With a background as a herding breed, the Corgi is no stranger to hard work. Yet, these sweet-temperament little dogs are just as suited to being a friendly companion with lots of love and affection to give even if they don't have a job to do. In fact, Corgis have a stellar reputation for their agreeable nature, which makes them one of the most popular canine breeds for those seeking an indoor dog. Noted for their short legs and long backs, Corgis are typically unmistakable.
The AKC actually recognizes two types of Corgis as separate breeds. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi are two separate breeds with slightly differing appearances, but they also have a close enough relation, background, and list of health concerns that they can easily both be recognized as just "Corgis."
Background and History of Corgis
Pembrokes and Cardigan Corgis are distinctly separate breeds these days, but the two breeds were often intermingled until the 1900s. The original Corgis, or “kergies,” are thought to have been brought into the central parts of Europe by the Celts, sometime around 1200 BC. "Kergie" literally just translates to "dog" in the Celtic language. With a low-to-the-ground stature, keen attention to detail, and strong body, Corgis were used as the ideal herding dogs for cattle. The dogs sat low enough to the ground that a cow kick would not reach them, and they could nip the heels of the cattle safely and effectively herd large groups.
Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire are the two places in Wales where the two different Corgi variations garner their telltale names. By 1935, The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized Cardigan Welsh Corgis as a breed in the United States, and Pembrokes followed soon after. The primary differences between the two breeds are their ears and tails. Cardis have longer tails and rounded ears, and Pembrokes have more pointed ears and shorter tails.
- Cardigans Lifespan: Between 12 and 15 years
- Pembrokes Lifespan: Between 12 and 13 years
- Weight: Cardigans weigh between 25 and 38 pounds and Pembrokes are up to 30 pounds
- Height: Cardigans are from 10.5 to 12.5 inches tall and Pembrokes are between 10 and 12 inches tall
- Breed Type: Herding Canine Group
- Personality and Temperament: Energetic, Friendly, Intelligent
Common Corgi Health Concerns
Overall, the Corgi is considered to be a hearty breed with few health issues to mention, especially if the dog comes from a healthy stock. The best Corgi breeders will follow the advice of the AKC and check the lineage of their dames and sires for certain health conditions. Mainly, both Pembrokes and Cardigans should have an evaluation of their hips and an ophthalmologic exam. Here is a general breakdown of the common health concerns among all Corgis.
1. Back Problems & Spinal Cord Issues
All dogs who have the shorter leg/longer body build are at a higher risk of having issues with their spines, and Corgis do fit this body shape. Vertebral problems are most often related to carrying around too much weight. However, the problem can also be more prevalent in Corgis that have not come from reputable breeders that did not screen their stock for obvious spinal issues. Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common problem with Corgis, which is related to a breakdown of the cushioning discs between the spinal vertebrae. This can lead to pain and slipped discs that can inhibit movement. Degenerative myelopathy is also common among some Corgis, especially Pembrokes. Read the Grey Snouts guide to IVDD here.
Symptoms of Back Problems
- Lack of activity
- Signs of pain when walking or moving
- Lowered appetite levels
- Moving awkwardly when walking or moving
- Urinary or bowel incontinence
It is ideal to do what you can to prevent spinal issues in your Corgi by keeping their weight in check, making sure they get ample exercise, and feeding them healthy foods from the beginning. However, if a Corgi does start to show signs of back problems, it is critical to get them to the vet for treatment as quickly as possible. The vet will likely do diagnostic imaging, which can cost between $1,000 and $3,000, but this sophisticated imaging yields an in-depth look at the spinal column so the vet can give a proper diagnosis and make a plan for treatment. If spinal issues are mild, the vet will likely prescribe anti-inflammatory medications for pain. Spinal surgery may be necessary if the problem persists or is causing severe issues like problems with bladder and bowel functions.
Tips for Corgi Owners
- Always be alert to signs of spinal problems and have them checked by your vet
- Be careful about overfeeding your Corgi; they have a voracious appetite and can get overweight quickly
- Encourage plenty exercise even with mild spinal problems as this can help thwart obesity and keep the vertebral joints less inflamed
Small dog breeds tend to be more prone to obesity than other dogs, especially small breeds that have a working lineage but end up as house pets. Obesity can bring about a lot of risks to your Corgi, so proper food and weight management are key to preventing a problem.
