DO AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERDS HAVE A LOT OF HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Before adopting a dog, you need to know about any health issues it may face. Some breeds are more prone to disease than others. Due to their popularity, Australian Shepherds are unfortunately subject to a fair amount of health issues.
Common Health Problems for Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are generally fairly robust and healthy. This is largely due to their love of the outdoors, where they like to spend as much time as possible. However, due to their breed and size, they are unfortunately prone to certain diseases.
Australian Shepherds are more prone to deafness and blindness than other breeds, due to the presence of the merle allele, which is responsible for the breed's merle colour. Dogs with blue eyes are also believed to carry a gene linked to hearing loss. To avoid creating these two major problems in an Australian Shepherd puppy, it is strongly recommended not to breed two merle dogs and/or two dogs with blue eyes. Choose your breeder carefully and ask to see the parents if possible.
Because of their fragile joints, Australian Shepherds are also affected by hip and elbow dysplasia. This fairly common disease is caused by a deformation of the joints during growth. Dysplasia is a genetic disease, which is exacerbated by certain external factors, including canine obesity and intense physical exercise. It usually affects both sides of the body. As a result, your Australian Shepherd may suffer from lameness or a lack of coordination. They might even have trouble standing up and lying down and, ultimately, dysplasia can lead to paralysis. It is therefore important to prevent your pooch from climbing stairs or exercising too much.
Fortunately, these days, there are many pharmacological and surgical treatments available to give your dog some relief!
Australian Shepherds also exhibit drug sensitivity caused by a genetic mutation, known as multi-drug resistance mutation (MDR1). The MDR1 gene is the result of a genetic mutation carried by some Australian Shepherds. In this case, certain medications become very toxic or even fatal for your dog, including antiparasitics, anti-diarrhoea medicine, or even anaesthetic. Sadly, this gene is commonly found in sheepdogs in general. As such, it's very important to screen your dog. Without doing so, you risk exposing your Australian Shepherd to serious health consequences after taking certain medications.
Canine Hereditary Eye Diseases
Australian Shepherds are affected by a hereditary eye disease called Collie eye anomaly (CEA). The clinical signs of this may vary, which can sometimes make it difficult to detect. The consequences are also very varied: from a simple loss of visual acuity to complete blindness. DNA testing is possible to prevent the reproduction of carrier animals, but to date, there is no treatment once the disease is declared.
Australian Shepherds are also subject to juvenile cataracts. This involves a thickening of the lens of the eye, which is accompanied by decreased vision, or even blindness. Cataracts are treated surgically.
This breed is also prone to progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which is characterised by degeneration of the retina. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. While not particularly painful, it will nevertheless require certain adaptations in your daily life. It's important to get your Aussie screened annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist to prevent the onset of these eye diseases. If detected in time, treatment or even surgery could delay the development of such diseases.
Another common health problem for Australian Shepherds is epilepsy. This is usually due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain, the cause of which remains unknown. Epilepsy manifests as seizures that are often very traumatic and can last up to several minutes. Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for these types of epileptic seizures, known as primary epilepsy or idiopathic epilepsy, since the cause is unidentified. It is possible to mitigate these attacks with the help of treatment.
Unfortunately, Australian Shepherds are not immune to cancer. The most common cancers for this breed are lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma. Lymphoma is a malignant tumour that affects the lymphatic system, which is responsible for the body's immune system. This is a very aggressive cancer, which responds poorly to treatment. As such, the life expectancy of dogs affected by lymphoma is sadly very short.
Hemangiosarcoma is a tumour that grows from vascular cells on the heart, spleen, and liver. It is also sometimes found in the skin, bones, nervous system, or even the bladder. The recommended treatment for hemangiosarcoma chemotherapy and/or surgery. Unfortunately, the prognosis is often poor, as the tumour quickly metastasises to other areas of the body.
Australian Shepherds are sometimes affected by autoimmune diseases, such as hypothyroidism and demodectic mange. Hypothyroidism is a fairly common endocrine disease involving a decrease in the production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland. It is often associated with unexpected weight gain. Treatment is based on the injection of synthetic hormones.
Demodectic mange, on the other hand, is a skin disease caused by microscopic spider-like mites which burrow beneath your dog's skin to lay their eggs. Demodectic mange - or red mange - causes hair loss and lesions mainly around the eyes, nose, and paws. If your dog has a localised case of demodectic mange, it may resolve on its own (in 80% of cases). Otherwise, an acaricide treatment in the form of a cream or shampoo may be prescribed by your vet.
How to Take Care of Your Australian Shepherd
It's important to look after your dog's health to ensure them a good quality of life. In addition to basic care (quality food, regular outings, etc.), make sure to schedule regular veterinary check-ups (at least once a year) to check their general health and get any necessary booster vaccines.
As with all dogs, you must be sure to regularly check your Australian Shepherd's ears and fur. This is a dog who spends a lot of time outside, which can affect their health if you’re not careful. It's important to protect your dog from external parasites, such as ticks and fleas, which can transmit serious diseases such as piroplasmosis or canine leishmaniasis. To keep your Australian Shepherd in good health, make sure all their vaccinations are up to date and get them dewormed every 6 months or so. If your dog suffers from drug sensitivity, be careful when selecting anti-flea treatment as some products can cause potentially fatal reactions.
To best protect your pooch, consider taking out pet insurance for your Australian Shepherd. This will give you more peace of mind navigating life with your furry friend.
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