Common Boston Terrier Health Problems | Symptoms, Treatments & Tips

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Boston Terrier Health Issues
All decked out in a tuxedo-style coat, ever-watchful big eyes, pointed ears, and what looks like a smile, Boston Terriers are the lovable, personable, and adaptable breed you can't help but love. These dogs had sport-worthy beginnings, but their latter years have been all about familial companionship and a stellar reputation for being the pet that anyone can enjoy.

Most people call these dogs Boston terriers, but they can also be referred to as Boston Bulls and, of course, by their affectionate nickname: the American Gentleman. Short and stocky, square-faced and expressive eyed, Boston Terriers were once the most popular dog breed in the country and still hold a steadfast place in popularity rankings by the AKC.

History and Background of Boston Terriers

Today, Boston Terriers are known as a prideful mascot of Boston University and one of the most beloved family pets of all dog breeds. However, this interesting breed actually evolved from a love of blood sports like ratting and pit fighting in England in the 19th century. Breeders in Liverpool managed to cross a Bulldog with a white English Terrier, which is now an extinct breed. The result? A muscular, dark-brindle and white dog named Judge. Judge eventually made his way across the seas to Boston, Massachusetts, and this one dog is where all true Boston Terriers stem from. The newly named Boston Terrier breed eventually became a bit smaller with a slightly more rounded head and sweeter temperament through selective breeding. In 1893, the AKC (American Kennel Club) recognized the breed, and this lovable dog gained its doting nickname as the "American Gentleman" soon after.

  • Lifespan: Between 11 and 13 years
  • Weight: Between 12 and 25 pounds
  • Height: From 15 to 17 inches
  • Breed type: Non-sporting group
  • Personality and temperament: Affectionate, intelligent, well-behaved

Common Boston Terrier Health Conditions

Boston Terriers do tend to be basically a healthy breed. The AKC specifically mentions that these canines can have issues with their eyes, breathing, and may be prone to obesity. However, there are few breed-specific conditions to mention and health checks and teststhat breeders and owners should perform.

1. Deafness

Congenital deafness is actually one of the biggest health concerns for Boston terriers, even though the numbers affected are actually quite low. All breeders should have a BAER examination performed sometime after pups are 35 days old to determine if the puppy has hearing deficits. A deaf Boston Bull can still be an excellent pet, whether they are only deaf in one ear or completely unable to hear. However, socializing and training can look a lot different and should be instilled early on.

Symptoms of Deafness

  • Lack of response to sound
  • Harder to wake from sleeping
  • May be a bit less active or bark more than usual

Treatment Options

Unfortunately, congenital deafness in a Boston Bull is not something that can be reversed or treated. However, it is best for any owner of a deaf dog to work closely with a vet and a good trainer who is familiar with canine deafness and proper training practices. Training a deaf dog can involve implementing visual commands that the dog can see because they cannot hear, and the training can actually be highly effective.

Tips of Boston Terrier Owners

  • Always keep your deaf dog in a safe enclosure so they cannot put themselves in danger
  • Be patient with teaching your dog visual commands; it can take a while but it does work
  • Be careful about startling the dog too much when they are deaf with forceful touch; it can lead to timid behaviors

2. Eye Conditions

Those big and expressive eyes that Boston Bulls are known for can also mean they can be prone to certain unfortunate eye conditions and vision troubles. In fact, eye conditions are actually the number-one health problem for the breed. The Boston Terrier Club of America recommends all dogs have an annual eye exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist for signs of problems. Some eye conditions the breed can be prone to include cataracts, glaucoma, and corneal ulcers. Cataracts can be a genetic issue, and responsible breeders will screen their stock to avoid problems. However, Boston Terriers can still develop issues with all aforementioned eye conditions as they age.

Symptoms of Eye Problems

  • Obvious changes in visual abilities (bumping into things, not responsive to visual cues)
  • Changes in the outward appearance of the eye
  • Eyes that develop growths or bumps around the edges
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Pawing at the eyes

Treatment Options

Treatment for the many eye problems that Boston Terriers are known for can vary depending on the condition present. Some conditions, such as cataracts and corneal ulcers, may be surgically treated. However, something like glaucoma is a progressive condition that can only be managed with medication and monitoring. Even if a dog does lose its vision, canines do tend to adapt rather well to loss of sight. Treatment costs can be rather expensive if surgical measures are taken. The annual veterinary eye exam can cost as much as $175 for a standard exam.

Tips for Boston Terrier Owners

  • Talk to your vet about any obvious changes in your dog's eye appearance
  • Carefully weigh the pros and cons of eye surgeries; while effective, the treatments can be expensive
  • Older Boston Terriers can be more prone to eye health concerns

3. Luxating Patella (Patellar Luxation)

A luxating patella, which is basically a knee joint that slips out of place, is a common canine problem and it is an issue that Boston Terriers are known for. Dogs that come from breed pairs that have not been properly screened can be more at risk of a luxating patella. Your dog should be screened for this condition at every wellness exam once they hit the one-year-of-age mark. Luxating patella can involve some initial pain and discomfort, and the problem can get so bad that the knee's patella will not go back in place.

