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11 Most Common Australian Shepherd Health Issues: Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQs

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

australian shepherd dog lying on the couch

Vet approved

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

In-House Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Australian Shepherds are beautiful medium-sized bundles of energy and love. They are also quite popular and are currently listed as the 12th most popular dog by the AKC (out of 200 breeds)!

You may have been thinking about bringing one of these dogs home as a new member of your family but had concerns about Australian Shepherd health issues. It’s always an excellent idea to research a breed before taking the plunge and getting one.

You need to be sure the temperament will be a good fit for you and your family, but it’s also important to understand the hereditary health issues for Aussies.

Here, we go over the common health conditions of the Australian Shepherd, but you should know that Aussies are a fairly healthy breed overall! Of course, the health issues we discussed are just some of the more common ones.

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The 4 Common Eye Issues

Unfortunately, Australian Shepherds are quite prone to problems with their eyes, with cataracts being a common issue.

australian shepherd face side view
Image By: Couleur, Pixabay

1. Cataracts

Cataracts can affect dogs of any age. In puppies and young dogs, they are classed as congenital or juvenile. In adult and older dogs, they tend to mostly be associated with diabetes, although uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye called uvea), trauma to the eye, old age, and other less common causes are possible. The eye starts to take on a cloudy appearance, and it can lead to a partial loss of sight or blindness. Cataracts can be painful depending on the underlying condition. If they occur gradually, it gives the dog the chance to adapt to the vision loss. Surgery is an option.

With hereditary cataracts (which is the most common kind for Aussies), they do tend to occur in both eyes, but not necessarily at the same time.

2. Collie Eye Disorder

This condition is also known as Collie eye anomaly, which is commonly seen in Collies and Australian Shepherds. It is a mutation that, in some cases, can lead to retinal detachment and eventual blindness. Surgery might help stop the condition from progressing but can’t reverse the damage.

Coloboma is a condition linked to Collie eye defect in which there is a hole in the lens, retina, choroid, optic disc, or iris. This condition needs to be carefully monitored by your vet.

3. Distichiasis

Distichiasis is an eyelash disorder that occurs when eyelash hairs grow inside the eyelid, which then rub against the surface of the eye. Your dog may also be rubbing at their eye with a paw, and the eye might be watery and red.

Distichiasis can cause pain and discomfort and usually requires surgery, as plucking the hairs is just a temporary measure. The eyelashes will just grow back in the same place.

4. Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is the degeneration of the image-forming part of the eye, which leads to blindness. The condition is not painful but it also can’t be cured. Some of the indications that a dog might have PRA is night blindness and dilated pupils, and it might start when the dog is 3–9 years old, or in puppies from 8-12 weeks of age.

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The 2 Common Joint and Bone Issues

There are also several issues with bones and joints that Australian Shepherds can develop. Many of these are quite common among purebred dogs.

sick australian shepherd dog lying on grass
Image Credit: EvitaS, Pixabay

5. Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is the malformation of a dog’s elbow joint and causes lameness and pain. Dogs can have issues with this condition when young but might not show any signs. It might be more noticeable after exercise or when the dog has been resting.

It can be treated with surgery, and medication might be prescribed to manage pain. Controlling the dog’s weight is a crucial aspect of reducing the stress on the joints.

6. Hip Dysplasia

A common condition is hip dysplasia, similar to elbow dysplasia but with the hind legs rather than the front ones. The hip joint can become looser as a dog ages, which causes pain and can lead to things like muscle atrophy and arthritis.

Signs include:
  • Limping
  • Popping and cracking noises from the joints
  • Trouble standing
  • Trouble with stairs and jumping
  • “Bunny hopping” while running
  • Sitting abnormally

It can be treated like elbow dysplasia, with surgery and medication, and the dog’s weight is also a factor here.

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The 2 Common Cancers

Unfortunately, Aussies are prone to certain cancers.

sick australian shepherd dog
Image Credit: Irini Adler, Pixabay

7. Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of the blood cells that can grow as a mass in the liver, spleen, or heart, as well as other parts of the body.

Unfortunately, signs don’t always show up until the animal has collapsed but can be diagnosed with ultrasound, X-rays, biopsy, and the accumulation of abnormal body fluids. There are treatments but no cure.

8. Lymphoma

Lymphoma occurs in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, or spleen and is a cancer of the white blood cells. One common sign are enlarged lymph nodes, such as those below the dog’s jaw or behind the knee.

Other signs include:
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

There is no cure, and radiation and chemotherapy are commonly used as treatments, and temporary remission is possible in some cases.

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The 3 Other Common Australian Shepherd Health Issues

sick australian shepherd dog lying on the floor
Image Credit: Stéphanie Briand, Pixabay

9. Multi-drug Sensitivity

Multi-drug sensitivity (MDR1) is fairly common among Australian Shepherds. Unfortunately, this sensitivity to drugs can affect your Aussie if surgery is required and even with daily medications. Even something as simple as worming medication could potentially put an Australian Shepherd at risk, depending on the dose.

MDR1 makes it impossible for the dog’s system to clear the drug, which means their brains are permanently affected by it. This can lead to severe physical disability, brain damage, seizures, and death.

Diagnosis can be determined through a DNA test. Your vet must be made aware of this condition to treat any health issues with the kind of medication that your dog won’t have a reaction to. Sadly, for some drugs, there is no substitute.

10. Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder in dogs that causes seizures that might lead to a loss of consciousness.

These seizures can sometimes occur without warning but can be caused by:
  • Inflammation or infection in the brain
  • Head trauma
  • Metabolic, electrolyte or organ abnormalities
  • Brain tumors
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Genetic problems
  • Heat stroke
  • Unknown reasons (idiopathic)

There are times when you might observe warning signs that a seizure is about to occur.

The dog might:
  • Be dazed, worried, frightened, or stressed
  • Might see and react to something that isn’t there
  • Might hide and seek help from you
  • Have difficulty controlling bowels and bladder
  • Have contractions in the muscles and limbs

Treatment might include antiepileptic medication and a variety of meds designed to help with convulsions, after investigations into the underlying cause have been conducted.

11. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when the dog’s body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone.

Signs include:
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain without reason
  • Excessive shedding
  • Hair loss
  • Slowed or poor hair growth
  • Scaly skin
  • Skin infections that don’t clear up
  • Dry and dull coat
  • Lethargy
  • Inactive
  • Not that mentally alert
  • Intolerance to cold temperatures

Treatment is lifelong. It includes specific medication and dietary restrictions (usually reduced fat), and your vet will carefully monitor your dog’s condition. The hormones that your Aussie is lacking are given synthetically, and the dose tends to need adjusting throughout your dog’s life.


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Final Thoughts

Many of these conditions will be screened for by a good breeder, who will be up front with you if your Aussie puppy is showing any signs of these inherited conditions or if either parent has experienced or has a background of any of these conditions.

Don’t let this list put you off the Australian Shepherd if you feel that this breed will be the perfect dog for you and your family. You won’t find many purebred dogs without a laundry list of health conditions, and overall, the Aussie is a robust and generally healthy breed.

Having this information can help you make a more well-informed decision about the Aussie, so you can spend many meaningful years with this amazing breed.

Featured Image Credit: Armin Forster, Pixabay

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