What You Need to Know About Australian Shepherd Health

The Australian Shepherd is a friendly, active, and healthy dog breed, as long as they get the exercise they need! As with any breed, obesity can affect their health, but it can be easy to keep them moving to keep the pounds off.

This working-class breed is known for its skills in herding and being the ‘life of the party’. From herding livestock to children and even the rest of the family. This high-energy breed is always ready to corral a crowd, big or small. From service dog to frisbee champ, the Australian Shepherd is an active and intelligent breed, and happy – whether it’s time to work or play.

In recent years the breed has become increasingly popular, and more and more people have been happy to add this unique and gorgeous breed to their families. Able to play well with the older kids in the family and help keep everyone active with their intense energy. Their high energy can be a blessing and a curse. An inactive Australian Shepherd can become bored and even destructive when not exercised. This fun-loving breed requires a lot of exercise and needs to stay active; whether it’s playing fetch or taking a long walk every day, make sure to keep your Aussie moving!

While intelligent and hardworking, the Australian Shepherd can still be a goofy and loving family pet. If you are considering adding this handsome breed to your family, it is always important to know what illnesses are prevalent among the breed.

Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
drag bag for paralyzed dog
Walkin’ Drag Bag

Australian Shepherd Health Issues

Aussie Bone and Joint Issues

There is always a risk of muscle tears or aches with any super active herding dog, and Australian Shepherds are no exception. Still, this medium-sized breed is genetically more susceptible to Hip and Elbow Dysplasia than many other breeds. Not only are Aussies genetically prone to dysplasia, their high activity level and love of running and jumping place additional stress on their joints.

One of the most important things you can do is to have your dog examined for breed-specific conditions. If so, follow you vet’s recommendations on supplements to keep them moving without pain. How do you know if your Australian Shepherd has dysplasia? Both hip and elbow dysplasia have telltale signs, here’s what to look for:

Australian Shepherd Hip Dysplasia Signs

  • Noticeable loss of muscle in the hind end
  • “Bunny Hopping” or an odd gait 
  • Newly developed decrease inactivity
  • Stiffness in the rear end
  • Pain when hips are touched 
  • Difficulty managing an everyday activity such as climbing stairs, running, or jumping

Elbow Dysplasia Symptoms in Australian Shepherds

Australian Shepherd Mobility
  • Limping in front legs or change in gait
  • Issues getting up or standing up 
  • Noticeably in pain when extending the elbow or flexing the front leg
  • Front paws are turned out or angled outwards
  • A swollen or puffy elbow joint
  • Noticeable joint stiffness in front leg joints after exercise
  • Elbows positioned at a strange or unusual angle

If you notice a combination of these symptoms for either your dog’s rear end or front end, we recommend speaking with your vet so they can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, without surgery, dysplasia is irreversible. However, there are still many things that you can do to improve an Aussie’s quality of life after diagnosis.

In extreme cases, where surgery is or isn’t an option, a dog wheelchair will support your dog without having pressure on the elbows or hips. For less extreme cases, exercise, support braces, joint supplements, and pain medication are great ways your vet can advise to help keep your dog happy and active.

Vision Loss and Eye Problems in Australian Shepherds

Many Australian Shepherds develop severe eye problems like Cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Distichiasis, and Pannus.

Cataracts

The genetic mutation for cataracts in the Australian Shepherd is one of the most commonly inherited conditions that impact the breed. It’s possible for an Aussie as young as 2 years old to show signs of cataracts. How quickly the cataract forms depends on the type of genetic mutation impacting your Aussie. These conditions are usually not painful, and cataracts are treatable with surgery.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is an eye condition that worsens over time and typically impacts mature Australian Shepherds. PRA gets progressively worse, but usually starts with signs of night blindness before progressing to complete vision loss. Most dogs will experience PRA in both eyes. There is no known cure for Progressive Retinal Atrophy.

Pannus

A less common eye condition in the breed is Pannus. Pannus can cause blindness and can be uncomfortable. The disease affects the cornea, so there is usually a change in pigmentation where a cloudiness develops and may contain visible blood vessels. This change usually begins at the outside of the cornea, moving inward. These changes will most often be noticeable at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions of your dogs eye. Look for a reddening, thickening, and pigment loss of the third eyelid. l. Luckily, there are treatment options available if caught early.

Distichiasis

Unlike the first three issues common to the breed, Distichiasis is a painful condition that leads to hairs or eyelashes growing in places they shouldn’t. It’s relatively common for an Australian Shepherd with Distichiasis to have eyelashes grow towards their eyes, which can be extremely painful and even lead to eye damage.

In extreme cases of Distichiasis, a dog can develop corneal ulcers. A corneal ulcer is often an indication of an eye infection and needs immediate treatment to avoid permanent eye damage. Your veterinarian will assess your Aussie’s eye and discuss treatment options. Treatments can include surgery (non-invasive) and non-surgical options; your veterinarian will help you determine the best choice. 

What is a Lethal White Australian Shepherd?

Australian Shepherds are known for their incredible coloring and stunning markings, but did you know that a white coat indicates a greater risk of hearing loss and vision problems? A double merle or a”lethal white” Australian Shepherd is a by-product of breeding two merle Australian Shepherds. When two merles are bred, there is a 25% chance that a puppy will be a double merle. Along with the increased health issues, visually a double merle’s coat will be predominately white. This term is a bit of a misnomer; it does not describe a fatal condition or a shortened lifespan, just a genetic risk for an Australian Shepherd to be born deaf, without sight, or both.

Responsible breeding practices and proper genetic testing is key to breeding the Australian Shepherd. It’s important to note that not all white Australian Shepherds have vision or hearing problems. And although they may require specialized care and training, these dogs that do can live a long and happy life.

Conclusion

An Australian Shepherd makes a wonderful family pet and thankfully the Australian Shepherd is overall a very healthy breed. Don’t let the potential for a health problem steer you away from adopting an Australian Shepherd. Any of these health issues are easily managed and should not impact their quality of life. Knowing their potential health risks is essential when deciding if the Australian Shepherd is the right breed for you and your family. This active breed needs to fit into your lifestyle. So if you are looking for a handsome, energetic, and friendly dog to go for a run with, compete in agility crosses, or help you run the farm, the Australian Shepherd may be the perfect addition to your family!

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