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Kerry Blue Terrier Healthcare


© USKBTC 1992

No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from USKBTC .

The Kerry Blue Terrier is usually a very hardy and healthy breed and fortunately does not have many congenital or inherited health problems when compared to many other purebred dogs. Being a spirited terrier, Kerry Blues however, may often hide or mask signs of illness until the problem becomes more advanced or serious. Any abnormalities noted should be brought to a veterinarian's attention as soon as possible. A Kerry owner supplying good quality food, plenty of exercise, and ample canine and human socialization will be well rewarded with a loving, entertaining, and happy companion. Some congenital, inherited and more common health problems are described as follows:



Entropian is the inversion or turning in of the eyelid and eyelashes towards the eyeball. The eyelashes rub against the clear covering of the eyeball (the cornea) and can cause irritations and inflammation of the eye, as well as possibly producing ulcers of the cornea. Entropion can be inherited or acquired. Any dog less than six months of age with entropian is usually considered to have inherited entropion. Acquired cases of entropion include eyelash abnormalities producing corneal pain, foreign bodies in the eye corneal injury, and conjunctival infections or inflammation. This condition should be corrected surgically.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS; Dry Eye):

KCS is a chronic disease involving the cornea and conjunctiva resulting from inadequate tear production. Causes include a congenital lack of tear glands or nervous stimulation during or following systemic disease, chronic ocular infections, trauma, drug toxicity, and lack of normal nerve innervation to the gland. Signs include pain, decreased tear film of the eye, an increase in eye mucus production, corneal changes (ulcers, opacity, vascularization pigmentation), conjunctivitis (the inflammation of the tissue around the eyeball. Veterinary diagnosis and treatment is required. The disease may be chronic in nature.


Chronic Otitis Externa

This is an infection of the external ear canal and is fairly common in the Kerry Blue Terrier. Since there is often a large amount of hair in the ear canal, wax, dirt and moisture can accumulate and provide a good environment for bacteria to develop. Consult your veterinarian about proper ear cleaning/drying procedures. Also, be sure to keep the ear canals as clear of hair as possible.


Epidermal Cysts/Sebaceous Gland Cysts:

Kerries often get firm growths occurring below the skin. These are often epidermal or sebaceous gland cysts and are usually not malignant. Veterinary examination is recommended, however, especially for fast growing growths. These also can sometimes rupture or become infected.

Dermal Cysts:

These are usually congenital and/or inherited lesions. They may be single or multiple. There is no predilection for either sex. These cysts are found under the skin surface and contain hair follicles sebaceous or apocrine glands, and/or keratinous material. They will appear similar to epidermal cysts and just involve a deeper layer of skin . (Tip to remove cysts.)

Footpad Keratoses (Corns) Nasodigital Keratoses:

Kerries experiencing this will have footpads which become dry- deep circular plaques (corns) will develop which will press into the footpad and cause pain where pressure is applied. This condition appears to be inherited. Antibiotics and corticosteroids are beneficial if the areas become erosive or ulcerated. Keratoses affecting the nose will produce hard, dry, rough nose pads with possible fissures, erosions and ulcers.


Progressive Neuronal Abiotrophy (Cerebellar Cortical Abiotrophy; PNA) :

This inherited disease affects the nervous system of affected puppies usually from the ages of 2 -6 months. Initial clinical signs include stiffness of the limbs and head tremors. Subsequent signs include stumbling and an inability to stand by one year of age. The condition is progressive and there is no treatment. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is presumed. Dr. Alexander de LaHunta, a veterinary pathologist from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in New York first described this disease in 1976. After a review of canine neurologic literature, the disease possibly was described as early as 1946. It was initially thought that the disease came from a certain bloodline, but subsequent cases have developed from other lines as well. No Kerry can be proven genetically clear of the PNA gene, as no method exists of determining a dog's carrier status. Only probability percentages based on current available data can pinpoint an individual Kerry as being more or less likely to carry the PNA gene (unless it actually produces a PNA litter, proving both it and the dog bred to carry the gene). The USKBTC, at the time of the handbook publication is working on development of a method of genetic status detection for the trait. More information may be obtained by contacting the USKBTC health and Genetics Committee.



