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Common Australian Shepherd Health Issues

By Mawoo Pets · 8 Mar · 10 mins read
Common Australian Shepherd Health Issues

Welcome to this comprehensive guide on the common health issues that Australian Shepherds may experience. Australian Shepherds are active family dogs, known for their keen intelligence and high energy levels. However, like all breeds, they may be predisposed to certain health problems, both genetic and non-genetic. 

Our aim in this article is to equip you with the knowledge to recognize early warning signs and implement preventative care. From genetic conditions like hip dysplasia and hereditary eye disorders to more general health concerns like obesity or dental disease, we've got you covered. 

Genetic & Hereditary Conditions in Australian Shepherds

Understanding the common genetic and hereditary conditions in Australian Shepherds can equip owners with the knowledge to ensure their canine companion's optimal health.

Multidrug Resistance Gene (MDR1) 

Australian Shepherds can have issues with certain types of drugs. They can possess a faulty gene known as Multidrug Resistance 1 (MDR1). This unique genetic anomaly makes them susceptible to adverse reactions from some common medications, including certain antiparasitic agents, pain medications, and chemotherapy drugs. Understanding this genetic predisposition and promptly discussing it with your veterinarian could mean the difference between life and death for your beloved pet. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy, commonly referred to as PRA, is another genetically-inherited disease you might find in Australian Shepherds. This disease impairs the photoreceptor cells in the eyes, gradually leading to cataracts and blindness. This can happen regardless of your Aussie's eye color.

Seems scary, right? It is, but there's some good news – there's a genetic test available for this condition! This allows early detection and management to slow down the disease's progress. 

Hereditary Cataracts 

Australian Shepherds are at risk of hereditary cataracts, a genetic condition that clouds their vision. Hereditary Cataracts can occur at any age in Aussies, obstructing their vision partially or completely. With regular veterinary eye exams, the condition could be detected early and treated. Depending on the severity and the specific genetic mutation, surgery may even be a viable option for treatment. Nonetheless, prevention and early detection are critical. 

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia 

Have you ever seen a dog having difficulty getting up or struggling with a limp? In such cases, the culprit might be Hip or Elbow Dysplasia. These are common genetic disorders in Australian Shepherds, causing abnormal development of the joints. Early detection through radiographic screening is essential in catching these conditions early and managing them proactively. Hip dysplasia in Australian Shepherds can lead to arthritis or even lameness if not treated.

Lymphosarcoma (Cancer)

Finally, we come to Lymphosarcoma, a scary word that any dog owner would dread hearing. It's a type of cancer that Australian Shepherds are genetically predisposed to. However, as with any health issue, awareness is power! So, what are the warning signs to look out for? They include loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, and swelling in the lymph nodes. If you notice these symptoms in your Aussie, it's best to consult with a vet immediately. Remember, early detection is key in managing this disease.

Hemangiosarcoma (Cancer) 

Another genetic condition that often chalks up in the family tree of Australian Shepherds is Hemangiosarcoma. This aggressive cancer forms in the blood vessel cells, predominantly affecting the spleen, liver, and heart. Early signs can be elusive, but lethargy, loss of appetite, and sudden collapse can indicate the presence of this disease. Early detection is difficult given the vague symptoms, so regular veterinary health screenings are key to catch this silent enemy in its early stages.  

Non-Genetic Health Issues

Parasite Infestations 

Is your Aussie an outdoor enthusiast? If yes, then there's a chance she might be a host to a range of parasites - including fleas, ticks, ear mites, and worms. Unfortunately, these pests don't just cause itching and discomfort but can also spread diseases, making regular preventive medication crucial. 

Obesity  

Obesity is a common issue for Australian Shepherds, because these dogs often have a hearty appetite and will willingly participate in any snack sessions you allow. However, just like humans, too many treats can lead to an unhealthy weight gain which could later result in diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems. So what's the solution to this chubby challenge? Balancing their diet and exercise routines! (more on this below).  

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a perplexing neurological condition that leads to recurrent seizures. This condition can be either focal, affecting one part of the body, or generalised, throughout the body. While the cause of epilepsy in Aussies is unknown, it can sometimes be due to an underlying brain disorder or injury. Epileptic seizures usually begins with an unusual period of restlessness or fear, known as the pre-ictal phase. This is followed by a loss of consciousness and repetitive jerking movements. After the seizure, the dog may appear disoriented or fatigued. 

If your Aussie experiences a seizure, immediate veterinary attention is required. Although there's no cure for epilepsy, it can often be managed with medication, ensuring your dog can still lead a happy and active life. 

Dental Disease 

Oral health issues are another non-genetic problem that Australian Shepherds might face, including plaque and tartar buildup and bad breadth. Regular teeth brushing and professional cleanings can prevent these issues and keep your Aussie's smile healthy. Additionally, preventing tartar build-up mitigates the risk of further complications like tooth loss and mouth infections.  

Non-Hereditary Joint Dysplasia 

Joint dysplasia, while often thought as a genetic issue, can also be influenced by environmental factors such as diet and exercise. When inappropriate tension is repeatedly placed on a joint, the articular cartilage can break down, leading to dysplasia. Engaging your Aussie in regular, but not excessively strenuous, physical activities can be key in keeping their joints sound.

Elbow Hygroma 

Ever noticed a fluid-filled lump on your Aussie's elbow and wondered if it's a cause for concern? That's what's known as elbow hygroma, a common issue in larger dog breeds like the Australian Shepherd. Don't worry too much, though! With good home care, timely veterinary intervention, and perhaps an orthopedic dog bed, your Aussie should be back to his jolly self in no time. 

