What Vets Should Know About Rhodesian Ridgebacks
Prepared by the Health & Genetics Committee of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States

Dermoid sinus/cyst. Reputable breeders palpate their puppies for dermoid sinus, a congenital defect in which a tube-like structure usually has an opening in the skin. This condition is very similar to a pilonidal sinus/cyst in humans. As in the human’s pilonidal sinus, the dermoid sinus will become repeatedly infected if not surgically removed. Some dermoids, however, are difficult to detect, such as those on or near the tail. Unfortunately, many backyard breeders and puppy-millers do not screen their puppies for dermoids, and may not even know what they are.

Most dermoid sinuses are relatively easy to remove by a competent veterinary surgeon, but some can be a surgical challenge. We strongly recommend consultation with a colleague experienced in dermoid-sinus surgery.

Additionally, veterinarians should be aware that some dermoids, particularly those on or near the tail, can consist of a closed sac where you do not feel the “noodle-like” presentation of the “classic” neck dermoid.

The following veterinarians have a great deal of experience in dermoid surgery, and have given permission to the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States to make their contact information available to veterinarians who have questions or concerns about the procedure:

Dr. Dave Harling
Reidsville Animal Hospital
1401 Harrison St.
Reidsville, NC 27323
336- 349-3194 

Dr. Lisa Miller
(901) 624-9002, ext 2

Dr. Eric Clough
39 Plymouth Grove
Kennebunk, ME  04043-6999

Click here for more articles and information on dermoid sinus.


Vaccination sites and microchip placement. Because there is a risk of confusing inflammation at the site of a vaccination with a dermoid sinus, veterinarians should avoid administering vaccines on the dorsal midline of a Ridgeback. It is strongly recommended that vaccinations be administered lateral to the midline AND that the exact location be annotated in the health record for future reference. Similarly, make a special written note in your files of where you implant a microchip on a Ridgeback, so that this does not raise false alarms about a possible dermoid.


Hypothyroidism. According to our most recent health survey, heritable thyroid disease is the number-one reported health problem in Rhodesian Ridgebacks. This is an autoimmune hypothyroidism. It is common to see an elevated TGAA (thyroglobulin autoantibodies) long before actually clinical signs of hypothyroidism develop. As a matter of fact, breeders and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals use the full thyroid profile, T-4 by dialysis AND the all important TGAA test to screen breeding stock.

In the event of elevated TGAA autoantibodies with otherwise normal thyroid labs, the dog is said to have “compensating autoimmune thyroiditis” and should be removed from a breeding program after repeat labs confirm the same findings. Regular thyroid testing is STRONGLY recommended as this dog WILL become clinically hypothyroid at some point in its life and it should be monitored closely. As you know, the early signs of hypothyroidism can be very subtle – i.e., mild temperament changes, actively level changes, etc.  Please counsel the owner accordingly.

Ridgebacks who exhibit the classic signs of hypothyroidism – unexplained weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, darkened skin – should have a full thyroid panel performed, and be treated accordingly.

Click here to learn about discount thyroid testing that also benefits genetic research on hypothyroidism in the Ridgeback.


Proper weight. A Rhodesian Ridgeback – puppy or adult -- should be lean and trim, with a defined tuck-up and no layer of subcutaneous fat. If you unfamiliar with the breed, you might think that a Rottweiler-type silhouette is appropriate – it is not! A male Ridgeback weighing more than 100 pounds, and a female weighing more than 80, is likely overweight. A 120-pound Ridgeback is an obese Ridgeback!

(107 pounds)
(the same dog, at 89 pounds)

Click here for more examples of fat and fit Ridgebacks.

Temperament. Some veterinarians report that Ridgebacks are uncooperative or head-shy during routine exams. While this is a stable, tolerant and even-tempered breed, it is important to remember that Ridgebacks are naturally aloof with strangers, and many do not respond well to being forced into situations over which they have no control. In short, do not expect the Ridgeback to demonstrate a Labrador retriever’s willingness to be poked and prodded.

Positive reinforcement – especially with treats! – is the best way to build a good relationship with your Ridgeback patients.


Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy. SLO is an autoimmune disease that can cause severe nail problems in otherwise apparently healthy dogs. Consider SLO if a Rhodesian Ridgeback presents with loss of nails from more than one paw, with  all nails possibly being lost  eventually. Other symptoms include: pain, distorted/twisted claws,  receding quicks, claw splitting (usually down the back of the claw), and lameness.

For more information on SLO, click here.


Health survey. The Comprehensive Rhodesian Ridgeback Health Survey is an electronic, confidential survey that enables us to take a “snapshot” of the breed’s overall health, and pursue research accordingly. We ask that every Ridgeback owner visit www.rhodesianridgebackhealth.org/survey.html, make an entry for their dog, and update it after every vet visit.

If you have clients who own Ridgebacks and would like us to send you brochures and information about the Comprehensive Rhodesian Ridgeback Health Survey, please click here.