The testicles of the male dog generally descend into the scrotum in the first 1-2 weeks after birth. Until puberty, testicles normally can move or be moved between the external inguinal ring and the scrotum. If both testicles have not descended into the scrotum by puberty (approx. 6 months old), the animal is cryptorchid. The retained testicle may be either abdominal or at or within the inguinal canal. Removal of intrabdominal testicles is recommended because of the increased incidence of such testicles developing cancer later in life. Cryptochidism may be inherited and does exist in the Kerry Blue Terrier.


This condition has been reported in the Kerry Blue Terrier. A pseudohermaphrodite is an animal with the gonads of one sex and the external genitalia resembling those of the opposite sex or ambiguous in appearance. Exposure of the fetus to estrogens or progestrogens can produce this condition. General clinical signs of an intersex disorder include clitoral enlargement, presence of an os clitoris or rudimentary penis and prepuce, abnormal placement of the genital opening, apparent female dogs with male behaviors or masculine secondary sexual characteristics, apparent male dogs that attract other male dogs or develop gynecomastia and lactate, cryptorchidism, infertility, irregular or absent estrous cycles, signs compatible with pyometra or sertoli cell tumor, and/or urinary incontinence. Contact your veterinarian if you have any suspicions.


Missing teeth/Bad Bites:

It is not uncommon for Kerries to have missing teeth, especially premolars. Missing teeth are not a disqualification according to the standard of perfection, but should be seen by breeders as a fault. The normal distribution of teeth in a dog is twelve incisors, four canine teeth, sixteen premolars, and ten molars for a total of forty-two teeth. In puppies, the deciduous teeth number twenty-eight, twelve incisors, four canines, and twelve premolars. Eruption times for permanent teeth are: Incisors - 5 to 7 months- Canine - 5 to 6 months; Premolars - 4 to 6 months; and Molars - 5 to 7 months. Any retained deciduous (baby) teeth need to be removed if they interfere with normal growth of adult teeth because the adult tooth follows the baby tooth as a guide for growth. Any crooked baby teeth could produce crooked adult teeth. Also, be sure to keep tartar growth on the teeth to a minimum to avoid gum and periodontal disease. Undershot and overshot mouths might be encountered. While the puppy is growing, the upper and lower jaws grow at independent rates, so upon occasion, a puppy may be temporarily undershot or overshot (to a small degree) which may correct itself as the puppy completes puberty and growth. Bad bites remaining after the growth phase will usually be permanent.

Hip Dysplasia:

Hip diplaysia is when the head of the femur does not fit congruently into the hip socket (acetabulum). Such defects can range from mild to severe cases. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (O.F.A.) provides a registry and grading for certification of dysplaysia-free hips. Since hip dysplasia is commonly thought to have a genetic component, it is recommended that all animals used for breeding have their hips radiographed and OFA evaluated (hip dysplaysia is thought to be 25% genetic and 75% environmental).

(Editor's note: Most current research indicates that there are NO environmental factors involved in hip diplaysia. The Kerry community has been under the wrong impression that hip diplaysia is environmental. This might be the cause of the low insidence OFA testing and the growing number of displastic Kerries - although still very low.)

Dogs must be at least two years of age before OFA evaluation. The radiographs are usually taken under light anesthesia and proper identification for OFA radiographs is required. For more information, contact your veterinarian or the USKBTC Health and Genetics committee. The most recent statistics for radiographs submitted to the OFA for Kerry Blues showed an 11% dysplaysia percentage, and a 5% borderline percentage; certified hip grading percentages were distributed as: Excellent (12%), Good (54%), and Fair (18%). These statistics are just for submitted OFA radiographs; the true breed incidence is unknown since all or a majority of dogs are not radiographed and/or OFA evaluated.

