Southridge Working Border Collies

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Health Issues in the Border Collie

Welcome to our section on health issues in the border collie.  

When I first started out in Border Collies and started investigating these issues I was needless to say “blinded” by the science of it all, even now looking at them I am still rather blinded by it so I have undertaken to explain it in simple terms that all can understand and save you the bother of being blinded also!

I must STRESS at this point that testing is the simple part and not at all where it stops in producing a healthy pedigree dog.  Line history cannot have enough emphasis placed on it.  For all the testing in the world if you have no line history pertaining to heritable diseases then you are breeding from a wildcard.

While this may all appear quite dire, the Border Collie on the whole is a very healthy and robust breed next to many and many of the untestable diseases can afflict most any breed of dog.

The are two sections to discuss.  The first being testable disease traits and the second currently untestable disease traits.

Section 1 - Testable Genetic Disease Traits

  • CEA/CH – Collie Eye Anomaly or Choroidal Hypoplasia
  • CL - Ceroid Lipofuscinosis
  • TNS – Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome
  • IVM - Ivermectin Sensitivity (MDR1)
  • DM - Degenerative Myolopathy
  • CMDD - Cobalamin Malabsorption Dublin Deficiency or IGS - Imersland-Grasbeck Syndrome
  • PLL - Primary  Lens Luxation

These conditions are autosomal recessive meaning that at least both sire and dam must carry one copy of the defect gene to produce affected progeny; hence there are three status of each condition:

Clear/Normal – (genotype N/N), this means that the dog does not carry the defect gene therefore can never be affected by, carry or pass on to its offspring.  This dog can effectively be mated to any other dog.

Carrier – (genotype N/n), this means that the dog carries just one copy of the recessive defect gene not the two required for affected.  This dog will never be affected by the disease but carries it so can pass the defect gene on to its offspring.  This dog should only ever be mated with a clear/normal dog and they must be kept in the genepool to aid genetic diversity in the breeds.

Affected – (genotype n/n), this means that the dog carries two copies of the recessive defect gene.  This gene will ALWAYS be passed onto the offspring.  This dog should never be mated.

CEA/CH - Collie Eye Anomaly 

CEA (also known as Choroidal Hypoplasia (CH)) is a recessively inherited disorder affecting the development of the retina, optic nerve and choroids all related to the eyes and vision. CEA is a genetic disease that cannot be cured and can exhibit itself in varying degrees, mild where vision may be not obviously impaired, to severe resulting in retinal detachment and total loss of vision.

CL or NCL - Ceroid Lipofuscinosis 

Ceroid Lipofuscinosis is one of a group of diseases known as “Metabolic Storage Diseases” and is also known to affect humans but known as Batten’s Disease.

CL is best described as an accumulation of ceroid lipofuscin, a waxlike lipid waste product created by cell metabolism.  In a normal body enzymes remove this type of waste matter but in the case of CL the enzyme responsible for removal is not present.

Affected animals will appear normal at birth and in most cases do not exhibit symptoms until approximately 18 months of age.  During this period of time the waxlike waste matter builds up in the cells spread through the body tissues.  The brain has little capacity for storing waste products and it is generally accepted that by this age the waste buildup in this area will have begun compressing and destroying any healthy brain tissue.

This is when symptoms would generally start to appear:

  • Fear or apprehension of familiar objects, noises and general setting.
  • Inability to concentrate, settle and may appear as if the dog has suffered loss of sight.
  • Unsteady on feet, dropping balls/toys etc, difficulty with everyday movement like jumping,                            climbing and foot placement.
  • Later stages include a change in temperament which may appear as hyperactivity, aggression/rage,           manic over normal situations and dementia.

Animals affected with CL are not expected to live to much more than 3 years of age.

TNS - Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome

TNS is a more interesting condition and perhaps less understood and described than CEA or CL.  In a lot of the reading material available there seems to be a lot of blame attributed to New Zealand and Australian bloodlines for this condition yet the distribution throughout the European countries appears to be of epic proportions in comparison to New Zealand or Australia.

TNS is a hereditary disease where the bone marrow produces neutrophils (white cells) but struggles to effectively release them into the bloodstream.  Affected puppies have compromised immunity to infection and will eventually lose the battle and die.  Symptoms can vary with lameness, chronic diarrhea, fevers and loss of appetite.  Persistent bone and gastrointestinal infections are common with this disease. 


