Saint Bernard

Lifestyle Needs

St Bernard

St Bernard

The Saint Bernard is a very large and heavy dog, related to Swiss mountain rescue dogs.  His coat is dense and thick and will need daily grooming.  Although reputedly very strong the Saint Bernard no longer works.  His size alone means that he does not make an ideal family pet (although breed enthusiasts dispute this).  He needs training as a puppy and adequate socialisation with people and other dogs.  As a puppy special care needs to be taken over his diet and exercise to protect his fast growing bones.  The average life span of a Saint Bernard is only 8 years.

Inbreeding Coefficient - COI
(Should be as low as possible)

The UK Kennel Club breed average COI is 5.0% - see 'A Beginners Guide to COI'

Effective Population Size - EPS


EPS is a measure of how many individuals are contributing genetically to a breed population. It is a measure of the size of the gene pool in a breed. Lower than 100 is considered critical by conservationists and below 50 brings a breed close to extinction. For more information see the Kennel Club article.

Health and Welfare Problems due to Conformation
(Body shape and physical characteristics)

  • The Saint Bernard’s large and heavy size puts a strain on his heart and bone joints and restricts his ability to enjoy life as a dog should.
  • His skull conformation and loose skin around his mouth causes him to drool copiously.  This is not something which is pleasant for a dog or the owner.
  • Bloat/Torsion (stomach fills with air and twists – requires urgent vet treatment)

BVA/KC Health Schemes:

  • Hip dysplasia (abnormality of the hip joints causing pain and disability):  breed mean score 22.8 (parents should be lower)
  • Elbow dysplasia (abnormality of the elbow joint causing pain and disability:  score ideally O:O)
  • The Saint Bernard is one of the 15 high profile breeds designated by the Kennel Club as requiring particular monitoring by reason of visible conditions which may cause health and welfare concerns.

Identified by the UK Kennel Club as part of their Breed Health and Conservation Plan.

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are now available for Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia:

DNA Tests Available

  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)

Unofficial (Breed Club) Schemes

Bitches not to produce a litter under 2 years of age.

Ask the breeder to show you the certificates for the above tests/screening for both parents. If any of the above tests have not been considered necessary by the breeder (and there may be good reasons), ask her to explain why.

Other Diseases Reported
(For which there are currently no genetic or screening tests for sire or dam)

  • Heart disease: Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart chambers enlarge, heart muscle weakens and gradually fails – mostly males)
  • Gastric dilation (Bloat)/torsion (a build up of air in the stomach which then twists – requires urgent vet treatment)
  • Cruciate ligament rupture (pain and lameness of hindlimb)
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Cancer: osteosarcoma (bone cancer), neoplasia
  • Idiopathic epilepsy
  • Shoulder osteochondrosis (abnormalities of bone and cartilege, causes chronic pain)
  • Uveodermatological syndrome (auto- immune disease) (tissues are progressively destroyed leading to blindness and death)
  • Entropion/Ectropion (turning in and turning out or eyelid)
  • Callus dermatitis (pustular condition of skin over knee and elbow joints)
  • Lip fold pyoderma
  • Primary hypothyroidism (underactivity of thyroid gland)
  • Panosteitis (bone inflammation)
  • Cataract
  • Pyometra (serious womb infection)
  • Multiple ocular (eye) defects
  • Haemophilia (bleeding disease)

Ask the breeder about the medical history of the parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  Consider carefully whether to purchase a puppy if some of these or other diseases are in the family line.

Ask about the breeder’s policy in cases of serious genetic diseases occurring to your puppy in later life. Good breeders will request to be informed of such events in order to improve future breeding decisions. Some breeders will also agree to contribute towards medical costs or refund purchase price.

You are strongly advised to buy from a breeder who uses (or is prepared to use) the RSPCA / BVA AWF Puppy Contract and Puppy Information Pack (PIP):

You are also advised to buy from a breeder who follows the Dog Breeding Reform Group’s (DBRG) Standard for Dog Breeding:

Or the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeders Scheme Standard and Guidance:
Standard PDF | Guidance PDF

List of Dog Breeds