For hundreds of years, Saint Bernards have been known as the heroic helpers of the Swiss and Italian Alps. Starting in the middle of the 17th century, monks residing at the Great St. Bernard Hospice in Switzerland began training Asiatic mastiffs as watchdogs for their peaceful abode.3 The dog’s broad chest also made them perfect for clearing a path through the deep snow that filled the Great St. Bernard Pass: a 49-mile-long route through the Alps.3
Over the next two centuries, the Saint Bernard would go on to save thousands of lives in the Alps. Napoleon’s army famously relied upon the Saint to shepherd 250,000 soldiers across the mountains between 1790 and 1810. Two years of severe snowstorms from 1816 to 1818 actually resulted in the original Saint Bernard almost going extinct, but they were revived thanks to the help of the St. Bernard monks.3
Modern Saints are descended from the original Asiatic mastiff and English mastiff. The Swiss Kennel Club officially recognized the Saint Bernard breed in 1880. Today, they are beloved in homes around the world, while the Great St. Bernard Hospice replenishes its population with new puppies every year.3
Throughout the Saint Bernard’s lifespan, they may suffer from a number of health problems common to the breed. These include:1
- Hip dysplasia: A common bilateral defect that can affect both hip joints, resulting in pain and limping
- Bloat: A life-threatening condition commonly seen in large, deep-chested dogs
- Cataracts: Vision loss caused by degradation of the eye’s lens
- Entropion: Inversion of the eyelid, which can damage the cornea and cause vision loss
Like many large purebreds, Saint Bernard dogs are prone to hip dysplasia — a congenital condition caused by defects in the ball and socket joint in the hip.4 Specifically, the joint grinds against the pelvic bone, an uncomfortable experience that can affect a Saint’s mobility and even result in lameness of the leg.
Diagnosing hip dysplasia is relatively easy and can be done with a simple X-ray to check the condition of the hip joints.5 Treatment depends on the severity of the Saint’s condition. At best, they may only require some lifestyle changes and medication to manage pain and inflammation. In more extreme cases, your vet may recommend surgery and/or total hip replacement. Because hip dysplasia can be a lifelong condition, the cost of management and treatment can quickly reach the thousands. Consider getting a dog insurance policy as early in your Saint’s life as possible, before hip dysplasia becomes a pre-existing condition.
Many dog breeds suffer from cataracts as a natural part of aging.6 They can progress over many years and, if left untreated, may cause significant pain and/or total vision loss. Surgery is often recommended to resolve cataracts. This may involve replacing the cloudy lens with a new prosthesis or — in extreme cases — the complete removal of the affected eye. The bill for dog eye surgery can run between $2,700 and $4,000, but the upshot is a long-term success rate of 85% to 90%.6,7
Pet insurance may help cover some of the cost of cataracts in your Saint Bernard, including diagnosis and surgery. Like hip dysplasia, cataracts are another condition that can develop later in life — meaning that when it comes to getting your pup an insurance policy, the earlier, the better.
Learn more about how MetLife Pet Insurance can help you and your Saint Bernard by reading our guide, “How Pet Insurance Works.” You can also get started today with a free quote.