German shepherd dogs are dying from musculoskeletal problems following selective breeding. Picture: Reuters

London - German shepherd dogs are dying from musculoskeletal problems following selective breeding.

The Royal Veterinary College, which studied nearly half a million Alsatians seen by vets in 2013, said breeding for traits "desirable" at shows may be harming the dogs’ health.

The research, in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology found about one in six Alsatians died of musculoskeletal disorders as breeders try to achieve traits such as lower hindquarters and a sloping back in the dogs.

The RVC’s Dr Dan O’Neill said: "We found osteoarthritis to be one of the most common… which may be caused in part by breeding for cosmetic traits."