Sheltie Planet Blog | The Home of Shetland Sheepdogs

Common Health Problems in Shelties

By Becky Casale | About | Download her Ebook

Shelties can suffer from inherited health problems like Patellar Luxation, Hip Dysplasia, Collie Eye, Dermatomyositis and Von Willebrande's Disease. They affect the knees, hips, eyes, skin and blood.

With genetic testing available to screen breeding pairs, well-bred Sheltie puppies are no longer as prone to inherited diseases. However, without genetic screening, you're taking a huge gamble. This applies to dogs bought from pet stores and online listings without professional kennel details. They're often victims of puppy mills and puppy farms. As such, they're more likely to carry inherited diseases, as well as infectious diseases from the unsanitary breeding conditions.

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If your Sheltie puppy didn't come from a professional breeder, order a Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Test. Take a cheek swab and mail it to their lab. In a couple of weeks you'll receive a report on 200+ genetic health conditions, drug sensitivities, and blood disorders present in your Sheltie. If there are any inherited health problems, you can share the report with your vet to take preventative measures or start early treatment. Do not wait until the disease progresses. This can have serious health implications and even be fatal for your Sheltie.

Perform a Dog DNA Test on Your Sheltie to Identify Disease Genes

"Wisdom Panel Essential" can identify disease genes and drug sensitivities

Common Diseases in Shelties

Like humans, there are many potential diseases that can occur in dogs, from cancer to heart disease. Here are the six most common conditions that cause health problems in Shelties.

1. Obesity

It's easy to overfeed a Sheltie. That's because there's no standardized amount of kibble to feed. It depends on:

  • Kibble content
  • Body type
  • Activity levels
  • De-sexing
  • Metabolism

Get to know how much to feed your Sheltie by adjusting her serving size week by week, then checking her weight with a simple test:

As a starting guide, half a cup of dry kibble per day, plus limited table scraps, was ample for our English Shelties. When kibble manufacturers recommend feeding 1-2 cups per day, this is a gross over-estimate. Two cups of kibble may actually be double or quadruple what your Sheltie actually needs! Imagine if you consumed quadruple the amount of calories you need every single day. It would lead to massive weight gain.

If you think half a cup of kibble per day sounds meagre, think again. The typical American Sheltie weighs around 22lbs (10kg), and the English Sheltie around 18lbs (8kg). As small animals, they don't need anywhere near the same amount of food as humans who are many multiples heavier. We often forget to make that distinction.

What's more, kibble expands to double the size in your dog's stomach. Soak half a cup of kibble in water for 30 minutes and you'll see the difference. Your Sheltie is definitely full after such a meal. In fact, soaking kibble before feeding is said to have myriad health benefits including better hydration, digestion, appetite, circulation, and electrolyte balance.

If your dog eats too fast and seems dissatisfied after a meal, prevent the consequent bloating, hiccups, and regurgitation with a Slow Feed Dog Bowl. These are also good if you have multiple dogs who try to steal each other's food. Slow Feed Bowls take the race out of eating and keeps dogs focused on their own food.

Slow Feed Dog Bowls prevent bloating, hiccups, and regurgitation from eating too fast

"Outward Hound Slow Feed Dog Bowl" - prevents bloating, hiccups, and regurgitation

If you think your Sheltie is already overweight, cut back on kibble and eliminate scraps immediately. Feed only one meal per day, and make sure you get them out of the house for 60 minutes of off-leash exercise every day. Swimming is excellent for overweight dogs as it burns calories without putting extra strain on the already overworked joints. To this end, consider desensitizing your Sheltie to water when he's young.

Desensitize your Sheltie to water when he's young

Desensitize your Sheltie to water when he's young

"But what if my Sheltie is starving hungry?" I hear you cry.

Plenty of dogs are obsessed with food. Your Sheltie may complain at the sudden withdrawal of breakfast and snacks. But one meal a day is natural and healthy for dogs, so he's very likely reacting out of habit. If your Sheltie is visibly anxious about eating—namely, he's whining at the time he used to get breakfast—give him some low calorie scraps like cooked or raw vegetables. Just be sure to avoid these 30 common foods that are toxic to dogs.

2. Patellar Luxation (PL) - Chronic Kneecap Dislocation

Patella Luxation Illustration

Illustration of a luxating patella

If your Sheltie has patellar luxation, you'll notice her limp and hold her hind leg up while she's exercising. It may only last for 10 minutes before she returns to normal, but is a recurring problem. If severe, she may suddenly become lame and unable to walk.

Luxation of the patella usually strikes Shelties in their mid-life (4-8 years) and can be caused by an injury or congenital (in-born) malformation. Your vet can diagnose it with a physical exam. They can also take x-rays of the entire leg and hip joint, which reveals abnormal twisting of the surrounding bones to accommodate the injury. Fluid samples from the knee area can also reveal an increase in giveaway mononuclear cells.

Treatment involves massaging the affected kneecap. In chronic or severe cases, your Sheltie will need surgery to correct the kneecap. It can be surgically re-attached to the bone, or the bone groove can be deepened to better secure the kneecap. There's a 30-60 day recovery period where she mustn't run or jump, but it is effective in the short term in 9 out of 10 dogs.

