Health conditions that are known to affect this breed are hip dysplasia and dermoid sinus. The ridgeback ranks number six in terms of most affected breeds for thyroid problems recorded by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. In 2014, the UK breed survey reported an average lifespan of 11 years.
Dermoid sinus is a congenital neural-tube defect that is known to affect this breed. The dermoid is often likened to a thin “spaghetti strand” beneath the skin. Puppies should always be screened at birth by the breeder and veterinarian, and the examination repeated as the puppies grow before they go to their new homes. This is done by palpation of the subcutaneous dorsal midline from the base of the skull to the insertion of the tail. Surgical removal is an option for affected neonates, puppies and adult dogs. All affected dogs, even those surgically corrected, should be spayed or neutered and never be bred, since surgical dermoid sinus removal can be extremely cost prohibitive, and because many unremoved dermoid sinuses will eventually abscess. Abscessed dermoid sinuses will be at best a recurrent, painful problem, and if the sinus communicates with the tissues around the spinal cord, cause meningitis and often death. However, it has been shown that supplementation of folic acid to the diet of the brood bitch before mating and during pregnancy reduces the incidence of dermoid sinus. One study on the Swedish population estimates that 8-10% are affected. Slightly less than 5% of ridgebacks were reported to be affected with the condition in a US breed club survey.
Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a neurological disease of the spinal cord causing progressive paraparesis, most commonly in the German shepherd dog breed. It affects Rhodesian Ridgebacks at a rate of only 0.75%. Signs of degenerative myelopathy are characterised at the beginning with foot dragging, and slipping of the rear limbs. The disease progresses to the point where the animal can no longer stand or walk on its own. Progression has been known to take as little as six months, or several years. There is a DNA test offered by the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals, to test for the gene. Animals who are at risk for the disease should not be bred to other animals at risk, as this creates future generations of this debilitating disease.
Hypothyroidism is a growing problem in the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and this condition causes a multitude of symptoms, including weight gain and hair loss. Treatment for hypothyroidism in dogs consists of an inexpensive once-daily oral medication. Dr. Lorna Kennedy at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Integrated Genomic Medical Research in England has found the haplotype (group of genes), which, when present, double the chances of a Ridgeback becoming hypothyroid due to lymphocytic thyroiditis. This is important to the breed because lymphocytic thyroiditis is the overwhelming cause of hypothyroidism in ridgebacks.
Gastric dilatation volvulus
Like many other deep-chested breeds, ridgebacks are prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, commonly known as bloat. This is a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate treatment.