Sheltie & Collie Health Issues Explained

Canine Cyclic Neutropenia
Also Known As:
Gray Collie Syndrome
A pup will appear to be any of the Collie colors (tricolor, sable or merle) but will appear to be faded out, including having a brown (on sables) or gray (on tris or blue) nose.  This is associated with a serious health issue in collies known as Canine Cyclic Neutropenia (aka Gray Collie Syndrome) and these pups generally don't live more than a couple of years, if they make it out of puppy hood.

This is a genetic autosomal recessive disease.  This means that BOTH parents must carry the gene for a pup to be affected.  If breeding stock is tested and at least one of the parents of each litter is clear, there won't be affected pups in a litter.

for more information, go to one or both of these websites: 
HealthGene Website 
GCS on the Pennylane Collies Website

vonWillebrand's Disease (vWD)
(Shelties & Collies)
vWD is a severe bleeding disorder that affects many breeds, including Shelties and Collies.  However, the DNA test is currently only available in Shelties as it has not been seen as much in the collies (as far as we know).  It is characterized by a deficiency in the vonWillebrand Factor (vWF) on the factor 8 molecule responsible for clotting.  This give symptoms similar to hemophilia in humans.  Although the first time the dog has an injury they may not show symptoms, on second or subsequent injuries they could bleed to death from the slightest injury, including a routine spay/neuter or even a toenail clipping that was too short.  With proper care, an affected pup/dog may survive to live a long life but often requires more of a financial commitment  than most families are willing to invest. THis is why it is so important for testing to be done on all breeding stock.

There are 3 types of vWD, simply referred to as Type I, II, and III.  Type I is the mildest form of the disease and affects Dobermans, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Coton De Tulear, German Pinchers, Kerry Blue Terriers, Manchester Terriers, Pappillons, Welsh Corgis, and Poodles.  Type II affects German Wirehair Pointers and German Shorthair Pointers.  Type III, the most severe, affects Shelties, Collies, and Scottish Terriers.

This is a genetic autosomal recessive disease.  This means that BOTH parents must carry the gene for a pup to be affected.  If breeding stock is tested and at least one of the parents of each litter is clear, there won't be affected pups in a litter.

According to VetGen Testing results as of 7/28/2008, 9.4% of Shelties tested were carriers and less than 1% were affected.  By continuing to test for this disease, we can keep this incidence very low.

For more information on testing go to: VetGen Website
Results can be registered on the OFA website.

Choroidal Hypoplasia
Also Known As:
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)
(Shelties & Collies)
CEA is an inherited eye disorder that causes abnormal development of the choroid - an important layer of tissue under the retina of the eye. This disease is seen most frequently in U.S. collies, but also worldwide in Rough and Smooth Collies, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Lancashire Heelers, and Shetland Sheepdogs. Since the choroid layer does not develop normally from the start, the primary abnormality can be diagnosed at a very young age. Regrettably, there is no treatment or cure for CEA.

The primary problem is choroidal hypoplasia (CH). There is under-development (hypoplasia) of the eye tissue layer called the choroid. The choroid appears pale and thin, almost transparent, and the blood vessels of the choroid can easily be recognized in those “thin” areas. The ophthalmologist, looking at the back of the eye (the fundus) with an ophthalmoscope, typically will see an area of choroidal thinning that appears like a “window” to the underlying vessels and sclera.

In mildly affected dogs, choroidal thinning is the only detectable abnormality and the dog retains normal vision throughout life. In severely affected dogs, approximately 25% of dogs with CEA/CH, there are related problems with the health of the eye that can result in serious vision loss in some cases.

Nearly 70% of Collies and only about 1% of Shelties have CEA (According to CERF Eye exams from 1991 to 1999). 

This is a genetic autosomal recessive disease.  This means that BOTH parents must carry the gene for a pup to be affected.  If breeding stock is tested and at least one of the parents of each litter is clear, there won't be affected pups in a litter.

For more information go to:  OptiGen Website

MDR1 Drug Sensitivities
(Shelties & Collies)
Most Collies and some Shelties are affected by a gene mutation that puts them at risk for being overly sensitive to a variety of drugs including such commonplace drugs as Ivermectin (heartworm preventative) and Immodium (for diarrhea).  At doses 1/200th of the dose that would cause a problem in other breeds, these and some other drugs can kill a dog that is affected by this gene. 

Approximately 3 of every 4 Collies in the United States have the mutant Multi-Drug Resistance (MDR1) gene. The MDR1 mutation has also been found in Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties). Australian Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, Long-haired Whippets, Silken Windhounds, and a variety of mixed breed dogs.

