Australian Shepherd Hereditary Disease
Dog Genetic Disease Can Affect Your Aussie In Spite of Best Breeding Practices
Arthritis in Dogs and Dog Joint
Collie Eye Anomaly
Persistent Pupillary Membranes
Patent Ductus Arteriosus
Homozygous Merle (Lethal
Double Merle Aussies
Diabetes in Dogs
Epilepsy in Dogs
Genetic or hereditary diseases
can have an enormous impact. Some affect the quality
of life from birth while others do not manifest themselves until
later in life. Although it may not be possible to completely eliminate
the possibility of hereditary diseases there is a way to reduce
their likelihood. As mentioned, choosing a reputable breeder is
your best assurance of getting a healthy puppy. Even puppies from
breeders are likely to inherit genetic problems but breeders are
actively engaged in identifying and eliminating these factors
from their lines giving you the best possible starting point for
a healthy pet.
So, what are the main hereditary diseases that affect
the Australian Shepherd breed specifically?
Australian Shepherds are known to frequently suffer from cataracts.
Although not all cataracts are due to hereditary factors this
is often the case, especially if both eyes are effected. Signs
usually appear between 2-3 years but can show up as early as 1
year or as late as 7-8 years of age. Early detection and treatment
is best. Cataracts can be described as an opacity that develops
in the lens of the eye that results in reduced vision and if left
unchecked can result in blindness.
A diagnosis of cataracts should be registered with the Canine
Eye Registration Foundation > (CERF).
Another hereditary eye disorder seen in Australian Shepherds
is iris coloboma. Described as a gap or hole in the formation
of one of the structures of the eye. (ie. lens, retina, iris etc.)
This condition can cause discomfort for the dog in bright light.
There have been an increase in the number of incidents as it has
not been considered a serious condition by breeders. This is changing
as its prevalence has increased. Iris coloboma usually occurs
Collie Eye Anomaly
This hereditary defect, as its name suggests, affects many of
the Collie breeds: Smooth and Rough Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs,
Border Collies, Lancashire Heelers, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
and of course Australian Shepherds.
In animals with CEA, there are abnormalities
of the choroid and may also be changes in the sclera. The major
change, which is present in all dogs with CEA, is 'choroidal
hypoplasia', a pale patch in the back of the eye caused by abnormal
development of the choroid layer. Affected dogs may also have
abnormalities in the sclera, producing pits or 'colobomas' in
or around the optic disk.
This hereditary condition needs to be diagnosed very early, before
8 weeks, due to a phenomenon known as "go normal" wherein
the defect becomes impossible to detect as the eye develops. The
problem however still exists and as a result any puppy diagnosed
with this condition should not be used for breeding.
For more information on the Collie Eye Anomaly see CollieEye.Org. >
Persistent Pupillary Membranes
The pupillary membrane covers the eye before birth and functions
to supply blood to the developing lens. This membrane is usually
absorbed into the eye before four or five weeks of age. The failure
of this membrane to fully absorb is called a persistent pupillary
membrane. Consequences range from mild to severe visual deficits
including blindness. This condition can improve with age but doesn't
disappear completely and can result in cataracts and damage to
Distichaisis is a hereditary condition where eyelashes grow toward
the eyes instead of away. This can be very uncomfortable even
painful for the dog. This can require surgical treatment before
severe damage to the cornea occurs.
This disease can be particularly disturbing for owners. I know
because Levi developed epilepsy and has had it since he was about
2 years old. Most dogs are diagnosed between 1 and 3 years. Some
dogs, like Levi, are able to keep the seizures under control with
medication. He almost never has them and if he does they are very
mild. Others are not so fortunate and the condition can prove
There are various reasons for why seizures may be occuring so
diagnosis should be made by your veterinarian. This is a lifelong
condition and any medication will have to be taken from when they
are diagnosed. Yearly blood tests may be required to ensure that
there are proper levels of medication.
