5 Health Concerns Commonly Associated with Pitbulls

Everybody thinks of pitbulls as really tough dogs, but the truth is that many of them are prone to joint problems and skin conditions that we explore below.

Dec 26, 2023By Lisa Szymanski
health concerns commonly associated with pitbulls

Most of us know the American pitbull terrier as a cuddly yet fit dog with a solid body. Despite their loveable nature and powerful physique, the question is whether they’re a generally healthy breed. Well, with a good diet, veterinary care, and regular exercise, most pitbulls live a long life, up to 14 years of age. But not all pitbulls are without problems. Regardless of whether a blue or red nose pitbull, these dogs are affected by skin sensitivities, hip dysplasia, and knee injuries, to name a few.

1. Sunburn and Skin Sensitivities

tan pitbull relaxing while lying on ground and panting
Pitbulls can suffer from skin sensitivities including sunburn.

Unlike the thick coat of a German shepherd or the wiry hair of a terrier, pitbulls have an extremely short coat that lies close to the skin. In light-skinned dogs, such as the red nose pitbull, they’re prone to sunburn around the eyes, nose, mouth, and stomach areas. White pitbulls with pink noses are highly susceptible to sun damage and have a risk of developing skin cancer. A simple way to protect your beloved pittie in summer, especially if they like to catch a belly tan, is to use pet-friendly sunscreen. You can apply these products to their bellies, ears, and top of their nose to protect them against the sun. Another skin-related issue in pitbulls that causes severe scaliness and thickening of the skin is ichthyosis. It’s a genetic disease that’s first seen in puppies and requires chronic treatment because there is no cure. You should also keep an eye out for puppy pimples in young pitbulls that form scabs around their muzzle. These can become infected but disappear in most dogs as they grow older.

2. Hip Dysplasia

senior black pitbull lying down and panting
Hip dysplasia can impact young and old dogs.

Changes in joint health are usually seen in larger dogs including pitbulls. You’ll notice changes like swinging hips as they walk, gradual stiffness, and difficulty getting up after sitting or lying down. It’s linked to a disease called hip dysplasia, where the hip joints aren’t properly aligned in the sockets and start sliding in and out. The imbalance that it creates leads to arthritis and pitbulls become very painful. Unfortunately, the symptoms can become so severe that many dogs lose their mobility. By working with a veterinarian, some dogs may be eligible for surgery, while others benefit from hydrotherapy and braces to strengthen and support their hinds.

3. Arthritis

black and white pitbull lying on step
Arthritis will lead to lameness in pitbulls if left untreated.

I first noticed the signs of aging in my pitbull when his beautiful, soft brown face started turning white. He went from an early riser to a boy who loved to sleep in. Over time, he slowed down on walks, and playtime became shorter. But the most obvious sign that something was wrong was the day he stopped climbing up the stairs. Many pitbulls and other medium-to-large-sized dog breeds develop arthritis in their golden years. It can affect their spine, hips, back legs, neck, and shoulders, causing constant pain and poor mobility, making life miserable for them. If you notice changes in your pitbull’s energy and movement, particularly after activity, it’s best to speak to a veterinarian who can check for arthritis.

To protect them from degenerative joint diseases like arthritis, place them on good dog food to support joint health. Keep their muscles strong with regular walks and activities such as swimming that are easy on the joints. While arthritis does have a hereditary component, supplements such as fish oil and glucosamine provide joint protection and may delay the progression of the disease.

4. Cruciate Ligament Injury

blue pitbull running down a dirt path
Cruciate injuries affect the knee joints.

Pitbulls are extremely fast. Maybe not as fast as a cheetah, but when they run, nothing will get in their way. While it’s great fun for pitties, the problem is that such strenuous activity can have a major impact on their knees. Alignment issues and weakening of the knee joint ligaments can lead to a major injury that makes it difficult for them to walk. A pitbull will play like there’s no tomorrow and suddenly slip or turn, causing them to limp or hold their leg in the air. It’s usually a sign of a partially or fullyruptured cruciate ligament. Without treatment, the dog will rely on its good leg placing physical stress on the joint, and in most cases, the second leg becomes injured. All cruciate injuries require treatment, whether it’s conservative in the form of leg bracing or surgery to correct the unstable joint. Without treatment, pitbulls can suffer from lameness and arthritis that eventually compromise their ability to walk or lift themselves.

5. Other Health Concerns in Pitbulls

black pitbull with white chest lying in yellow flower field
Pitbulls can be allergic to grass and pollen.

You would never associate a pitbull with allergies, but sadly, this breed is sensitive to grass and pollen, causing itchy and dry skin. They’re also intolerant of some types of dog foods that contain wheat, gluten, and even chicken, resulting in upset tummies and lethargy. If you suspect that your pitbull is allergic to an ingredient in their food, a low-grain and high-protein diet consisting of turkey or lamb is best. Apart from their skin and digestive allergies, pitbulls can suffer from hypothyroidism. In this case, the thyroid doesn’t release the hormones required for normal body function, leading to weight gain, and bad skin. A poorly functioning thyroid can also increase aggression so reach out to your local vet if your pittie displays these symptoms. Pitbulls can develop different conditions in their lifetime, but with your attentiveness and care, they can live comfortably and happily.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.