Symptoms of Luxating Patella

  • Knee joints that look out of place
  • Showing signs of pain when walking or moving
  • Running with only three legs

Treatment Options

Initially, the luxating patella should not require any treatment; the condition will likely correct itself as the dog moves or walks. However, the longer the Boston Terrier has the problem, the more at risk they become for the patella to slip out of place and stay that way, in which case surgery may be required. Surgical correction of luxating patella usually involves artificially fastening the kneecap in place so it can no longer shift. Recovery is usually short, and most dogs do well after the procedure. However, it is possible for the problem to return later on, and about half of dogs with one luxating patella will have issues with another leg. Surgery can cost $1,500 to $3,000.

Tips for Boston Terrier Owners

  • Do what you can to keep your pet's weight in check
  • Encourage exercise but nothing too brisk or strenuous that can heighten risks of the problem
  • Work with the vet to closely monitor your Boston Bull's limbs if they are at risk

4. Hemivertebrae

Breeds that have the trademark curly tail sometimes are prone to a condition known as hemivertebrae. Hemivertebrae can cause the spine to almost twist or curl instead of growing straight as it should, and this can obviously come with a lot of musculoskeletal problems for your Boston Terrier. Most dogs who have this issue will start showing signs early on, but it is not impossible for the condition to develop later in life either.

Symptoms of Hemivertebrae

  • Lack of sensation in the rear limbs
  • Awkward gait
  • Dragging rear limbs
  • Urinary or bowel incontinence

Treatment Options

Unfortunately, some Boston Terriers that develop issues with hemivertebrae will require surgery to mend the issue. Even though the condition does not generally lead to pain or discomfort, it can mean your dog has limited mobility. In the mildest forms, hemivertebrae can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve compression on the spine that may be caused by inflammation, but the dog may show very few symptoms of the condition at all. Surgery can cost around $1,500 to $4,000 but can increase if multiple points of the spine are affected.

Tips for Boston Terrier Owners

  • Make sure you have regular vet visits if your Boston Bull has been diagnosed
  • Monitor your dog for any signs of spinal change as they age
  • Keep your pet's weight in check; obesity can exacerbate the problem

5. Brachycephalic Syndrome

Boston terriers are a brachycephalic breed, which basically means they have a flattened face and potentially a more constricted airway through nasal passages and the throat. While this trait in itself is not always dangerous and can contribute to snoring and snorting, it can mean the dog is more prone to overheating and can get out of breath faster than others. However, some Boston Bulls can have more constricted airways than what is deemed normal, which means they could be diagnosed with brachycephalic syndrome. The syndrome diagnosis usually means the dog has a combination of malformed nostrils, an elongated soft palate, and tissue that grows in front of the throat.

Symptoms of Brachycephalic Syndrome

  • Noisy breathing & loud snoring
  • Gagging while swallowing
  • Tongue and gums look blue due to lack of oxygen
  • Excessive panting
  • Lying on the back and breathing heavily

Treatment Options

Treatment for dogs with the brachycephalic syndrome can require surgery, especially if the circumstances are so severe that the dog is passing out or otherwise has a poor quality of life. Surgery can involve several different procedures, such as making incisions to open up the nostrils or removing the excess tissue from the back of the throat. Most dogs with the condition can live full and happy lives with close monitoring, however.

Tips for Boston Terrier Owners

  • Younger dogs do better with surgical procedures to correct brachycephalic problems
  • Recovery from surgery can be lengthy and require close monitoring
  • Any dog with brachycephalic syndrome must be kept out of the heat and never pushed to the point of overexertion

6. Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease is common among terriers, but Boston terriers may be a bit more at risk than usual. The condition stems from problems with the adrenal glands that generates a heightened level of steroidal hormones in the blood. Earlier symptoms are easily missed, but other symptoms develop as the disease progresses that are hard to miss. Cushing's disease is not necessarily a hereditary condition, but the breed does have a general genetic predisposition.

Symptoms of Cushing's Disease

Increased thirst

  • Frequent urination
  • Reduced activity levels
  • Bigger appetite than usual
  • Hair loss
  • Thin skin
  • Swollen belly

Treatment Options

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Cushing's Disease, but the vet can help manage some of the progressive symptoms through medications to help lower hormone levels in your Boston Terrier. Managing the condition can be a lifelong thing, however, and that alone can add up to be quite expensive due to regular monitoring and medication adjustments by the vet. The expected costs of treatment can be anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 over the long term.

Tips for Boston Terrier Owners

  • Work closely with your vet to monitor hormone levels and adjust medications as needed
  • Monitor for rapid or noticeable changes in your dog's condition and speak to the vet right away
  • Boston Terrier's with Cushing's may have a shorter life span

Boston Terrier Outdoors

Boston Terriers: One of America's few Original Canines with Generally Good Health

Boston Terriers are so unique. Not only are they one of the relatively modern breeds, but they are also one of the few established natively. These adaptable terriers slip right in place whether you're looking for a quiet companion, an active go-getter, or a gentle-but-alert watchdog for your children. Overall, these American terriers have fair health and don't typically require a lot of extensive care. From occasional snorts and gaseous toots to head-tilts in curiosity and goofy expressions, your Boston Terrier is bound to bring you a lot of laughs. These personality-filled canines are worth every minute of extra care attention they ever do require.


Author Sheena HarrisAuthor: Sheena Harris
About Sheena: 
Sheena Harris has 10 years of experience in canine health wellness. Having worked with both veterinarians and breeders across the country to curate content, she has a wealth of insight to share on pet wellness, proper breeding practices, and keeping canine companions happy. Her history in breeding AKC-registered beagles lends a great deal of firsthand insight to her work. She's also been published at


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