Kooiker Health

The Kooikerhondje, although a healthy breed, can be genetically prone to some of the diseases listed below.

Health & Hereditary Diseases

Due to the diligence of Kooiker enthusiasts around the world, these problems have been controlled through selective breeding. Testing is available for most problems, and we encourage all owners, even normal pet owners, to submit their dogs for testing so we may monitor and evaluate the health of the Kooikerhondje in the United States.

Von Willerbrand Disease (VWD)

VWD is a hereditary clotting disorder caused by a defect or deficiency of a blood clotting protein, called von Willebrand Factor, protein that is required for platelet adhesion. This condition makes those afflicted likely to bleed abnormally and severely. This can lead to potentially life threatening consequences in situations such as accidental injuries, spaying, or neutering. Testing is available through Utrecht University of Veterinary Medicine in the Netherlands by blood sample.

Hereditary Necrotizing Myelopathy (ENM)

Also called Kooiker Paralysis or Leukodystrophy. It affects currently only 0.2% of the population approximately. ENM is a devastating disease that is still undergoing intense study. It is a recessive degenerative spinal disease.

The disease breaks out between the third and 12th month of life. Noticeable is a change in movement and muscle weakness that starts in the hind legs and progresses to the front legs until there is a complete paralysis of the body. Affected dogs die of asphyxiation if they are not euthanized. ENM is not painful and is not treatable. ENM is always lethal. After the first physical signs have started, Kooikers will die within 2 weeks to 11 months.

The cause is a destruction of the spinal cord. Post mortem examination has revealed a symmetrical bilateral necrotizing myelopathy with malacia in the ventral and dorsal white matter. The disease resembles the hereditary myelopathy seen in Afghan Hounds and the leucoencephalomyelopathy in Rottweilers. A research article from 1993 has concluded that it is an autosomal recessive disease. Currently, the only way to effectively eliminate ENM is to use preventative selection when choosing a sire and dam to breed. Your breeder should know about ENM!

A DNA blood test is available to screen for carrier status of ENM. The first analysis were performed beginning of July 2012 at the University of Utrecht. A dog that has been identified as carrying ENM does not necessarily mean that it is unhealthy. However the result does help with the selection of sire and dam. A carrier can be mated with a non-carrier or two non-carriers can be mated. Two carrier should NEVER be mated since their offspring can get the disease.

Please follow this link ( http://www.kooikerhondje.nl/en/fokkerij/data-vwd-enm-onderzoek/) to learn more about the test and research that has been done in the Netherlands.

There is also a quick test (cheek swab) available through Laboklin in Germany. This can be useful if test results need to be available faster than the test performed every 2 months at the University of Utrecht. The turnaround time is roughly 4 weeks and results are accepted by the Dutch Kooiker Club (VHNK). We still encourage you to send blood to Utrecht if possible since it will help with further research in Kooikerhondje health.


It is assumed to be an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of one or more muscle groups resulting in loss of functionality and muscle weakness in the affected areas. Myositis is a progressive form of the disease with a very poor prognosis. We see two groups. The first  group consists of relatively young dogs with swallowing or eating problems. The second group consists of dogs that are young to middle aged and have more musculoskeletal problems and sometimes a combination with swallowing problems.  Depending on the location , the most common symptoms are:

  • reduced endurance
  • muscle weakness
  • swallowing problems
  • fever
  • general fatigue
  • lack of drive to play or walk
  • lameness
  • stiffness
  • walking with curved back
  • salivation
  • vomiting
  • poor appetite.

Because many symptoms are also features of other disorders, this condition is often difficult to recognize. If left undiagnosed, myositis is lethal; if diagnosed early, available treatments are immunosuppression and management with steroids. Kooikers with myositis seem to pass away at  3 or 4 years  after being diagnosed. Myositis in general can be hereditary or caused by infections, autoimmune diseases and toxins. It can be misdiagnosed as  Myasthenia Gravis, for example, by veterinarians. In order to  make a definitive diagnosis, a muscle biopsy by a qualified veterinarian is required. This tricky disease has been found more often in the Kooikerhondje population in recent years. We hope that current research in the Netherlands will give us a better understanding of the disease in the near future.

