Australian Shepherds are a very intelligent breed with a strong herding instinct. Overall they are hardy and easily adapt to different settings. Aussies are predisposed to certain diseases, so careful observation of your pets daily routine is important. Any significant changes in this routine are cause for an examination. A few of the more common problems of Australian Shepherds will be described in this handout. Our web site in the Diseases Section has detailed medical information on many of the diseases we see in Aussie’s.
Some of the most common diseases that affect them are eye problems. These can range from small eyes (micropthalmia) to cataracts, and retinal problems called progressive retinal atrophy. The prevalence of these problems emphasizes the need for early examinations by one of our doctors. If one of the problems is suspected, we will refer you to our eye specialist for further information.
Aussies are particularly susceptible to nasal solar dermatitis, sunburn of the nose. The symptoms of this problem mimic skin conditions caused by autoimmune problems, so any change to your pet’s nose is a reason for an exam by one of our doctors. To help prevent this potential problem, minimize exposure to the sun and use sunblock if possible.
Since they are a very active dog, Aussies are prone to traumatic injuries, especially when running. Hip dysplasia (malformed hip sockets) also occurs, therefore, any lameness warrants an exam due to the potential for injury to ligaments, muscles, tendons or bones. Older pets commonly develop arthritis in the joints and spinal cord. This is a painful condition that leads to a significant decrease in quality of life. Arthritis is diagnosed with an x-ray, and fortunately, there are numerous easy to administer medications that will substantially decrease arthritic pain.
On occasion, some Aussies can get a bleeding disorder called Von Willebrand’s Disease. If your pet easily bruises or seems to take a long time to clot blood it should have an examination.
A heart disease called Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA) can be a problem, and is seen more often in females. Some pets have no symptoms while other pets may show some respiratory signs. Exercise may worsen any symptoms.
A stone in the bladder called cystine is also seen in Aussies. Symptoms might include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, or urinating frequently.
Seizures caused by epilepsy has been seen in Aussie’s in greater frequency. It is usually the idiopathic form. Our web site has more information on epilepsy and seizures in the Medical Section.
When breeding Australian Shepherds, and also when choosing a genetically sound puppy, the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals; www.offa.org) recommends genetic screening for:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Eye Exam by an ACVO ophthalmologist, and the results registered with OFA or CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation; http://www.offa.org/eyes.html).
Testing is also recommended for detecting Autoimmune Thyroiditis, Collie Eye Anomaly, and Multiple Drug Sensitivities.
By using genetic testing and registry programs like these, breeders of purebred dogs can work toward eliminating these inherited diseases, which can lead to lifelong pain, debilitation and medical problems. If you’re considering getting a purebred puppy, asking potential breeders about these inherited diseases can help you choose a healthy pup.