkillers and medications to help reduce pressure in the eyeball and encourage drainage. Surgery may be used in severe cases.

Patellar luxation

Boston Terriers are prone to a structural abnormality that predisposes them to patellar luxation of knee cap displacement.

Patellar luxation is common in many small-breed dogs, including Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Pomeranians.

The condition congenital defect is present at birth, and signs of luxation can appear in puppies, symptoms of degeneration and arthritis generally manifest in adulthood.

If your Boston Terrier is born with a shallow knee joint and a misplaced ligament, the kneecap can move too freely. It may occasionally pop out of the socket, causing intermittent lameness.

Signs of a luxating patella include:

  • Holding one hind leg off the ground
  • Intermittent skipping or hopping
  • Cracking/popping sound in the affected knee

Without treatment, the repetitive motion in the affected knee can cause degenerative arthritis with increasing pain and lameness.

Prevention of patellar luxation in your Boston Terrier starts at the breeder. Ask questions about your puppy to ensure the parents have no history of the problem.

Treatment for patellar luxation involves restricting your dog’s exercise and providing anti-inflammatory medications, joint supplements, and physical therapy.


The endearing corkscrew tail in Boston Terriers is due to an underlying health issue known as hemivertebrae.

Dogs selectively bred to have a corkscrew tail, including Boston Terriers, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs, are prone to hemivertebrae.

Signs of hemivertebrae usually surface in puppies and will grow steadily worse during the growth stage before leveling off around 9 months.

With hemivertebrae, one or more of the vertebrae in the spine are deformed and may be wedge-shaped or fused. This causes the spine to twist and can cause pain or other symptoms unless the deformity is limited to vertebrae in the tail.

Concerning signs of hemivertebrae include:

  • Hind limb weakness
  • Wobbly gait
  • Pain
  • Incontinence
  • Hind limb paralysis

If your Boston shows signs of hemivertebrae, leaving the condition untreated can lead to increasing pain and potential paralysis.

Because hemivertebrae stems from a congenital defect, the best way to prevent it in your terrier is to buy your puppy from a   trustworthy breeder that won’t breed stock that has x-ray evidence of the condition. 

Treatment for hemivertebrae depends on the location of the defect and the severity of spinal cord compression. No treatment is necessary for corkscrew tails. Boston Terriers with minor compression usually receive supportive care featuring anti-inflammatory drugs and rest. Significant compression with pain and lameness/paralysis may require surgical correction.

Skin allergies

Boston Terriers are prone to developing sensitivities to food or environmental allergens that manifest as skin allergies.

Skin allergies are common in various dog breeds, including Boston Terriers, Pugs, French Bulldogs, Jack Russel Terriers, and Weimaraners. 

While skin allergies can manifest at any age, they’re more common in mature Boston Terriers. The allergic response usually requires repeated exposures to the offending allergens.

If your Boston Terrier develops a sensitivity to food or environmental allergens, the proteins will trigger an inflammatory response in the body that usually manifests as inflamed, itchy skin.

Signs of skin allergies include:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Itchiness
  • Constant licking/scratching
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Hives
  • Swelling around the face

Allergic reactions tend to compound or grow more severe with repeated exposure. If you see signs of skin allergies in your Boston, talk to your veterinarian about treatment options to ease your dog’s discomfort. Immediately take your dog to the veterinarian if he has hives or swelling around the face. This is an emergency.

It’s difficult to prevent allergic reactions, but you may be able to minimize your dog’s exposure to allergens. Make every effort to identify your terrier’s trigger substances and avoid them as much as possible. If he has a food sensitivity, check with your veterinarian about a specialized diet.

Treatment options for chronic skin allergies include oral antihistamines or other allergy medications. You can also use medicated anti-itch shampoos to soothe inflamed skin.


Boston Terriers have a genetic predisposition for epilepsy or repeated seizures.

Breeds that tend to develop epilepsy include Boston Terriers, Toy Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.

If your Boston Terrier has epilepsy, you’ll likely see the first seizure before he’s three years old.

When dogs with epilepsy have a seizure, there’s a burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The impulses cause body movements that are erratic and involuntary.

Signs of seizures may include:

  • Whining before and after the seizure
  • Drooling/foaming at the mouth
  • Muscle twitches/tremors
  • Chomping/tongue-chewing
  • Paddling of the limbs or thrashing
  • Involuntary urination/defecation
  • Fainting/collapsing

The first time you observe a seizure in your Boston Terrier, you should contact your veterinarian. He can determine whether there’s an identifiable cause, like a tumor. Without appropriate treatment, seizures can become more severe over time and become life-threatening.