Subluxation of the Patella:

A chronic, recurrent condition believed to be inherited which affects the knee or patella . This condition has been noted in Kerries. The kneecap is not properly seated at the stifle due to weakened ligament development and/or improperly formed knee assembly. This is sometimes seen as an occasional hitch at the stifle when the dog is moving. Injury or trauma may also cause knee abnormalities.


Factor Xl Deficiency (Plasma Thromboplastin Antecedent Deficiency):

This is listed as an inherited blood clotting abnormality (autosomal inheritance) in the breed, although it is rare. A mild severity of bleeding is usually seen although severe bleeding may occur following major surgery or trauma. This abnormality involves a deficiency in factor XI in the blood-clotting mechanism. This is differentiated from von Willebrands disease which involves a low activity of factor VIII in the clotting mechanism because of a low von Willebrand factor (carrier protein) which allows activation of VIII.


Low thyroid hormone levels are not uncommon in the breed (or 50 other breeds as well). Low thyroid levels can produce lethargy weight gain, hair loss, decreased fertility, dry skin and coat, excessive shedding, retarded hair growth, skin thickening, and even lowered heart rates in severe cases. Recent research indicates that the most common cause of thyroid disease is autoimmune thyroiditis (90% of cases). Thyroiditis is an immune-mediated process that develops in genetically susceptible individuals, and is characterized by the presence of anti-thyroid anti-bodies in the blood or tissue. This condition, usually, but not always, progresses to thyroid disease. Thyroiditis is believed to start in most cases around puberty and gradually progresses through mid-life and old age. To become clinically expressed the glandular reserves must become depleted. Testing for T3 and T4 hormone, free T3 and T4 hormone, and cholesterol levels may be indicated - consult your veterinarian. The condition is corrected with hormone supplementation.

Auto-Immune Diseases:

Auto-immune disease is not just one disease, but over forty known diseases that are auto-immune based problems. Auto-immune diseases have been reported in the Kerry Blue Terrier. Recent research indicates that autoimmune disease develops in genetically I individuals, and may be triggered by environmental agents, the sum of genetic and environmental factors may override normal self-tolerance. Many autoimmune diseases are associated with a preceding infection. Environmental antigens such as bacteria viruses, chemicals, and toxins can stimulate self-antigens in the body (mimicry) which initiates an antibody response which can destroy the body's own tissues. In other words, a bacteria, etc., can enter the body and stimulate antibody production to eliminate it, but since it is similar to the body's own cells in the way in which the body recognizes it as something foreign, the antibodies produced to get rid of the bacteria, virus, etc., also attack the body's own cells as well. These autoantibodies may injure accessible cells such as red and white blood cells and platelets (clotting factors), which shorten their lifespan. Circulating immune complexes (antigen and antibody) can form which can damage kidneys, lungs, joints, skin, the central nervous system, and other tissue.

The four main causative factors of autoimmunity is genetic disposition, hormonal influence, infections (especially viruses) and stress. Lymphoma and leukemia (lymphoid malignancy) are commonly associated with autoimmunity. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia, connective tissue disease, and organ-specific autoimmunity (such as thyroiditis) accompanying cancers of B-lymphocytes showed higher than expected frequency.

Some examples of autoimmune diseases include autoimmune hemolytic anemia, thyroiditis, myasthenia gravis, and systemic lupus erythrematosis.


Cancer in the Kerry Blue, as in most dogs, is a concern. The canine is much more likely to develop malignancies (up to 7 times) when compared to humans except for colon cancer. Most common are mammary gland tumors. Check your bitches weekly for any palpable growths and if felt, contact your veterinarian. Removal and biopsy is usually recommended. If you notice new growths, weight loss, or developing illness in your dog, have your veterinarian do a thorough examination.

In general, the incidence of these described genetic diseases is low but attentiveness must be maintained to watch for early signs of possible problems.

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