8 Pit Bull Common Health Issues [+Signs and Prevention]

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Pit Bull is dressed like a doctor

Originally bred for fighting, pit bulls can be loyal and affectionate family protectors, but they’re also predisposed to developing various health conditions.

Understanding the common issues that pit bulls face can help you prepare to care for your furbaby if he develops any of these conditions.

Just because Pit Bulls are prone to developing these conditions doesn’t mean your Pittie will deal with any of them. However, most dogs will deal with at least one health issue in their lifetimes. The problems we will describe below are some of the more common conditions in Pit Bulls.

Some of the most common health issues in Pit Bulls include skin allergies, skin infections, orthopedic issues, hypothyroidism, aortic stenosis, cerebellar ataxia, cataracts, and a twisted stomach.

Below, I’ll go over 8 more common issues that Pit Bulls can develop in their lifetimes.  I’ll explain when in your dog’s lifecycle different conditions can surface and how your Pittie’s overall health compares with other dog breeds. After that, I’ll provide you with a list of symptoms to watch out for and give you some tips to care for your furbaby.

Common health problems

Even though Pit Bulls have a reputation for being tough, they are prone to developing some health issues. Below, we’ll examine the most common health problems in Pit Bulls.

Skin allergies

Pit Bulls are prone to developing skin allergies to various environmental or food triggers.

Allergies are common across most dog breeds and ages but they’re more common in Pit Bulls, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and others.

While skin allergies can appear at any age, the sensitivity that causes the reaction usually manifests as early as one year of age in Pittes. It takes time for the immune response to build.

Each time your Pit Bull encounters a trigger substance or allergen, the body responds by releasing histamine. This usually creates inflammation and allergy symptoms in the skin.

Signs of skin allergies in Pitties include:

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Excess shedding
  • Rubbing or itching the face/ears
  • Drooling 
  • Constant licking/scratching, especially the paws

The problem with allergies is they can intensify with repeated exposures. Notify your veterinarian and ask about treatment options when you observe allergy symptoms in your dog. If your pooch develops hives, wheezing, or facial swelling, take him to the emergency clinic immediately. He may be having an anaphylactic reaction.

Allergies are hard to prevent, but you can attempt to identify and avoid substances that trigger reactions in your pooch. Talk to your veterinarian about hypoallergenic diets if your furbaby has food sensitivities

Your veterinarian may treat your Pit Bull’s allergies with antihistamines,  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or steroids. Antibiotics can be added to the regimen if he develops a skin infection.

Skin infections

Because Pit Bulls have thin skin and a short hair coat, they’re particularly vulnerable to developing skin infections.

Breeds that are predisposed to skin infections include Pit Bulls, Spaniels, Shar Peis, Doberman Pinschers, and Standard Poodles.

Skin infections can occur at any age in dogs, but they’re frequently secondary to other causes like allergies. It’s more common, therefore, to find skin infections in adult Pitties.

Pit Bulls have less protection from skin irritants than most other breeds. When conditions like sunburn or rashes from allergies compromise the integument, the skin becomes more vulnerable to infection from bacteria, fungi, or yeast. 

Signs of skin infections include:

  • Red, itchy skin
  • Small, raised bumps
  • Scaling or flaking skin
  • Oozing skin
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in skin pigmentation

Untreated skin infections often fester and can lead to self-traumatization and open wounds. If the condition is severe enough, the infection may spread to the blood and cause a septic condition.

Prevention of skin infections in Pit Bulls involves 

  • Treating underlying allergies
  • Preventing skin parasite infestations
  • Protecting your pooch from overexposure to the sun
  • Regularly grooming and bathing your furbaby
  • Feeding a diet that’s balanced and includes omega fatty acids and vitamin E to support healthy skin

Treatment for skin infections depends on the location, type, and severity of the infection. Your veterinarian will prescribe oral and/or topical antimicrobials and may recommend a medicated shampoo.

Orthopedic issues

Pit bulls are prone to certain orthopedic issues like hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, and knee ligament injuries.

Orthopedic issues are common among various dog breeds including Pit Bulls, Golden Retrievers, Jack Russel Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Hip dysplasia and patellar luxation stem from anatomical defects that are present at birth, but symptoms of all of these orthopedic conditions are more likely to manifest in adult Pit Bulls.

A congenital defect in the hip can cause excess joint movement and lead to signs of hip dysplasia. With patellar luxation, the groove in the knee is shallow and allows the kneecap to slide out of place. Because Pit Bulls tend to be extremely active, they’re also prone to knee ligament injuries.

Signs of orthopedic problems in Pit Bulls include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Sensitivity to touch around the hip joint
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Difficulty rising
  • Swaying gait
  • Chronic pain
  • Cracking/popping sound when bending the affected knee 
  • Holding one hind leg off the ground
  • Intermittent limping or skipping 
  • Limping

Leaving orthopedic conditions untreated allows for repeated irritation in the joint which can lead to degenerative arthritis, increasing pain, and decreasing mobility.