- Weight over the recommended weight by the AKC
- Changes in walking or movement (such as waddling when walking)
- Expanded or rounded midsection
Luckily, treating a Corgi who is obese is not a difficult thing to do; working with the vet to limit portions and ensure the dog is eating healthy foods only is usually all it takes to get an obese Corgi back to a healthy weight. Frequent exercise is also an important part of treatment.
Tips for Corgi Owners
- Avoid feeding your food-driven Corgi table scraps or a lot of treats
- Make sure your indoor Corgi gets ample time to run and play
- Keep portions of dog kibble monitored
3. Elbow and Hip Dysplasia
Corgis are prone to both elbow and hip dysplasia, which is a condition that affects either the elbow or hip joint's function with time. The condition can be related to poor breeding stock, but some dogs just develop these conditions as they get older or if they are too overweight. Dogs can show signs of hip or elbow dysplasia as early as four months of age, but the issue is more prevalent in older dogs, especially older dogs that have not had a good amount of exercise throughout their lives or who are overweight. Read the Grey Snouts guide to Hip Dysplasia here.
Symptoms of Hip or Elbow Dysplasia
- Changes in activity levels
- Noticeable changes in range of motion
- A decrease in muscle mass in the legs that are affected
- Difficulty or groaning when running, rising from a seated or down position, or moving
- Changes in the straightness of the legs
Treatment for hip or elbow dysplasia can vary according to the severity of the condition. Glucosamine supplements may be recommended for your corgi if the vet feels they are at risk from an early age as this supplement can encourage healthy joints. In mild cases, the problem may be somewhat relieved with physical therapy, weight control, and possibly anti-inflammatory medications. Surgical strategies to correct hip dysplasia are rare, but it may be necessary in the most severe cases. For example, joint replacement surgery can be a life-changing surgery for a younger dog that has developed the condition, but a senior dog may not be the best candidate for surgical treatment.
Tips for Corgi Owners
- Make sure your Corgi gets the proper nutrients with their food and keep their weight in check
- Ensure Corgis are given ample opportunity for exercise
- Work with the vet to follow treatment protocols if dysplasia is diagnosed to help keep your dog out of pain and comfortable
4. Progressive Retinal Atrophy
The AKC does recommend that all Corgis have a proper eye exam if they are going to be used for breeding purposes because Corgis can be more prone to a few eye disorders, such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). This is a degenerative condition that is not painful for the dog but can lead to blindness over time. PRA is not curable, but it is something that a Corgi owner should know about so the can keep their pet safe.
Symptoms of PRA
- Not able to see during low-lighting conditions
- Bumping into things, especially in the dark - this is due to them experiencing night blindness
- Eyes have a reflective appearance when they are hit with light
As already noted, PRA does not have a cure, and it is a progressive disease. Diagnosis and understanding of the condition, however, is very important so Corgi owners can keep their dog safe and comfortable. The vet can examine the dog's eyes and make a proper diagnosis and then discuss with you what to expect as the dog gets older and the condition worsens.
Tips for Corgi Owners
- Make sure your Corgi is not allowed to roam free
- Keep the lights on for your Corgi at night if they can still see to help them see better
- Dogs can adapt very well to blindness, especially when it happens at a slow rate like it often does with PRA
5. Canine von Willebrand's Disease
The von Willibrand's disease is caused by an abnormal protein in the blood that causes abnormal bleeding. The condition can lead to spontaneous bleeding, but it is most often discovered after some sort of trauma or injury because blood clotting does not occur as it normally should. Genetic tests to determine the disease is present are not accurate, even though the condition is suspected of being an inherited problem.
Symptoms of Canine von Willebrand's Disease
- Spontaneous bleeding from the nasal passages
- Blood in the urine or fecal matter
- Uncontrollable bleeding after an injury or surgical procedure
In order to diagnose von Willebrand's disease, the vet may perform a test known as a mucosal bleeding test. The test involves making a small incision on the inside of the lip and monitoring the bleeding after the incision for abnormalities. If a dog is brought in with uncontrollable bleeding due to the disorder, they can be given blood transfusions and other blood-related replacement products that can sustain their life. However, if a dog is not treated immediately after a traumatic injury, they can essentially lose their life because of too much blood loss.
