Latest VetCompass research uncovers new evidence on the ownership, behaviours and health of Rottweilers in the UK

A new study conducted by the VetCompass Programme at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has revealed novel insights into the demographics, behaviours and disorders of Rottweilers. This information will raise awareness of predispositions in Rottweilers to a variety of behavioural and health conditions and assist with their diagnosis and treatment. The results will also help potential owners to make better informed decisions on ownership of the breed.
In the UK, Rottweilers are a well-known dog breed and have often been used for guarding, police and military roles. Additionally, in recent decades the breed has increasingly been owned as a domestic pet. However, behavioural traits that are ideal for a guard dog are not always appropriate for a domestic pet dog. Consequently, undesirable behavioural issues in Rottweilers kept as pets have been the subject of considerable debate for many years. The Rottweiler has been scored as high for aggression among breeds and several studies have reported that the Rottweiler is over-represented among serious dog-bite statistics on humans. The breed has also become popular as a status dog with those seeking a macho image and has consequently suffered some bad publicity.
However, it is possible that negative media stories may unfairly prime the public to perceive the breed as more dangerous than other breeds. Unprompted information recorded in veterinary clinical records offers a less biased and truer picture on the health and behaviours of dogs. Consequently, large volumes of such data can help to answer these and other questions on the health and behaviour of dog breeds in ways that were previously impossible. This new VetCompass™ study provides anonymised data from hundreds of UK vet practices and has revealed:

  • Rottweilers are falling out of favour in the UK, dropping in ownership by almost 40% from 1.75% of all dogs born in 2006 to 1.07% in 2013.
  • 60.3% of Rottweilers had at least one disorder recorded during 2013, which is similar to other breeds previously explored in VetCompass studies, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Pugs.
  • The average lifespan of Rottweilers overall was 9.0 years which is shorter than some other breeds of similar bodysize.
  • The most common disorders recorded in Rottweilers were aggression (7.46%), overweight/obesity (7.06%), ear infection (6.14%), osteoarthritis (4.69%) and diarrhoea (3.50%).

This information assists owners to be alert for these conditions; for example, to regularly check their dog’s ears for redness and pain, which could indicate an ear infection. It also suggests that preventive health strategies are important for the breed; for example, careful dietary control to avoid diarrhoea and obesity. The results also show that aggression is a commonly recorded issue in the Rottweiler and prospective owners need to be aware of this when considering the breed, especially as a family pet.
Three major differences were identified between male and female Rottweilers that may assist owners and vets to optimise decision-making during selection of a new puppy:

  • Male Rottweilers were significantly more likely to show aggression than females (9.36% versus 5.47%). One implication may be that families with children may opt for a female Rottweiler whereas male dogs may be more appropriate for guarding roles.
  • Adult male Rottweilers (average 48.5 kg) were substantially heavier (7 kg) than adult females (average 41.5 kg). This has implications for feeding costs, space requirements and issues around lifting the dogs if required.
  • Female Rottweilers lived on average almost 10 months longer than male Rottweilers (9.5 years versus 8.7 years). While there is no guarantee on the lifespan of any individual dog, this does suggest that a female Rottweiler may be a better option for owners for whom a longer-lived pet is a priority.

Dr Dan O’Neill, RVC Senior lecturer in epidemiology and lead author of the study, said: “With the development of VetCompass at the RVC, the era of Big Data has now arrived for veterinary medicine. Anonymised clinical records from vet practices are now telling us things about our pets that we could only guess at previously. It is great to see VetCompass evidence being used so widely to enhance animal welfare.”
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said, “The Rottweiler is one of the breeds within the Kennel Club’s Large and Giant Breed Working Group, set up to protect and improve the health of these breeds, and is also one of the breeds in the second round of our Breed Health and Conservation Plans project. VetCompass research will provide breed-specific insights that can be invaluable to the Kennel Club, as well as to dog breeders and puppy buyers.
“The Rottweiler is a breed that has seen a number of sudden spikes in popularity over the past few decades.  When any breed sees a surge in popularity, it tends to get overbred by people who might not have any specialist knowledge of the breed, which can impact the general soundness of the breed both in health and in temperament.
“For the betterment of the breed’s health and welfare and to improve the breed’s image, which can be maligned at times, Rottweiler breeders that are involved with the breed clubs have worked very hard to produce friendly dogs with exceptionally sound temperaments.
“The Rottweiler Club is very clear about the fact that the Rottweiler is a strong and demanding dog that needs firm but fair training, so people should not own the breed unless they are sure they are experienced and capable enough to own one.  This is why it is so important to do the proper research before choosing a breed, and why it is crucial that anyone choosing to own a Rottweiler goes to a responsible breeder.  Responsible breeders will be breeding to the Rottweiler breed standard, which states that dogs should not be aggressive.  Furthermore, responsible breeders of any breed would not sell dogs that are prone to aggression.”