Because epilepsy in Boston Terriers has a genetic link, the first line of prevention is selecting a puppy with no familial history of epilepsy. Any time your terrier has a seizure, immediately move him away from open stairs or furniture to protect him during the episode.  Always avoid contacting his head and mouth. If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, take your furbaby to the ER.

If your veterinarian identifies an underlying cause for your Boston Terrier’s seizures, treatment is aimed at the underlying condition. Antiseizure medications are used when there’s no identifiable cause.

Boston Terrier Health issues across the lifecycle

The health conditions that commonly affect Boston Terriers manifest at various times in the life cycle. Congenital defects like luxating patellas and hemivertebrae can show signs in puppies, while other issues like BOAS, Allergies, and epilepsy usually manifest in mature dogs.

Boston Terrier Puppy Health Issues

Boston Terrier puppies can be born with certain health conditions. Congenital deafness is present from birth, along with distichiasis and hemivertebrae. Bostons can also be born with defects that set them up for developing cherry eye or signs of luxating patellas as puppies. 

Adult Boston Terrier Health Issues

Certain conditions take time to develop and show obvious signs. Although Boston Terriers are born with the anatomy that predisposes them to BOAS, symptoms usually surface in adults. Dry eye often takes time to develop and usually occurs in mature dogs. 

Because allergies develop after repeated exposure to the trigger, they usually become apparent in adult Bostons. Seizures from epilepsy usually start by the time your Boston Terrier is 3 years old.

Senior Boston Terrier Health Issues

There are a few health issues in Boston Terriers that take time to develop. These are usually degenerative. Conditions that tend to afflict senior dogs include cataracts, glaucoma, and degenerative arthritis from patellar luxation.

Boston Terrier Health Issues and Average Lifespan

The average lifespan for Boston Terriers is about 11-13 years.

Certain conditions, including epilepsy and hemivertebrae, can shorten the length and affect the quality of your Boston Terrier’s life. Other issues that can impact your furbaby include congenital deafness, allergies, and epilepsy. 

Boston Terrier Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

Boston Terriers generally live longer than most large and giant-breed dogs, but when compared to similar-sized dogs, they have a shorter life. Certain conditions, including hemivertebrae and epilepsy, can reduce your furbaby’s lifespan. The best way to prolong your furbaby’s life is to keep a close eye on his health and seek immediate care if you observe any issues.

Health Signs Boston Terrier Parents Should Beware Of

Knowing the top signs of key health issues in your Boston Terrier can help you identify problems seek quickly, and seek appropriate care. 

  • Noisy breathing/snoring
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing/gagging
  • Exercise/heat intolerance
  • Non-responsiveness to calls or commands
  • Confusion
  • Unexplained barking.
  • Eye pain 
  • Swollen eyeball
  • Watery discharge from the eye 
  • Cloudiness in the eye 
  • Eye discharge
  • Light sensitivity
  • Tearing
  • Holding one hind leg off the ground
  • Intermittent skipping or hopping
  • Cracking/popping sound in the affected knee
  • Hind limb weakness
  • Wobbly gait
  • Incontinence
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Itchiness
  • Constant licking/scratching
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Drooling/foaming at the mouth
  • Muscle twitches/tremors
  • Chomping/tongue-chewing
  • Paddling of the limbs or thrashing

Boston Terrier Health Care Tips and Prevention

Despite the health issues that Boston Terrier’s can develop, they are delightful companions. If you choose one of these dogs for your household, you can help maximize his quality of life by practicing some basic healthcare and prevention.

  • Keep your furbaby indoors or provide a cool, shaded area during extreme temperatures to help prevent respiratory distress.
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Boston Terriers should weigh about 12-15 pounds. Schedule regular vaccinations and health exams to support your Boston’s health. 
  • Give your terrier supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health.
  • Purchase your Boston from a reputable breeder and confirm that the breeding stock has no history of health problems.
  • Groom your dog at least once a week. Use a grooming mitt to remove dead skin and loose hairs. Check and clean his ears at the same time.. 
  • Invest in an orthopedic dog bed as your terrier enters his middle-aged or senior years.

The Final Woof

Boston Terriers are adorable dogs that can make delightful companions, but they’re prone to developing certain health conditions. If you know what to expect, you’ll be better prepared to care for your furbaby if he has any problems. Most dogs will face some health challenges in their lifetime, so knowing the most common maladies for Bostons can be helpful.

The various health conditions that these distinguished gentlemen may experience can manifest at different parts of the life cycle, depending on the issue. Some conditions like hemivertebrae and epilepsy can negatively impact your Boston’s length or quality of life. By practicing basic healthcare and prevention, you may be able to help your furbaby reach his maximum life expectancy.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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