Professor Paul J.J. Mandigers from the Veterinary Faculty at the University in Utrecht gave a lecture about polymyositis during the Symposium of the VHNK  on 11/16/2012.  Currently 60 official cases of polymyositis in the Kooikerhondje and regularly affected Kooikers are presented to Professor Mandigers. There is no gender disposition which means males and females are affected equally.  It is difficult for general veterinarians that are not specialized to make the diagnosis.

The medical work-up includes an electro-myography (test to measure the muscle reaction after a stimulus is given) and a muscle biopsy (tissue sample taken from the affected muscle group). If the dog has difficulty swallowing, a bronchoscopy (internal exam with a camera visualizing the lungs and bronchial tree) as well. Before starting steroid therapy, the diagnosis of Polymyositis needs to be confirmed because steroids can alter test results. Professor Mandigers thinks that Polymyositis in the Kooiker is a breed specific disease that is familial and hereditary. There is most likely a trigger that causes Polymyositis to break out.

This disease has appeared lately with a certain frequency and is hard to deal with for both the dog and the owner. If you have further questions, feel free to contact us. There is more information on Polymyositis at http://www.kooikerhondje.nl – see under „Gezondheit“.

Patella Luxation

The patella, or kneecap, is part of the stifle joint (knee). In patella luxation, the kneecap luxates, or pops out of place, either in a medial or lateral position. This can be a hereditary defect, it can also be caused by malnutrition and over-exercise. Kooikerhondjes, as well as all mixed dogs or purebred, are susceptible to this structural defect. It is prevented through selective breeding and by use of a licensed canine orthopedic specialist’s diagnosis. The official evaluation normally occurs after 12 months, once most of the growing of the dog is done. However you may have your dog inspected earlier by a veterinarian for symptoms. Find out more on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals’ (OFA) website. Dogs used for breeding should be free or only minimally affected with patella luxation and should carry a valid OFA certificate.

Eye Disease

Like patella luxation all dogs, mixed or purebred are susceptible to hereditary eye abnormalities and deformations such as cataracts, retinal dysplasia or distichiasis (where the eye lid grows towards the lens). It is important to have Kooikers examined by a board certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist and registered with CERF, the Canine Eye Registration Foundation. Dogs used for breeding should carry a valid CERF certificate.


Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a dog has repeated seizures (convulsions) over time. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behavior.

There are several types of seizures that are seen, and many times the owner isn’t even aware of the problem. An epileptic seizure is the clinical manifestation of abnormal brain activity in the cerebral cortex. These abnormalities can create seizures that vary from the mild “petit mal” to the generalized, full body “grand mal.” Epilepsy in canines is classified into two types: Idiopathic (also known as Primary) and Secondary. In Secondary epilepsy, a specific cause for the seizures is discovered, such as ingesting toxins or hypoglycemia.

Idiopathic epilepsy, which is diagnosed when there is no known cause for the condition, and is assumed to be inherited. This disease can only be avoided by careful selective breeding. A new research project has started in the Netherlands in order to find a gene marker for epilepsy but there are currently not enough cases and blood samples collected. Every breeder should follow breeding rules established by the Dutch Kooiker Club when breeding with lines affected with epilepsy.

Kidney problems:

Assumed glomerulonephritis versus nephropathy

Caused by immune-complexes that have become deposited in the glomerulus or have formed in-situ initiate glomerular damage. Immune mechanisms also take part in the pathogenesis of glomerular inflammation in Familial glomerular diseases (known in the Bernese Mountain dog, Bull Terrier, Cocker Spaniel (especially English), Dalmatian, Doberman Pinscher, Newfoundland, Chinese Shar-pei, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.) No gender predisposition has been found. Affected dogs may be asymptomatic or they may have non-specific signs of disease (weight loss, lethargy), or present with signs consistent with chronic renal failure or uremia (polyuria, polydipsia, anorexia, vomiting, malodorous breath.) Other signs can be fluid retention (abdominal enlargement consistent with ascites, subcutaneous edema) or thromboembolism (dyspnea, decreased or absent peripheral pulse, loss of limb function). Protein found in the urine is most likely but renal biopsy is definitive for the diagnosis. Owners and veterinarians should watch out for high blood pressure. Therapy consists of immunosuppression and symptomatic treatment. The mode of inheritance in the Kooiker is unknown.

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