Border Collie Health
WARNING: If your Border Collie has Multidrug Resistance, he could have a serious reaction to common drugs including substances commonly used to treat worms/parasites (Ivermectin), diarrhea (Imodium) and even cancer. There is a genetic test that will tell you if your border collie carries this gene. Read more about Multidrug Resistance in the Drug Sensitivity area below.
Border collies are known for their incredible athleticism and vigor, often living well into their teens. But like any breed, the selective breeding that has contributed to their strengths also predisposes them to some diseases, injuries, and behavioral issues.
Most border collies and BC mixes will go their entire lives without any of these, but here are some issues that have been linked to the breed, and some recommendations and resources for preventing and dealing with them if they do occur.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Not to be confused with osteochondritis dissecans (also known as OCD). Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a fixation that can take many forms from spinning and fence-running to non-stop barking and relentless ball fetching. Partly genetic, partly environmental, and partly a result of a BC’s general need for mental stimulation.
More About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
Sound Sensitivity (Phobia): Many herding dogs are sensitive to loud noises and may spook and bolt when something loud startles them. Thunderstorms, in particular, can be a nightmare for sensitive herding dogs. Many of our group have had good luck using Thundershirts which seem to soothe and comfort dogs with phobias. There are other providers of anxiety vests but this was one of the first, and we provide the link for informational purposes only.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PREVENT BEHAVIORAL ISSUES: Don’t play with a laser pointer. Make sure your dog gets adequate exercise and mental stimulation. Make sure your dog is contained safely when there is a risk of fireworks, thunderstorms, or other auditory events. Try using an anxiety vest if your dog is stressed.
Elbow Dysplasia: Not considered a significant breed issue at this point. This is a grouping of three elbow issues that are degenerative. More common in larger breeds.
More about Elbow Dysplasia:
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Not to be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is a skeletal/structural issue caused by a malfunction in the growth of cartilage on the bone. It most often occurs in dogs under a year of age.
More About Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD):
Sports Injuries including Torn ACLs (anterior cruciate ligament tears): While athletic injuries can occur in many breeds, the widespread use of border collies in sports means that many of them end up on the injured list at some point in their lives.
More About Sports and Orthopedic Injuries:
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PREVENT STRUCTURAL ISSUES: Be careful to not overdo it with young dogs whose joints haven’t fully closed. This includes climbing, running, jumping, sudden acceleration/braking, ball chasing, any sport with sharp turns, etc. Consult your vet about your puppy’s diet—high intake of calcium and protein (especially from 4-9 months of age) have been implicated in OCD. Give dogs a chance to mature and to warm up before participating in dog sports.
Epilepsy: There are different types of epilepsy with different causes, but the idiopathic kind (with no specific cause) is often inherited and common in border collies. Some dogs only have one seizure in their lives and then they disappear. Other dogs may have them frequently. Some are severe and some are so mild you may not notice more than a slight glazed expression that then passes.
If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally. Note the length of the seizure, and call an emergency hospital.
If you have other dogs, keep them away from the seizing animal. It’s not uncommon for even the sweetest and gentlest of dogs to attack a seizing animal out of instinct.
More About Seizures and Why Other Dogs May Attack Them:
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL): Caused by a double dose of a recessive gene, NCL affects a dog’s ability to produce an enzyme needed to remove waste from cells in the nervous system. It can cause behavioral and motor issues. Unfortunately it has a poor prognosis, but it’s rare. The dog needs to inherit the recessive gene from both parents to be affected.
More about NCL:
Border Collie Collapse (BCC): This episodic nervous system disorder is triggered by strenuous exercise. This disorder has also been called exercise induced collapse (EIC), exercise induced hyperthermia, stress seizures and "the wobbles."
More about Border Collie Collapse:
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PREVENT NEUROLOGICAL ISSUES: Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep epileptic seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. Fortunately, the meds can be quite effective and dogs can live a very normal life. Keep other dogs away from a dog that is having seizures.
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA): This inherited condition causes a lack of blood flow to the retina resulting in progressive vision loss. It’s less common in border collies (2-3%) than in rough or smooth (standard) collies, but it appears in many herding breeds.
More about CEA:
Focal/Multifocal Acquired Retinopathy (FMAR): The result of lesions on the retina. There is no known cause at this time. Much more common in males than females.
More About FMAR:
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PREVENT VISION ISSUES: Mostly just something to be aware of so you can keep your dog safe, although if your dog is diagnosed with CEA as a puppy sometimes retinal detachment can be prevented. Many border collies are very, very good at compensating for the loss of senses like sight and hearing, so it’s often not that much of an issue for them and it may be some time before you discover they have issues.
Early Adult Onset Deafness (EAOD): Research is underway to try to identify the specific genetic cause of this form of deafness.
More About EAOD:
Double Merle: Merle coats, blue eyes and white heads are all risk factors for a somewhat higher incidence of deafness. And when two merle dogs are bred to each other, the incidence of both vision problems and deafness greatly increases. This is much more likely to show up in Australian Shepherds, but it’s possible for purebred or mixed-breed border collies to carry merle genes.
More About Double Merle Deafness:
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PREVENT DEAFNESS ISSUES: Again, just something to be aware of. Border collies are very intelligent and have a wide range of very keen senses, so they can often compensate for hearing deficits. They are also very quick to learn alternative ways of communicating with you. Flickering a porch light, thumping on a wooden deck, and sign language hand signals are just a few of the ways to deal with aging or genetically caused deafness.
There are rescues that specifically handle deaf dogs, and there are Facebook pages that help owners learn how to live with deaf dogs. If you’re having trouble finding resources let us know and we can help.
Multidrug Resistance: Multidrug resistance is a genetic defect in a gene called MDR1. If your Border Collie has this mutation, it can affect his processing of many drugs, including substances commonly used to treat parasites, diarrhea and even cancer. This can be serious and even life-threatening.
More About Multidrug Resistance:
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PREVENT ISSUES FROM DRUG SENSITIVITY: For years veterinarians simply avoided using ivermectin in herding breeds, but now there is a DNA test that can specifically identify dogs who are at risk for side effects from certain medications. Testing your dog early in life can prevent drug-related toxicity.
Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS): This recessive genetic defect in a dog’s ability to produce white blood cells occurs in about 7-8% of border collies worldwide. It usually is apparent in puppies although some dogs with mild impairment aren’t diagnosed until later.
More About TNS:
FURTHER READING ABOUT BORDER COLLIE HEALTH ISSUES
WHERE TO TEST YOUR DOG FOR GENETIC ISSUES
Vet Schools that Offer Genetic Testing for Border Collies:
https://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/TNSBorderCollie.php (for IGS and TNS)
https://vcpl.vetmed.wsu.edu/ (for multidrug sensitivity)
There are also commercial DNA testing facilities that will test for various genes or genetic markers.