7 Jack Russel Terrier Common Health Issues [+Signs and Prevention]

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Jack Russel Terriers are generally healthy dogs, but they can suffer from certain health conditions.

Understanding the health issues common to your dog can help you prepare to provide the care your pooch needs if he develops any of the conditions described below.

Your Jack Russel won’t necessarily suffer from any of the health issues common to the breed. But the reality is that most dogs face at least one health challenge in their lives. Knowing the most likely problems for these terriers can help you recognize conditions quickly and seek the appropriate care.

The most common Jack Russel Terrier health issues include eye problems, orthopedic issues, atopic dermatitis, dental disease, deafness, and ear infections.

In this article, we’ll walk through the common health problems Jack Russel Terriers face and discuss the impact these conditions have on the breed throughout the lifecycle. Then, I’ll give you a list of signs you should watch out for as well as offer some preventative and healthcare tips for your furbaby.

Common health problems

While most Jack Russel Terriers enjoy long, healthy lives, the breed suffers from certain genetically linked conditions.

Eye problems

Jack Russel Terriers have genetic predispositions for developing certain eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, lens luxation, and progressive retinal atrophy(PRA).

Genetically linked eye conditions are common in Jack Russel Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Lhasa Apsos, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Akitas, and Tibetan Terriers. 

All four eye conditions are progressive and take time to develop. Symptoms usually won’t surface until your Jack reaches his adult or senior years.

Lens clouding and hardening cause cataracts, while glaucoma occurs when the aqueous liquids won’t drain from the globe causing a buildup of fluid pressure. In the case of lens luxation, supporting ligaments that normally hold the lens in place weaken and break down. As a result, the lens slips out of place and can block the drainage of fluid from the eye. With PRA, the retina deteriorates over time, eventually leading to blindness. 

Symptoms of various eye conditions in Jack Russel Terriers include:

  • Blindness
  • Cloudy lens (cataracts)
  • Cloudiness of the cornea (glaucoma and lens luxation)
  • Swollen eyeball (glaucoma)
  • Watery discharge from the eye (glaucoma)
  • Eye pain (glaucoma)
  • Sudden change in pupil size (lens luxation)
  • Squinting and frequent blinking (lens luxation)
  • Increased eye redness (lens luxation)
  • Night blindness (PRA)
  • Stumbling/bumping into objects (PRA)

When cataracts and glaucoma go untreated, it leads to blindness and eye damage. Without treatment, lens luxations can cause glaucoma and blindness. PRA is a progressive condition that has no known treatment.

Because these conditions are caused by genetically linked conditions, the first line of defense involves purchasing your Jack Russel Terrier from a reputable breeder. Your puppy should come from a family line that has no history of these eye problems. Once you have your terrier, feed him a well-balanced diet that includes antioxidants and supplements that support eye health. 

Surgical removal of the lens is the treatment for cataracts and luxated lenses. Glaucoma treatment involves painkillers and drugs that help reduce intraocular fluid production and promote drainage. When glaucoma is severe, your dog may require surgery to relieve the intraocular pressure or to remove the eyeball.

Orthopedic issues

JRs frequently suffer from orthopedic issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas, and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease.

While common in Jack Russel Terriers, hip and elbow dysplasia is usually more prevalent in large and giant breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Great Danes. Luxating Patellas and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease are seen more frequently in smaller breeds like JRs, Chihuahuas, Poodles, and Pomeranians.

Signs of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease usually appear in puppies around 4-6 months old, and you may see intermittent lameness in puppies suffering from luxating patellas. However, the degenerative effects of the luxation and symptoms of hip/elbow dysplasia are more common in the adult and senior years.

Hip and elbow dysplasia occurs when Jack Russels are born with an anatomical structure that causes loose joints. In hips, the socket is too shallow, but in elbows, the joint cartilage is extra thick. Both cause repetitive movement in the joint, creating chronic inflammation, degeneration, and pain. When dogs are born with a shallow knee joint, it allows the kneecap to shift out of place or luxate, causing intermittent lameness. With Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, the hip ball joint dies, which causes severe pain.

Symptoms of the various orthopedic conditions include:

  • Difficulty walking or rising
  • Bunny-hop run
  • Difficulty/reluctance climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture.
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Reduced hip joint movement
  • Holding one hind leg off the ground
  • Intermittent skipping
  • Cracking/popping sound in the affected knee
  • Progressive lameness in the hind limb
  • Inability to bear weight on one or both legs

Leaving any of these conditions untreated leads to further damage and deterioration of the affected joints. Dogs will become progressively lame and experience increasing levels of pain.

As with most genetically linked conditions, these diseases are best prevented by getting puppies from reputable breeders and family lines with no history of these problems. You can also use proper nutrition and joint supplements to help minimize degenerative changes.