Problem Drugs -- Drugs that have been documented, or are strongly suspected to cause problems in dogs with the  MDR1 mutation:
  • Ivermectin (antiparasitic agent)
  • Loperamide (Imodium®; over-the-counter antidiarrheal agent)
  • Doxorubicin (anticancer agent)
  • Vincristine (anticancer agent)
  • Vinblastine (anticancer agent)
  • Cyclosporin (immunosuppressive agent)
  • Digoxin (heart drug)
  • Acepromazine (tranquilizer)
  • Butorphanol (pain control)
Potential Problem Drugs -- The following drugs may potentially cause problems when given to dogs that have the mutation. Biochemical studies have shown that this gene has the potential to act on over 50 different drugs
  • Ondansetron
  • Domperidone
  • Paclitaxel
  • Mitoxantrone
  • Etoposide
  • Rifampicin
  • Quinidine
  • Morphine

Most breeders and pet owners simply avoid these compounds that are toxic but there is now a test available to determine whether a dog is affected or not.

More info can be seen on this website, including info on testing your dog:
Drug Sensitivities testing website

Hip Dysplasia
(Shelties & Collies)
Hip Dysplasia is a terrible genetic disease because of the various degrees of arthritis it can eventually produce, leading to pain and debilitation. Basically hip dysplasia is when the ball and socket of the hip joint don't fit quite right. 

The phenotypic evaluation of hips done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals falls into seven different categories. Those categories are normal (Excellent, Good, Fair), Borderline, and dysplastic (Mild, Moderate, Severe). Once each of the radiologists classifies the hip into one of the 7 phenotypes above, the final hip grade is decided by a consensus of the 3 independent veterinarians.

Some surprising statistics: As of December 2007, 16223 Shelties have been evaluated by OFA with 26.8% being evaluated as Excellent Hip conformation and 4.8% evaluated as Dysplastic.  In Collies, only 2552 dogs have been evaluated with 28.8% Excellent and 2.7% Dysplastic (however if more Collies were evaluated, that number may actually be considerably higher).  Poodles (my other love) have a much higher incidence of Hip Dysplasia with 12.6% of the 18347 dogs evaluated being Dysplastic, and only 10.8% are Excellent.

For more information go to the OFA website.

Elbow Dysplasia
(Shelties & Collies)
Elbow dysplasia has multiple inherited etiologies which may occur singularly or in combination. These etiologies include fragmented medial coronoid (FCP) of the ulna, osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle and ununited anconeal process (UAP). The veterinary radiologists are most interested in the appearance of the anconeal process of the ulna.

When there is instability of the elbow joint due to elbow dysplasia, one of the most sensitive radiographic findings is new bone proliferation (osteophytes) on the anconeal process of the ulna associated with secondary developmental degenerative joint disease.

For elbow evaluations, there are no grades for a radiographically normal elbow. The only grades involved are for abnormal elbows with radiographic changes associated with secondary degenerative joint disease.

For more information go to the OFA website.

Choroidal Hypoplasia
Also Known As:
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)
(Shelties & Collies)
Although there is a genetic test available for this problem, it can be diagnosed at a very young age and affected pups can be weeded out of a breeding program early by selling them as pet pups.  This is not a common practice to weed them out entirely in Collies because the disease is so rampant in the breed that to weed out EVERY affected pup, we would end up with a gene pool so small that the Collie would no longer exist as we know it today.  Instead, by breeding these dogs carefully and selecting for less affected dogs, the breed is able to keep the incidence of severe eye problems related to CEA under control.

For more information go to:  OptiGen Website

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
(Shelties & Collies)
PRA is a family of diseases involving the gradual deterioration of the retina. In the early stages of the disease, an affected dog becomes nightblind and cannot see well in dim lighting. As the disease progresses, daytime vision also fails. Provided that the affected dog's environment remains constant, an affected dog can adapt quite well to this handicap. As the affected dog's vision fails, the pupils become increasingly dilated, causing a "shine" to his eyes. The lens of the eyes may also become cloudy, or opaque, resulting in a cataract. It should be noted that while some breeds are affected early in life, others can develop PRA much later.

For further information, see:

Corneal Dystrophy
(Shelties & Collies)
Corneal Dystrophy is an inherited abnormality that affects one or more layers of the cornea. The different categories of Corneal Dystrophy are Epithelial/Stromal and Endothelial.  It can affect one or both eyes, although if both eyes are involved, it is not necessarily symmetrical.