MDR1 - Ivermectin Sensitivity

IVM is a state of hypersensitivity to Ivermectin.  For many of us when we think of Ivermectin we think of cows, however Ivermectin is used in a number of different veterinary products that we use on our pets daily.  Where a dog is affected for MDR1 it will be unable to remove the drug and any toxins from around the brain and surrounding tissue.  As a result the toxins build up within the surrounding tissue and can cause severe neurological issues.  It is important to note at this point that no pedigree border collie has ever been tested as a carrier of this disease which affects many collie breeds.

DM - Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy is a disease of the spinal cord that is degenerative and more often seen in older dogs from 8 years old onwards.  It is typified by a noticeable change in the dogs hind where it may experience wobbles, ataxia, dragging and knuckling of the feet as the dog moves as the brain and limbs fail to communicate in a timely manner.  As this disease is progressive it may start slowly but is estimated to reach paraplegia within 6 - 12 months of onset.

CMDD - Cobalamin Malabsorption Dublin Deficiency or IGS - Imersland Grasbeck Syndrome

This is a poorly documented condition but in plain terms it correlates to Vitamin B12 deficiency and the failure of the B12 to be absorbed within the intestine.  The symptoms vary but are generally anorexia, lethargy and failure to gain weight.  Cobalamin Deficiency generally affects the border collie from 4 months onwards.

PLL - Primary Lens Luxation

PLL is another eye condition to add to the group.  This condition is characterised by weakened zonular fibres within the eye which eventually allow the lens to luxate.  The zonular fibres are responsible for holding the lens in place in the eye.  This is a severely painful and debilitating condition for a dog.  Dependent on where the lens luxates to this can cause permanent blindness.

A breeding matrix for autosomal recessive disease traits.
Section 2 - No current or reliable testing available

This is to me the most fascinating part of the health in this breed because this is where the research and investment into what you are breeding happens.  There are a number of conditions that afflict the border collie that are genetic but untestable, thought to be inherited with no conclusive science or simply may appear.  Nobody can give a 100% guarantee on any of these conditions which poses a risk to both breeder and owner but one that can be minimal with good research into lines.

So often we hear oh, but the dogs in the pedigree are fine, but this research goes to the next level.  Every dog within a pedigree has siblings and those siblings may be where that random epilepsy or autoimmune disease etc may have appeared in a line.  This is the part breeders can spend an absolute eternity on and never get a complete picture, however you better to say you did your best than to say that you didn't bother looking.

In this section we will cover a brief outline of the following:

  • Epilepsy
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Discoid Lupus
  • Systemic Lupus
  • Addisons Disease
  • OCD - Osteochondritis Dissecans
  • HD - Hip Dysplasia (I know right, you thought this one was cut and dry)
  • Cruciate Disease
  • Border Collie Collapse


Epilepsy is very common in the border collie and no breeder for all the research in the world can conclusively 100% guarantee a dog will not develop this condition.  Canine Epilepsy comes in two different forms - Idiopathic where a single seizure may occur with an unknown reason and never occur again e.g. a dog who has consumed poison may have an idiopathic seizure or such conditions as a brain tumor.  Generalised epilepsy is where the dog will have recurring seizures throughout its life span.  It is the second that is known to have genetic baring and is a neurological condition.  This is an interesting one as there is no marker to predict where or when an epileptic will show up in a line however, it is considered that an epileptic dog will breed some epileptic puppies.

Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease is a term used broadly to describe a group of diseases  such conditions as Pemphigus which is a group of autoimmune diseases affecting the skin with crusting, ulceration, cysts and lesions.  The body creates antibodies that react to healthy tissue and cells as though they are pathogenic (diseased).  This condition appears to have hereditary predisposition but could also be from prolonged sun exposure.

 Pemphigus has 4 different types:

  • Foliaceus - affects the head, ears, footpads and body, characterised by swollen lymph nodes.
  • Erythmatosus - similar to Foliaceus but confined to head, ears and footpads.
  • Vulagris - affects the gums, lips and skin particularly underarm and groin but with very deep                        ulceration and anorexia.
  • Vegetans - pustule groups, non generalised join to form larger pustule groups.

Discoid Lupus

Discoid Lupus is also a disease of the autoimmune group affecting the basal cell layer of the skin.  This will most often be seen as discolouring, scaling and scabbing of the nose leather.  You may hear it referred to as Collie Nose, this depicts how common it is.  It is unknown what the relationship is between Discoid and Systemic Lupus however it is considered Discoid may be a mild form of Systemic Lupus that does not progress from a mild state.