As this condition is inherited, dogs diagnosed with epilepsy
should not be used for breeding.
Epilepsy in Dogs
Hip Dysplasia is a painful condition affecting the hip joints
resulting in lameness and arthritis. Although it is hereditary,
environmental factors play a role in its development.
In dysplasia the caput (round head of the femur bone) no longer
fits snugly into the acetabulum (concave socket in the pelvis).
Additionally these two elements, the caput and acetabulum are
ill formed and don't move smoothly. This results in undue wear
and tear on the joints resulting in the body trying to repair
damage by creating cartilage. The body cannot keep up with the
rate of degradation and becomes inflammed which contributes to
As this cycle progresses the dog will become increasingly uncomfortable,
eventually being rendered lame due to the intensity of the pain.
Signs of this condition will be the dog attempting to restrict
movement of their hips, running will appear stilted. This compensation
to avoid using the hips can result in spinal or soft tissue problems
developing. Hip dysplasia can be anywhere from mild to debilitatingly
According to the Australian
Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute, > "this class of diseases has come out of nowhere for Aussies
over the past decade. They are considered as a class because individuals
suffering from one may develop others and it is not unusual to
have different autoimmune diseases occur in a single family. The
ones most frequently encountered in Aussies are thyroiditis, lupus
(discoid and erythmatosus) and generalized demodetic mange. There
is a genetic pre-disposition toward these diseases, but actual
illness is precipitated by an environmental trigger. "
Although environmental factors contribute largely to the development
of allergies is is believed that this occurs due to a genetic
predisposition. It may be tempting to diagnose allergies yourself
as most of us are familiar with the symptoms but it would be better
to leave that to your veterinarian.
Cancer occurs in sufficient numbers in Australian Shepherds to
be of concern. Although it is diagnosed more frequently in elderly
dogs it also develops in younger ones. Environmental factors,
as with allergies, play a large role
and cancer is not always directly related to hereditary influence.
Retained or undecended testicles referred to in medical terminology
as cryptotorchidism (crypto meaning hidden) is relatively common
in Australian Shepherds. One or both testes fail to move or "decend"
from the abdominal region into the scrotum. This can occur after
birth but dogs whos testes have not decended by eight weeks are
diagnosed with cryptotorchidism. There is a high rate of testicular
cancer with these dogs and as this is genetically inherited they
should not be bred.
Although it generally does not cause problems for the dog, dental
faults such as missing teeth or over, under and cross bites are
considered a genetic defect for purposes of conformation. Breeders
should take note of this characteristic and not use dogs with
this defect in their breeding programs.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus
In cases of Patent Ductus Arteriosus there is an abnormal flow
of blood between the aorta and pulmonary artery. Before birth
these arteries are connected by the ductus arteriosus blood vessel
and is a normal part of fetal circulation. However, after birth
this vessel is supposed to close, but in some puppies it remains
This condition puts a strain on the heart and increases blood
pressure to the lung arteries. If a heart murmur continues to
be detected in puppies older than four months they should be checked
by your veterinarian for patent ductus arteriosus. Although this
is a potentially lethal condition surgery has been very successful,
in fact some dogs do quite with without any treatment whatsoever.
Common to small or miniature breeds patellar luxation can also
be a problem for Aussies. Patellar luxation is where the patella
or kneecap moves (dislocates) out of its normal position. It is
thought to be a congenital defect but can also arise as a result
of blunt force injury. When it is hereditary it usually affects
both sides (bilateral) of the rear legs.
This list provides some of the more common hereditary
ailments that affect Australian Shepherds, but is not
exhaustive. It is important to remember the importance of controlling
the spread of these defects in Aussies. Breeding is a complex
science requiring a blend of genetics, accurate family records,
and a sincere love for the breed. This is why it is so important
to only buy your Australian Shepherd from a reputable breeder.
For further information:
Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute > (ASHGI)
Canine Eye Registration
Foundation > (CERF)
for Animals > (OFA)
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