Tips for Corgi Owners
- If your Corgi has been diagnosed, it is vital to keep them protected from injuries
- Make sure you know a good 24-hour vet to contact for immediate treatment in your area
- Pre-treatment measures may be utilized for your dog if they have to have some form of surgery
6. General Eye Problems
Corgis are also susceptible to some other eye issues in addition to PRA:
- Cataracts - these usually set in later in your pet's life, and can lead to early symptoms of cloudy looking eyes which will signal fading vision which will degrade over time potentially leading to blindness. These issues can be treated or removed with surgical procedures at times, though they are usually more of a mild impacting issue for the dog.
- Retinal Dysplasia - this is a concerning situation, although much less common for corgis, it entails the retina detaching leading to blindness.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (as noted above).
- Persistent Pupillary Membrance (PPM) - a congenital defect which occurs when strands of fetal tissue remain on the eye after birth. This can result in cataracts (noted as a common issue for corgis above) as well as iris defects.
7. Corneal Ulcers & Indolent Ulcers
Corgis are predisposed toward indolent uclers. They are the most common canine eye disorder seen by the UVS Ophthalmology service. They are also sometimes referred to as spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects (SCCEDs). These types of uclers are non-healing and can be a painful condition for your pet.
- Any injury involving the cornea can be described as an ulcer. Generally, corneal ulcers are described as superficial or deep, depending on whether they just involve the outer skin (the epithelium), in which case they are called superficial ulcers or erosions – or whether they extend into the middle layer (the stroma), in which case they are called deep ulcers. Most superficial ulcers heal rapidly as the cells of the surrounding outer ‘skin’ (the epithelium) slide and grow into the defect. The new skin that grows then sticks to the tissue underneath. Most superficial ulcers will have healed within a week (source).
Symptoms & Diagnosis
- Signs of eye discomfort, including weeping, blinking, squinting, pawing at the eye and general depression. This is due to the discomfort caused by the condition.
- Antibiotics and false tear ointments alone will not heal these ulcers. In order for healing to occur, tissue is removed and that the exposed area is treated and cleaned up to allow adhesion of new cells. This is typically done in-office with a cotton swap. If it's unsuccessful more invasive measures can be taken. A dremel-like tool can be used which contains a diamond-tip to drill off up to 90% of the ulcer which generally is a more successful treatment (source). A sedative is commonly needed in these situations to prevent the dog from moving and causing more damage during the treatment. In some cases general anesthesia may be required if the case has been present for a long time, resulting in a more invasive treatment/procedure.
- These ulcers should be treated with an antibacterial ointment 3-4 times per day post-treatment. Pain-killers may also be given with food to help the dog recover as well. Atropine is commonly prescribed to help widen the pupil and relieve pain. Recovery time for most of these procedures is between 1-2 weeks. In under 20% of cases, multiple procedures may be required, extending recovery time to a few weeks to a month.
- Complications may arise post-procedure if the eye gets infected which can sometimes happen even with the antibiotic applied. It's less common, but something to be aware of and can require urgent medical attention.
Tips for Owners
- These issues are frustrating to treat and stubborn to heal. The ulcer may need more than one debridement or examination by an ophthalmologist before it heals. Don't be alarmed if this is the case.
- Dogs that get an indolent ulcer in one eye often develop one in the other eye in the future. So be sure to check for this down the road.
Special Notes On Corgi Breed Variations and Their Health
As already noted, there are actually two specified Corgi breeds that are recognized by the AKC: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Even though these two variations have a lot in common as far as how they look, their temperament, and even their breed history, there can be a few variations where their health is concerned. As such, getting pet health insurance can be a good option for some owners who are anticipating certain health issues down the road.
Pembroke Welsh Corgis
Pembroke Welsh Corgis can have a few extra health concerns over the Cardigans. Specifically, Pembrokes may be more prone to von Willebrand’s disease, which is a bleeding disorder that can cause the dog to bleed freely without clotting after an injury. Cardiac issues can also be more prevalent in Pembrokes, even though proper breeding selections can usually negate this risk.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Cardigans are a generally healthy breed, but they may be slightly more prone to eye health issues than their Pembroke cousins. Progressive retinal atrophy is more common with Cardigans. The eye condition is possible to screen for because it is considered to be a genetic condition.
Corgis: The Healthy Canine with a Huge Heart Tucked into a Small Body
They say once you have interacted with a Corgi that no other dog can compare. These dogs are smart, loyal to their owners, and extremely affectionate to every member of the family. While they can have a few health concerns because of their stature, Corgis are still a generally healthy breed. Their big hearts far exceed the size of their little bodies, and with the proper care, love, and attention, these dogs can be a companion that will bring a lot of joy.