Medical treatment for hip and elbow dysplasia and luxating patellas includes physical therapy, joint supplements,  anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, joint fluid modifiers, weight management, and restricted activity. Severe dysplasias can also be treated surgically. For Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, the treatment of choice is the surgical removal of the femoral head and neck.

Atopic dermatitis

Jack Russel Terriers are predisposed to developing atopic dermatitis or inflammatory reactions to certain environmental allergens.

Atopic dermatitis can affect any dog, but it’s more prevalent in certain breeds, including Jack Russels, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, Weimeranars, and Boston Terriers.

Repeated exposure to certain environmental stimuli produces atopy. Symptoms usually start to manifest between 6 months and 3 years of age.

Jack Russel Terriers predisposed to atopy are born with a defective outer skin layer. When allergens contact the epidermis, the body has an immune reaction that causes inflammation and extreme itching.

Signs of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Excessive itching
  • Licking/chewing the feet
  • Scooting
  • Rubbing the face
  • Hair loss
  • Skin hyperpigmentation and thickening

Untreated atopy can cause secondary skin infections. Persistent atopy and itching also reduce your dog’s quality of life.

Atopic dermatitis is difficult to prevent in your Jack Russel Terrier. Because the condition is genetically linked, work with breeders to find a puppy that doesn’t have a family history of atopy. If you know the specific allergens that trigger your furbaby, you may be able to minimize exposure, but this is very tricky.

Treatment options for atopy in your Jack Russel Terrier include:

  • Topical treatments including shampoo, rinses, and medicated wipes
  • Oral corticosteroids or antihistamines to reduce itching and inflammation
  • Injectable antibodies
  • Allergen-specific immunotherapy

Dental disease

As a smaller breed dog with a narrow snout, Jack Russel Terriers are predisposed to developing gum and tooth disease. 

Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine claims that 80-90% of dogs over 3 years old will suffer from periodontal disease. The condition is frequently seen in small-breed dogs like Jack Russells, Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, and Toy Poodles.

While dental disease can occur at any age, it appears more commonly in adults. Over time, plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth and cause inflammation and decay.

The terrier’s small mouth tends to trap food debris. Additionally, the teeth are harder to clean. Food residue, plaque, and tartar collect and irritate the gums. Over time, bacteria can also damage the tooth enamel and roots, causing decay.

Signs of periodontal disease include:

  • Bad breath/halitosis
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Discolored teeth that appear yellow or brown
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Receding gums
  • Bloody saliva

If left untreated, dental disease will continue to progress. Eventually, your dog’s teeth will decay, and the inflamed gums can cause infections and other health problems.

Preventative measures for your Jack Russel Terrier include brushing his teeth daily, avoiding sugary treats, feeding a diet designed for dental health, and giving your dog dental chews or toys that help scrape off plaque. Additionally, schedule annual dental exams and cleanings with your veterinarian.

Depending on the severity of the dental disease, treatment may include dental cleaning, deep periodontal pocket cleaning and antibiotic gel application, oral antibiotics, and tooth extraction.


Jack Russels are more prone to congenital and age-related deafness than many other breeds.

Dogs with a higher tendency to be deaf from birth include Jack Russel Terriers, Bull Terriers, and Scottish Terriers.

As a congenital issue, deafness is present from birth.

Deafness from birth can be caused by a recessive gene or group of genes in Jack Russel Terriers. An intrauterine viral infection may also trigger the condition.

Symptoms of deafness in Jack Russel Terriers include confusion, excessive barking, or a lack of response to calls/commands.

Deafness is not curable, and there is no treatment.

Prevention of congenital deafness in Jack Russells includes not breeding dogs that are born deaf and maintaining your bitch’s health during gestation.

While congenital deafness has no treatment, you can help your Jack Russel Terrier live a full life by providing special training and making adjustments to your home routine.

Ear infections

The Jack Russel Terrier’s predisposition for developing atopic dermatitis and their floppy ears make them vulnerable to ear infections.

Ear infections occur in several dog breeds, including Jack Russels, Beagles, French Bulldogs, Bichon Frises, and Springer Spaniels.

Because this health condition is linked to atopy and anatomy, ear infections can occur at any stage of life.

When inflammation or trapped moisture causes yeast or bacteria to grow in the ear canal, your Jack Russel will develop an ear infection. 

Signs of ear infections include:

  • Scratching at the ears
  • Reddened ears
  • A foul odor coming from the ear
  • Head tilt 
  • Painful ears
  • Dark ear discharge

When left untreated, ear infections generally fester and can cause neurological problems, balance issues, ruptured eardrums, and deafness.

Blocked anal glands

Jack Russel Terriers are prone to blocked anal glands. Atopic dermatitis and obesity may lead to impacted sacs.

