Hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs

What’s the Difference with Hereditary and Congenital Conditions in Dogs?


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Just like us humans, hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs are rather common. Knowing the difference can help you catch a condition early and treat your fluffball before it manifests fully.

Another important reason to know the difference is for insurance purposes – most insurance providers (including PD Insurance) don’t cover congenital conditions. However, we do cover hereditary conditions under our Classic and Deluxe pet insurance plans, subject to a waiting period.

Below is a breakdown of hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs.

Hereditary vs congenital conditions in dogs

A hereditary condition is a defect inherited from the pup’s parent genes; it’s caused by a genetic mutation transmitted from parents to offspring. The condition may be present at birth or develop later in life.

A congenital condition is a defect that’s present at birth that may be inherited OR be caused by environmental factors. Not all congenital conditions are hereditary/genetic in nature. “Congenital” simply means that the disease was present from birth, though symptoms may show later.


  • Present at birth or arise later in life
  • Always inherited from the parent’s genes


  • Present at birth (though symptoms may only show later on)
  • May be inherited or develop due to environmental factors

Let’s take something like heart disease, for instance. Hereditary or congenital – it’s something you can be born with. A congenital heart condition can form while a pup is in the womb and may involve a hole between two of the heart’s chambers or a narrowing of the pulmonary valve. It could be due to a faulty or mutated gene, but often the cause could simply be unknown.

A hereditary heart condition, on the other hand, is always caused by a faulty or mutated gene. If a parent has it, there’s a 50/50 chance it will be passed to their pup. This could include very high cholesterol levels from birth and abnormal heart rhythms.

Now that we’re all caught up on the basics, let’s go over the hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs.

Some common hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs

Congenital conditions tend to affect purebred dogs more than the bitzers. The same can be said for purebred cats.

There’s been a lot of research done, and while it’s not straight cut it’s believed that mixed breed dogs are more resistant to these genetic conditions. Why? Very likely because they have a wider gene poll. Read more about whether mixed breed dogs have fewer health issues

If you’re thinking of getting a puppy (or have one, yay!), you can grab yourself a dog DNA test to check their breed and bloodline. This will help to identify possible hereditary genetic conditions they may encounter later in life and help you prepare for and look out for them.

Sadly, a lot of these conditions have been bred into pups by using tiny breeding pools and poor quality breeding stock. This is just one of the many reasons that finding an ethical breeder is so important. Let’s go over some of the more common conditions.

Hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs

Hereditary conditions

As mentioned, hereditary conditions always come from the dog’s parent genes and may be present at birth or develop later in life.

Hip dysplasia 

Typically this affects the larger breeds like the German Shepherd and Saint Bernard. Saint Bernards have a shockingly high rate of hip dysplasia at almost 50%. 

If you’re quick in identifying hip dysplasia, there are surgeries that may save your pooch’s hip. The problem is that a lot of the time hip dysplasia is diagnosed too late for this type of surgery. Not only that, it’s expensive. One good tip to help your pup is to help them eat healthy and avoid obesity. 

You can read more about hip dysplasia in dogs here

Brachycephalic syndrome

Brachycephalic is just a really big word that simply means a broad, short skull. It affects flat-faced breeds, like the Pug and French Bulldog. Our furry friends with broad skulls are known as brachycephalic breeds

This syndrome makes breathing hard for these breeds. This means they’re not so good with exercising or flying due to altitude pressure. We have a whole article about brachycephalic syndrome if you want to read more. 

Hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs


Another really big word: Chondrodysplasia. But it’s easier to remember it as canine dwarfism. It’s a recessive genetic defect found in pure bred dogs like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds. It causes the cartilage in the dog’s legs to grow in an abnormal way. This causes the legs to grow unevenly.

Congenital conditions

Congenital conditions are always present at birth. They may either be inherited or emerge later in life through being prompted out by environmental factors.


Hypothyroidism is a very common endocrine disease where the normal thyroid hormone levels in the dog decreases. Interestingly enough, most of the time dogs who suffer from hypothyroidism won’t be born with the disease that causes it. Rather, they get it when the thyroid gland shrinks because of other factors. 

Dogs can still get these conditions even if they’re not born with them as a congenital condition. These breeds are some that are more likely to get hypothyroidism:


A hernia is when an organ or internal tissue breaks through a weak spot in the surrounding muscle or tissue.

Just like humans, our furry friends can also be born with a hernia. And while a lot of the time these can be benign, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, just like us, they may require surgery to fix. There are many different types of hernias, and you can read more about hernias here.

Hernias can be congenital, but they can also be caused by a bad injury like getting hit by a car.

Corgi chills on a pet cooling mat

Some breeds most prone to congenital hernias are:

Insurance for hereditary and congenital conditions in dogs

When it comes to dog insurance, it’s important to know your coverage. PD does not cover congenital conditions. However, we do cover hereditary conditions under our Classic and Deluxe pet insurance plans (not the Accident plan) up to their claim limit.

Coverage is subject to a waiting period. As long as the condition wasn’t present before you started your cover, or during any applicable waiting period(s), it’s covered.

Protecting your pup with insurance will give you peace of mind. The last thing you want to worry about is affording the right medical treatment in their hour of need. Get a free quote below.

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