Systemic Lupus

Systemic Lupus is known to be a genetic condition which causes the confusion between Discoid and Systemic Lupus.  It is immune mediated and is a condition whereby the body loses self tolerance of autoantigens and launches an attack on the tissue.  This disease is multifactorial, involving genetics, immunological disorder, viral infection and hormonal and ultraviolet light modulation.  SLE has a prognosis of 40% mortality within 1 year and is a very painful condition for the dog.  While you may find readings that say this disease is uncommon it has become quite prominent in the breed throughout Australasia in recent years.

Addisons Disease

Addisons is another disease becoming prominent in the breed.  It is adrenal gland based and involves mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids.  Addisons appears when there is increased or decreased production of either of these hormones.  There are 3 main causes of this condition, Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) deficiency, metastatic tumors,  long term glucocorticoid withdrawal.  The symptoms of Addisons are extremely generalised and make the condition extremely hard to diagnose, however the prognosis is brighter than SLE.

OCD - Osteochondritis Dissecans

OCD  is thought to be a developmental disease caused by an interruption in the blood supply to the bone during critical growth phases between 6-9 months old.   The end result is abnormally thick regions of cartilage that are less resistant to mechanical stress, as opposed to the stronger and denser bone.   OCD is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the diseased cartilage separates from the underlying bone. It most commonly affects the shoulder joint but the elbow, hip, or knee (stifle) may also be involved.  OCD can be simply diagnosed but no diagnosis is available for pre-cursor.

HD - Hip Dysplasia

You may wonder why I have included Hip dysplasia in this section.  One simple answer, it is an interesting condition for which you will find varying and quite adamant opinion, however, I am not going to give you my opinion, just science from both sides.

For 60+ years science has tried to prove polygenic mode of inheritance and the science is quite compelling and makes quite a good argument that it is a multi gene condition.  Hence hip scoring evolved whereby each hip was graded tight to loose so to speak.  In later years laxity has been used to measure the health of the hip with an interesting scale that requires quite some determination to decipher.  All in all whichever method, it tells you where the ball sits within the socket from tight to dysplastic.  The conundrum being that it has not significantly if at all lowered the incidence of hip dysplasia.

Here in lies the interesting science that is developing in recent studies that is setting it free as the biggest argument of the 21st century.

In numerous studies over the past 10 years it has shown that there is little higher probability of producing hip dysplasia from two dogs with poor hip scores than from two dogs with excellent hip scores.  An indication that we may have been too quick to look to genetics and should perhaps be looking out to structure, angulation, diet and environment.  There is interesting information out there now regarding the impact of early spay/neuter on the bones and some fascinating studies showing a correlation between this and early onset HD and bone disease.

With both sides of that argument you can see the conundrum for both the breeder and the owner.  On one hand hip scoring tells you alot about the individual dog but on the other hand both sides of the science give no guarantee a dog will not develop it anyway.

Frequently you will see dogs who are high in the back end, splayed in the rear, knock kneed, cow hocked , constantly standing under themselves, over reaching/under reaching in the stride develop HD, this could be a coincidence or it could be a structural indicator, I guess we will have to wait a few more years to find out!

It pays to keep away from these arguments in general as there are pro-activists on both sides of the token!!  Just be wary of anyone claiming that their pups WON'T get HD because the parents are hip scored.

Cruciate Disease

The majority of dogs with Cruciate Disease will rupture the cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL) usually as a result of long-term degeneration.  This is due to the fibres within the ligament weakening over time. The precise cause is not known but genetic factors are possibly at play. Studies have been conducted using family lines to determine genetic causes and it was determined that those who ruptured did relatively early in life and a number of those did both.  Other factors considered to increase the chances of a cruciate injury include obesity, early spay/neuter, individual conformation (too straight/too turned in the stifle), hormonal imbalance and certain inflammatory conditions of the joint could cause the issue.  Like HD cruciate disease has arguments on both sides but is once again something that should be considered in line history.

Border Collie Collapse

BCC is classed as an episodic disorder of the nervous system whereby strenuous exercise induces collapse in the dog.  Dogs with BCC generally appear normal most of the time, at rest or just moving around the house.  BCC is known to strike within 10-15 minutes of strenous exercise.  An episode may include any of the following - disorientation,  loss of focus, swaying, staggering and falling to the side, exaggerated lifting of each limb while walking and a choppy gait, scuffing of the rear and/or forelegs, and crossing of the legs when turning.  The dog can be affected for up to an hour after the episode but will make full recovery in that time with no obvious impairment.