This disease occurs more frequently in small and medium-sized breeds like Jack Russel Terriers, Beagles, Chihuahuas, and Lhasa Apsos than in most large-breed dogs. Smaller anatomy and narrower ducts may contribute to the disease.

In Jack Russells’, the condition usually manifests in adulthood and is often accompanied by a poor diet and obesity.

Normally, defecation helps dogs naturally express the liquid from their anal sacs. However, if there’s inflammation or excess fat around the rectum, the liquid won’t evacuate properly. Over time, the fluid thickens or dries out, causing impaction.

Signs of anal gland impaction include:

  • Scooting
  • Excessive licking or biting at the anus
  • Fishy odor 
  • Brown spotting of bedding
  • Straining/pain during defecation

Impacted anal glands that aren’t evacuated may become infected and abscess or rupture. This can cause damage to the anus and rectum and is extremely painful.

Prevention includes adding fiber to your dog’s diet, helping your dog reach and maintain a healthy weight,  exercising your dog, and increasing your terrier’s water intake.

Treatments include manual expression, applying warm compresses around the anus, and treating underlying conditions like skin infections and allergies.

Jack Russel Terrier Health issues across the lifecycle

The health issues that commonly affect Jack Russel Terriers occur at different points of the lifecycle, depending on the condition.

Jack Russel Terrier Puppy Health Issues

Certain orthopedic issues, particularly Legg-Calve Perthes disease, usually manifest in puppies. Other conditions are present from birth but take time to progress and will become evident later in life. 

Atopic dermatitis can occur in puppies or adults, as can ear infections. However, congenital deafness is present from birth.

Adult [Breed] Health Issues

Many conditions that Jack Russel Terriers face become evident in the adult years. Lameness from luxating patellas generally surfaces in the middle years. Other health issues that usually manifest in adults include dental disease and blocked anal glands.

Senior JRT Health Issues

While signs of hip and elbow dysplasia can appear in the adult years, progressive degeneration and arthritis more commonly show up in senior dogs. Other diseases that usually take time to develop are eye conditions like cataracts and glaucoma. 

Jack Russel Terrier Health Issues and Average Lifespan

Overall, Jack Russels are healthy dogs with an average lifespan of 13-16 years.

Many of the common issues Jack Russel Terriers may develop serve more to impact their quality of life than to shorten their life span. As Jack Russel Terriers age, they’re likely to develop arthritis pain and other chronic conditions that can cause considerable pain.

Jack Russel Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

Jack Russel Terriers are hardy dogs and suffer from fewer health issues than many breeds. However, they are predisposed to develop some common conditions, including skin allergies, orthopedic issues, and eye problems like cataracts. Because many of the more serious issues tend to be genetically linked, you should work with a trustworthy breeder when you select your puppy.

Health Signs Jack Russel Terrier Parents Should Beware Of

When you know the common conditions that Jack Russel Terriers can develop, you’ll be more prepared to care for your dog if he has any issues. Below are key signs to watch for:

  • Blindness/bumping into objects
  • Cloudiness in the eye
  • Swollen eyeball
  • Excessive tearing/watery eyes
  • Difficulty walking or rising
  • Bunny-hop run
  • Difficulty/reluctance climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture.
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Excessive itching
  • Licking/chewing the feet
  • Scooting
  • Hair loss
  • Bad breath/halitosis
  • Excessive drooling
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Confusion
  • Excessive barking
  • Non-responsive to commands
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Reddened, painful ears
  • A foul odor coming from the ear
  • Head tilt 
  • Excessive licking or biting at the anus
  • Fishy odor 
  • Brown spotting of bedding

Jack Russel Terrier Health Care Tips and Prevention

Jack Russel Terriers are energetic, lovable family pets that can develop certain health issues. If you have one of these playful pups, you can help them maximize their quality of life by following some basic health care.

  • Purchase your JRT from a reputable breeder. 
  • Schedule routine health care, including annual checkups and vaccinations for your furbaby
  • Feed your terrier a diet that maintains a healthy weight of about 11-13 pounds.
  • Clean your Jack Russel’s ears once a week.
  • Feed a balanced diet, including nutrients to support the eyes, muscles, and joints.
  • Feed your dog high-fiber treats and food with probiotics to encourage firm stools.
  • Give your dog joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Use an orthopedic bed with memory foam to support your dog’s joints

The Final Woof

Jack Russel Terriers tend to be a healthy breed, but they can develop certain diseases. Knowing the most common health issues helps you prepare for your furbaby’s potential problems. Some of the top problems for Jack Russels include orthopedic issues, eye problems, atopic dermatitis, dental disease, and deafness. 

While these fun-loving terriers are predisposed to some health conditions, they’re generally healthier and live longer lives than many other breeds. It still helps to know the major symptoms of common problems so you’ll be ready to seek immediate treatment. In the meantime, you can maximize your furbaby’s quality of life by practicing good healthcare and prevention at home.

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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