Prevention of hip dysplasia and patellar luxation begins with purchasing your Pit Bull from a reputable breeder. Additionally, you can feed joint supplements and help your pooch maintain a healthy weight. 

Treatment for hip dysplasia and patellar luxation usually involves medical management with physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, supplements, weight reduction, joint fluid modifiers, and restricted activity.  Knee ligament injuries usually require surgery.


Hypothyroidism, which stems from an underactive thyroid gland, is one of the conditions that can affect Pit Bulls.

This condition is more common in large or medium-sized dogs and commonly affects Pit Bulls, Boxers, Dobermans, Beagles, and Golden Retrievers.

While hypothyroidism can affect dogs at any age, it usually manifests in middle-aged Pitties.

Normally, the thyroid gland produces a hormone that controls your dog’s metabolism and growth. If the gland fails to make enough of the hormone, your furbaby can experience metabolic slowdown and various other problems.

Signs of hypothyroidism include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Thin, brittle hair and bald patches
  • Increased risk of skin and ear infections
  • Skin darkening

Leaving hypothyroidism untreated can lead to weight gain and infections. In time, the secondary effects may negatively impact your furbaby’s quality of life.

The most likely reason for Pit Bulls to develop hypothyroidism is genetic. Choose your furbaby from a reputable breeder that won’t breed stock with a history of the disease.

Usually, hypothyroidism is easy to treat with hormone replacement therapy, weight control, and routine monitoring.

Aortic stenosis

Pit Bulls are prone to developing cardiac disease, particularly the congenital valve defect known as aortic stenosis.

Dog breeds that tend to develop aortic stenosis include Pit Bulls, Boxers, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Bullmastiffs, and Dogue de Bordeaux. 

Dogs with aortic stenosis can be asymptomatic, but in more pronounced cases, signs of a heart murmur appear around 6-12 months. 

With aortic stenosis, the valve between the aorta and left ventricle is abnormally narrow. As a result, the heart must pump harder to force blood through the opening.

Signs of aortic stenosis in Pit Bulls include:

  • Coughing
  • Heart murmur
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite

If aortic stenosis goes untreated, the condition places a burden on the heart and can lead to heart failure. 

Aortic stenosis is a genetically linked condition, so the only way to prevent it in your dog is to choose a puppy that doesn’t have a family history of aortic stenosis.

In severe cases, aortic stenosis can be surgically corrected. However, it can usually be managed medically with cardiac drugs, diuretics, dietary management, and lifestyle changes.

Cerebellar ataxia

Cerebellar ataxia is a genetic condition that commonly affects Pit Bulls.

Cerebellar ataxia can affect various breeds, including Pit Bulls, American Bulldogs, and Portuguese Water Dogs.

In most cases, the age of onset for cerebellar ataxia in Pit Bulls is 2-4 years.

With cerebellar ataxia, neurons in the cerebellum mature prematurely and begin to deteriorate. As the disease progresses, symptoms manifest in a certain sequence.

Signs of cerebellar ataxia include:

  • Clumsy or swaying gait
  • Loss of balance
  • Stumbling
  • Wide stance
  • Rapid/random movement of head/eyes
  • Loss of appetite/lethargy

There is no cure for cerebellar ataxia, but supportive treatment can help improve your Pit Bull’s quality of life. 

Breeders should not breed stock that tests positive for the gene that carries cerebellar ataxia to help prevent passing on the condition..

Treatment for cerebellar ataxia is supportive and designed to keep your Pit Bull comfortable. Some dogs will require a wheelchair to improve mobility as the disease progresses.


Pit Bulls are predisposed to developing cataracts.

Cataracts can affect dog breeds, including Pit Bulls, French Bulldogs, Siberian Huskies, Toy Poodles, Labrador retrievers, and Yorkshire Terriers.

While cataracts usually develop in mature dogs, they tend to occur earlier in Pit Bulls, often between 1 and 3 years.

An overproduction of protein in the eye can cause clouding and thickening of the lens. When this happens, a cataract develops that can impair your dog’s vision.

Signs of cataracts include:

  • Cloudy bluish/gray lens
  • Clumsiness
  • Reluctance to climb stairs
  • Rubbing or scratching eyes

Without treatment, the lens will continue to cloud and thicken, leading to eventual blindness.

Cataract prevention is often difficult, but you can feed your furbaby a quality diet that’s rich in omega fatty acids to promote eye health. You should also limit your dog’s exposure to UV rays.

Treatment for cataracts involves surgical removal of the lens.

Twisted stomach

Pit Bulls have deep chests, and this predisposes them to develop twisted stomachs or bloat.

Breeds that can suffer from twisted stomachs include Pit Bulls, Boxers, Weimaraners, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and Dobermans.

Usually, large dogs with deep chests are prone to develop twisted stomachs after they’re about 5 years old.