Skin Allergies and Infections 

A common sight with Australian Shepherds is the struggle with skin allergies and infections. Pruritus, redness, scratching, licking or even hair loss - Does any of these symptoms sound familiar? These could all be signs that your Aussie is dealing with a skin allergy or infection. Regular bathing, using hypoallergenic shampoos, and maintaining a balanced diet can help keep these conditions at bay. Remember, your Aussie's skin health relies on you, so be vigilant! 

Anxiety Disorders 

Did you know that your Australian Shepherd might be more prone to anxiety disorders than other breeds? Yes, that's right. These intelligent and energetic dogs can easily develop a range of anxiety-related issues if not properly stimulated physically and mentally. Signs of anxiety can range from destructive behavior to excessive barking or even self-harm, causing distress for both the dog and its owner. Early socialization, exposure to different environments, active engagement, and consistent training are essential to manage and reduce the risk of anxiety disorders. Can you make a difference? Absolutely! 

Thyroid Problems 

Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland, is a common non-genetic disorder encountered in Aussies. Symptoms include lethargy, weight gain, hair loss, and recurrent skin and ear infections. Timely diagnosis and treatment can help your Aussie live a balanced and energetic life.

Recognizing Early Signs of Aussie Health Issues

Changes in Behavior 

Changes in behavior can be significant indicators of underlying health issues. Aggression, destruction, pacing, restlessness, compulsive actions, drooling, and indoor accidents are all common symptoms of anxiety disorders in Australian Shepherds. But anxiety is just one possibility. Behavior can act as a mirror, reflecting a myriad of health concerns. Could your furry companion be dealing with something more ominous, like Multiple Drug Sensitivity or epilepsy? Staying observant keeps you ahead in the game of preventive care. 

Identifying Skin and Eye Issues 

A red, itchy, and inflamed skin, or recurring infections could be signs that your Aussie is grappling with skin issues. Don't dawdle in taking them to the vet if you notice these changes. In terms of eyes, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, cataracts, and other eye disorders are best detected through routine eye exams at least once a year with a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Detecting Parasite Infestations 

Your Aussie's constant scratching and licking could be due to more than just an annoying itch -- they can be sign of a parasite infection. These parasites are not confined to their fur; they could also be internal, causing diarrhea, weight loss, and a bloated belly. Regular check-ups and preventive medication can keep your Aussie healthy and parasite-free. 

Identifying Hip Dysplasia 

If you notice your Australian Shepherd struggling with what used to be a walk in the park, or a new bunny-hop-like gait, or discomfort while running and jumping ... These could be early signs of hip dysplasia. Other indicators include stiffness in the rear end, noticeable loss of muscle in the hind quarters, and an overall reduction in activity. Early detection makes all the difference in managing this condition. 

Spotting Dental Disease

Have you been attributing your Aussie's excessively bad breath to the dog chow? It might be time to think again. Persistent bad breath can be an early symptom of dental disease. Additional signs include discomfort while chewing, loss of appetite, irritated gums, and tartar buildup. Even more serious, dental disease can lead to heart and kidney issues if left untreated. Regular dental check-ups and a good oral hygiene routine can help keep your Australian Shepherd's smile healthy.

australian shepherd jumping to catch a frisbee in a park

Preventative Care for Your Aussie

Well-Balanced Diet and Exercise 

Loving your pet means feeding her the right food and keeping her active. Your Aussie's diet should be consistent, focusing on high-quality food that's age-appropriate. Giving her "people food" or overfeeding can quickly result in obesity.

Couple that good diet with regular exercise without overdoing it. Regular physical activity not only keeps your Aussie's weight in check but also keeps boredom and anxiety at bay and meets their need for mental and physical stimulation. 

Spay or Neuter your Australian Shepherd 

Did you know that you can prolong your Aussie's life by making a simple decision? Spaying or Neutering your Australian Shepherd is highly suggested to reduce the risk of certain cancers and prevent unexpected pregnancies. Importantly, it also provides an opportunity for early disease detection and treatment as an added layer of defense against health problems. 

Consistent Grooming & Dental Care 

Grooming isn't just about keeping your dog looking good. It's about maintaining their health, too. Regular brushing and bathing are essential for Australian Shepherd puppies to prevent skin irritations and infections. A simple brush through their coat once in a while keeps their fur in top shape. Keep in mind that overbathing can strip out the natural oils from their weather-resistant coat.

Cleaning out their ears weekly helps to prevent infections and for their dental care, Aussies do best when their teeth are brushed at least twice a week.

Responsible Breeding and Genetic Testing 

Choosing responsible breeding practices and performing genetic tests can significantly minimize health risks in Aussies. This assures you that the puppies are born from health-tested parents, thereby reducing their predisposition to inherit genetic disorders, and helping to promote the overall health of the breed. 

If you're in search of a reputable Aussie breeder, you can browse our available Aussie puppies and mini Aussie puppies from responsible, vetted breeders. 

Regular Health Checks 

Regular health checks form an integral part of preventive care. These check-ups allow for the early detection and treatment of diseases, along with assessing the general wellbeing of your pet. Also, given that Aussies can be quite the magnet for various parasites, including fleas, ticks, ear mites, and worms, regular testing and preventive medications are indispensable. 

Given the prevalence of eye problems in Aussies, it's recommended to take your Aussie to a veterinary ophthalmologist for routine eye exams at least once a year.  

merle australian shepherd running through meadows

Conclusion

As we wrap things up, let us revisit what makes the Australian Shepherd such an endearing and fascinating breed: their zeal for life. This spirit calls for diligent health management to stay nourished and strong.

Ultimately, preserving the health of these remarkable dogs relies on recognizing early warning signs, understanding genetic conditions, preventing non-genetic issues, and developing a regimented program of preventative care. With the right approach, we can ensure that our Australian Shepherds live their lives to the fullest- happy, well-adjusted, and perpetually ready for the next adventure!

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