Epithelial is strictly a surface abnormality and seldom causes any problems for the dog.  Stromal is in the second layer of the eye and can be more problematic.  Endothelial is more likely to cause chronic or recurring shallow ulcers. Although depending on the corneal layers affected this could happen with any category.  These tend to not be discovered until a dog has reached adulthood which is one of the reasons it is so important to do screenings other than just as a puppy.  The exact inheritance of this abnormality is unknown at this point.

(Shelties & Collies)
Canine Hypothyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed hormonal disease found in dogs. The term hypothyroidism simply means the underproduction of thyroxin, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is located on the trachea (wind pipe) of the dog, just below the voice box. It exerts its influence on the dog's body by producing and releasing thyroxin into the blood stream. This hormone, and thus, the thyroid gland itself, is very important in controlling growth and development and maintaining normal protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism of the dog.

Hypothyroidism usually occurs between the ages of two to six years. The most common sign is an increase in body weight. Lethargy and some form of skin disease (i.e., thin coat, loss of hair, dandruff, oily skin, increased scratching) are also common signs of Hypothyroidism.  These dogs also tend to have decreased fertility which in a breeding program can be our first indication of a problem.  Once tested, these dogs are taken out of the breeding program and placed in good pet homes.

Depending on the severity of the problem, the treatment is through thyroid hormone supplementation given orally once or twice a day. Usually thyroid supplementation improves the clinical signs associated with the disease within four to six weeks. All the clinical signs of hypothyroidism are reversible, once treatment is started.

Dermatomyositis (DM)
(Shelties & Collies)
DM (dermatomyositis) is a devastating genetic disease of the skin and muscle, which afflicts Shetland Sheepdogs, Collies and their crosses. 

The skin lesions consist of hair loss with or without skin redness, scaling and crusting of the face, ears, legs/feet and tail tip. One or more of these areas of the body may be affected. In addition, some dogs may have muscular involvement. Sometimes this muscle involvement is so pronounced that it results in muscle atrophy (wasting). Other cases may suffer from megaesophagus (enlarged food tube) with the end result of aspiration pneumonia. In milder cases the dogs may just appear to be sloppy eaters or have a strange high stepping gait. Shetland Sheepdogs are fortunate because the muscle involvement is relatively rare. Stress, such as that associated with the hormone fluctuations of heat cycle, will make the symptoms of DM worsen. Intact females appear to be more subject to hormone related stresses than intact males. Stress of travel, moving or family upsets may also make symptoms worse. The only way to diagnose DM is with a biopsy.

There is research under way to find out the method of inheritance and a way to diagnose via DNA, as well as ways to treat those who are affected.  Unfortunately, a dog can be affected but show no sign of the disease, this is what makes it so difficult to remove DM from the breed.  Once a dog is shown to have symptoms and is diagnosed via biopsy, it should be immediately removed from the breeding population.

For more information go to: The Texas A&M Dermatomyositis Website

(Shelties & Collies)
This is a group of conditions in which there is a deficiency of the hormone insulin or an insensitivity to it. A diabetic animal has insufficient insulin to stop glucose production by the liver or to efficiently store excess glucose derived from energy giving foods. Therefore, the blood concentration of glucose rises and eventually exceeds a level beyond which the kidneys can dispose of it into the urine. This causes larger than normal volumes of urine to be produced. The excessive loss of water in urine causes increased water consumption.

The main symptoms of a dog affected by Diabetes Mellitus are: Excessive urination, Excessive water consumption, and Weight loss. Other symptoms may include: cataracts, increased appetite, exercise intolerance and recurrent infections. 

The normal treatment is insulin by injection. Unfortunately, oral hypoglycemics are not useful in the treatment of dogs with Diabetes Mellitus.

For more information go to: Canine Diabetes Website
(Shelties & Collies)
Canine Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are the result of muscle responses to an abnormal nerve-signal burst from the brain. The cause can be anything that disrupts normal brain circuitry:

Idiopathic Epilepsy, meaning "no known cause", also referred to as Primary Epilepsy, is possibly inherited. Secondary Epilepsy can be caused by: Low blood sugar, low thyroid function, infections causing brain damage, ingestion of toxins, brain tumors, and vaccinations.

Most dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy suffer their first seizure between the ages of one and five years. A genetic basis for Idiopathic Epilepsy is strongly suspected in several breeds.  For this reason, any dog who has an idiopathic seizure should be removed from any breeding programs. There are families of shelties and collies that are known to have incidence of this type of epilepsy.

For more information visit The Epi Guardian Angels

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