Health Issues in the Australian Shepherd

There are several health issues within the breed which may or may not be hereditary. These include:-



This is a condition of the hip and elbow joints in which the bones are not properly formed. It results in loose hip and elbow socket to bone connection. This causes hip and elbow pain and lameness ranging from mild to crippling. All breeding stock should be hip and elbow scored by the British Veterinary Association (BVA).



Aussies can inherit a number of eye defects which impair vision in varying degrees or can cause complete blindness.

These include:-

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)

CEA affected puppies appear normal. The defects are within the eye and cannot be detected without special instruments. Positive diagnosis can only be made by a veterinary ophthalmologist or with a DNA test.

CEA is present at birth and does not progress, and affected puppies behave normally. Few will be so blind that the disease noticeably affects them. CEA does not cause the puppy any pain or discomfort. Affected dogs should never be bred from.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA has been reported in Aussies, but only rarely. Since the disease is progressive, it may require multiple exams before diagnosis can be confirmed, and it can be misdiagnosed. Any Aussie diagnosed with PRA should also have a DNA test to confirm the diagnosis. Affected dogs should never be bred from.


Cataracts are the most common eye disease in Australian Shepherds. They can occur for reasons other than heredity (other diseases, injury) but these other causes are not common and should not be assumed to be the reason for cataract without clear evidence to that end.
Hereditary cataracts are bilateral, meaning they occur in both eyes, but they may not appear at the same time: If a cataract is noted on one eye, it is wise to recheck in 6 months to a year to see if one develops in the other. Cataracts do not cause the dog any pain and usually progress is slow enough that the dog adjusts to its vision loss. In 2006, The Animal Health Trust (AHT) identified the first, and thus far only,gene known to cause cataracts in Aussies. Their efforts have also made it clear there are other HC genes yet to be found. Again, affected dogs should never be bred from, and siblings bred from with care.

Other eye conditions

Other eye conditions include:- Iris Colaboma, detached retina, persistent papillary membrane (ppm) and distachiasis.

Responsible breeders will only breed from dogs with current clear eye certificates and owners should be encouraged to have their dogs’ eyes tested on an annual basis. All puppies should be eye tested prior to going to their new homes at 8 weeks old.



Seizures can be caused by a variety of things--injury, as a secondary effect of other disease, or toxic exposure--as well as heredity. If you have a dog that has seizures, the first thing you need to do is establish why it is doing so.
With injury, other disease or toxic exposure, treatment of the primary condition will stop the seizures in most cases, though if the primary condition causes permanent brain damage they may persist. A thorough veterinary check up should reveal the cause of the problem if something other than hereditary epilepsy is involved. With virtually all of the other causes (the most likely exception being a brain tumour) there will be signs that something is wrong in addition to the seizures.
If no cause is found, the seizures are classified as "idopathic epilepsy," which means they are of unknown cause, but this type of epilepsy is generally accepted as inherited. There is not a positive test for primary epilepsy at present, so it can be diagnosed only by ruling out all other reasonable possibilities.
Primary epilepsy cannot be cured and will not go away. Seizures will occur periodically for the life of the dog if untreated. They often get worse if not controlled by medication. Treatment is no guarantee that the dog will be fine from there on out. The drugs themselves have side effects and in some cases they become ineffective. Epilepsy can kill.
The mode of inheritance for epilepsy is unknown but clearly not dominant. Therefore, both parents of an affected dog contributed genes, though the contribution may be unequal. It is possible that our breed might have more than one form of inherited epilepsy.
No epileptic dog should be bred, nor should any first-step relatives (parents, offspring, full or half siblings). More distant relatives should be bred with great care to avoid other affected families. Inbreeding in epilepsy families should be avoided at all costs and even line-breeding should be discouraged. Selecting unrelated mates reduces the probability of producing this or any hereditary disease considerably.



Australian Shepherds, along with several other mostly collie-type breeds, can carry a genetic mutation that makes them sensitive to certain drugs. Fortunately there is an extremely accurate DNA test that will let you know whether your dog has this mutation. All you have to do is provide a cheek swab. MDR1 is the abbreviated name of a gene called Multi-Drug Resistance 1. A mutation of this gene causes sensitivity to Ivermectin and a number of other drugs. Dogs with the mutation will react to those drugs. Having two copies of the mutation will lead to drug reactions, but having a single copy can also confer some sensitivity with some drugs. Dogs with this mutation have a transport defect - the drug goes in to their brains, fails to be transported out, and builds up to toxic levels.

Ivermectin was the first drug recognized to cause a reaction, but it is far from the only one. Ivermectin at low dosage, will not cause a reaction. The larger doses needed for worming will. Other commonly administered drugs on the list include acepromazine (anaesthetic) and Imodium. Fortunately, there are alternative medications available if your dog requires treatment.



The biggest killer in Aussies at present, the two most common cancers being Lymphoma and Hermangiosarcoma. It is felt that these cancers especially, are at least partly inherited in the Australian Shepherd.  Family trends in these cancers need further study. Other cancers that we are aware of in the breed include:- Osteosarcoma, mast cell tumours, soft tissue carcinoma and leukaemia.

Other health issues that can be tested for are:- Pelger Huet Anomoly and Cobolamin Malabsorption whilst Aussies can also be prone to thyroid disfunction, heart disease and allergies leading to serious skin conditions. These health conditions cause a great deal of suffering and medical expense. Needless to say Aussies with family histories of such health problems should never be used for breeding purposes. Before you buy a puppy, ask the breeder if such conditions have appeared in relatives of the puppy’s sire or dam. A responsible breeder will know which problems crop up in their bloodlines, how to test for it and how to plan breedings to reduce the frequency of occurrence.

Links to sites offering health testing for the Australian Shepherds



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