Signs of a twisted stomach in your Pit Bull include:

  • Distended abdomen
  • Turning and looking at the abdomen
  • Anxiety, pacing, acting uncomfortable
  • Dry heaves/retching
  • Panting or drooling
  • Praying/downward dog posture

Ignoring signs of bloat in your Pitty can be disastrous. In a matter of a few hours, the condition can be life-threatening.

Preventative measures for bloat start with buying a puppy that has no familial history of twisted stomachs. You can also feed your Pitty 2-3 smaller meals a day and use a slow-feed bowl to discourage him from gulping food and air.

When bloat is mild, your veterinarian may recommend leash walking and supportive care to encourage the gas to move out of the stomach. If the twist is severe, treatment may include stomach decompression, pain medications, supportive care, and surgery.

Pit Bull Health issues across the lifecycle

The health issues your Pit Bull can face manifest at different times in his life cycle depending on the condition. Puppies are born with certain defects and can show the first signs of a heart murmur around 6-12 months of age, while other conditions like cataracts usually develop in adults.

Pit Bull Puppy Health Issues

Puppies are born with joint defects that predispose them to luxating patellas and other orthopedic issues. Usually, the symptoms will appear later in life, but you may notice Pitties skip hopping or showing intermittent lameness as puppies.

Aortic stenosis is another condition that involves a congenital defect. The narrow valve creates turbulent blood flow that can lead to a heart murmur in puppies.

Adult Pit Bull Health Issues

Many health issues in Pit Bulls take time to develop and manifest. Skin allergies and resulting infections usually require multiple exposures, so they are more commonly seen in dogs over 1 year old. Other conditions that affect adult Pit Bulls include cataracts, hypothyroidism, and cerebellar ataxia.

Because Pitties are active dogs, they’re prone to cruciate ligament injuries. Their hyperactivity and voracious appetite also set these dogs up for twisted stomachs.

Senior Pit Bull Health Issues

The condition that can commonly affect your senior Pit Bull is degenerative arthritis from hip dysplasia and luxating patellas. These conditions cause chronic trauma to the joint tissues.

Pit Bull Health Issues and Average Lifespan

While some Pit Bulls can live 15 or 16 years, the breed’s average lifespan is 9-13 years.

Pitties are active dogs that have a lifespan similar to other large-breed dogs. Certain health issues that commonly affect this breed can significantly impact their length or quality of life. The most severe health issue, cerebellar ataxia, is incurable and will shorten your dog’s lifespan.

Pit Bull Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

Pit Bulls are a generally healthy breed and have an average lifespan that’s comparable with other large-sized dogs. They tend to suffer from similar orthopedic conditions as other big dogs like German Shepherds and Dobermans. As an active, deep-chested breed, Pit Bulls also can develop a twisted stomach like many Retrievers, Dobermans, and other larger, athletic dogs. 

Health Signs Pit Bull Parents Should Beware Of

Despite your best efforts to prevent problems, your Pit Bull can develop health issues in his lifetime. It helps to know the common signs to watch out for so you can seek the appropriate care.

  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Excess shedding/hair loss
  • Drooling 
  • Constant licking/scratching, especially the paws
  • Small, raised bumps
  • Scaling or flaking skin
  • Oozing skin
  • Difficulty walking
  • Sensitivity to touch around the hip joint
  • Difficulty or reluctance climbing stairs or rising
  • Holding one hind leg off the ground
  • Intermittent limping or skipping 
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Thin, brittle hair and bald patches
  • Coughing
  • Heart murmur
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of balance
  • Stumbling
  • Wide stance
  • Cloudy bluish/gray lens
  • Clumsiness
  • Distended abdomen
  • Turning and looking at the abdomen
  • Anxiety, pacing, acting uncomfortable

Pit Bull Health Care Tips and Prevention

As a Pit Bull parent, there are several things you can do to help keep your furbaby healthy and content.

  • Work with a reputable breeder who can tell you about the parents’ health histories. 
  • Schedule regular health screenings and vaccinations
  • Keep your Pit Bull at a healthy weight. These dogs usually average 30-70 pounds.
  • Pit Bulls need about 45 minutes to an hour of active play time every day.
  • Feed your Pit Bull a nutritionally balanced, high-protein diet that supports eye, joint, and skin health.
  • Give your dog joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin.
  • Use an orthopedic bed to support your Pitty if he has hip dysplasia or other joint issues.
  • Groom your Pit Bull about once a week with a grooming mitt. Check and clean your furbaby’s ears at the same time.

The Final Woof

Pit Bulls are generally healthy, active dogs, but they have their share of health issues. While some conditions are more likely to afflict your Pitty, there’s no guarantee he’ll develop any of the common problems. However, knowing what to expect can help you be prepared. 

If you own a Pit Bull, learn the signs of common issues so you’ll be able to recognize potential problems. You can also practice good health care and take preventative measures to help your Pitty stay healthy and enjoy a long, full life.

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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