Long term, however, around half of those dogs relapse. The good news is that further slippages after surgery are far less severe. Because this is all caused by a genetic malformation if the knee, then triggered by injury or wear and tear, professional breeders are careful not to breed Shelties with patellar luxation and pass on this genetic vulnerability.

Tyson the Sheltie had surgery to correct Patellar Luxation on both back knee caps

Tyson had surgery to correct Patellar Luxation on both back knee caps

3. Hip Dysplasia (HD) - Chronic Hip Dislocation

Hip Dysplasia Illustration

Illustration of hip dysplasia and resulting arthritis

Hip Dysplasia usually affects large dog breeds. However due to cross-breeding in the past, the disease genes can also show up as a health problem in Shelties. If your Sheltie has hip dysplasia you'll see him limping on his hind leg (or hopping like a rabbit) and hesitating when rising, jumping, and climbing stairs because of the pain it causes. Other signs including holding the back legs close together while standing, a reluctance to run, and lameness after exercise.

Your vet can diagnose hip dysplasia with a physical exam, blood analysis to detect inflammation, and x-rays to visualize the severity. They will ask lots of questions about the onset of the symptoms and it can help to bring any relevant information you have on your dog's ancestry.

You then have two options: medical management or surgery. The former means maintaining your dog's healthy weight, giving him low-impact exercise like slow jogging and swimming, a warm sleeping area, and massage therapy. If you can afford it, there are many types of surgical treatment available depending on the age of your dog and the severity of the hip dysplasia.

Archie the Sheltie was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at 12 months old

Archie was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at 12 months old

4. Dermatomyositis (DMS) - Skin Inflammation

Shelties who carry the gene for DMS tend to develop lesions on the face some time between 2 and 6 months old, although it can affect adult dogs too. The lesions are aggravated by trauma and UV light.

Shelties with Dermatomyositis

Shelties with Dermatomyositis

If your Sheltie has dermatomyositis, you will notice redness, scaling, crusting and hair loss on the eyes, ears, tail and feet when they're young. The lesions can vary in severity and can come and go over time. It can look scary but Collie Nose is not contagious and your dog can't infect humans or other pets.

Your vet will be able to diagnose it formally with a skin biopsy to rule out any similar looking conditions such as allergies, mange and ischemic dermatopathy (low blood supply to the skin). If they're not very familiar with Shelties or Collies do mention Dermatomyositis. DMS experts suggest that a sure definitive sign is a bald tail tip.

Treatment for dermatomyositis in Shelties involves hypoallergenic shampoos and antibiotics for any resulting skin infections. Topical steroid cream can help, as can tattooing the affected nose area black to protect it from damaging UV light. Medication to improve blood flow may also help, as can Vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.

Zesty Paws Dog Supplement for Shelties with Skin Problems

"Zesty Paws Multifunction Dog Bites" - contain Omega-3 and vitamin E for Shelties with skin problems

There's no complete cure for Collie Nose. The best you can hope for is a mild case. The lesions will come and go over your Sheltie's lifetime and so requires ongoing medical and dietary management. Tragically, in extreme cases of suffering—where the muscles are severely inflamed and the esophagus is enlarged—euthanasia may be the only humane choice.

5. Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) - Eye Deformity

Collie Eye Anomaly is thought to affect up to 97% of Collies. Due to historic cross-breeding between Collies and Shelties, it's also a common health problem in Shelties.

Collie Eye Anomaly affects almost all Collies to some degree

Collie Eye Anomaly affects almost all Collies to some degree

Both eyes are affected by Collie Eye, and the disease manifests in several stages that culminate in blindness. It's linked to certain other eye deformities, so see your very if your Sheltie has unusually small eyes (microphthalmia), eyes that are sunken in the sockets (enophthalmia), or cloudy eyes (corneal stromal mineralization).

Professional breeders take their puppy litters for eye checks during their first few weeks of life to look for signs of Collie Eye. This also helps them decide which puppies to breed down the line.

The vet can also pick up on early signs of retinal detachment and prevent further damage if spotted in the first year. The next stage of the disease is marked by a coloboma—a hole in either the lens, choroid, retina, iris, or optic disc. A coloboma can be large or small, with large holes leading to partial or complete blindness.

The main treatment for Collie Eye is to surgically remove the colobomas with laser surgery or cryosurgery. Retinal detachments can also be repaired with surgery, although these only tend to occur in the first year of life in relation to CEA. The only way to prevent Collie Eye is with selective breeding practices. This reduces the incidence of the disease in future generations.

6. Von Willebrande's Disease (vWD) - Excessive Bleeding

Von Willebrande's Disease often shows up in Shelties in the first year of life, since the role of blood clotting is so crucial to survival. There are mild and severe forms depending on whether the dog inherits mutant genes from one or both parents.

Symptoms include spontaneous hemorrhage from the nose, blood in the feces and urine, bleeding gums, blood loss after surgery, and excessive vaginal bleeding during heat. Prolonged bleeding can lead to anemia and, if left untreated, can be fatal.

If you suspect your Sheltie has on Von Willebrande's Disease, see a vet. They'll do a physical exam, ask about symptoms, and perform blood and urine analysis. A further test called a buccal mucosa bleeding time (BMBT) involves creating a small injury and monitoring platelet clumping defects and vWF deficiency in response.

Most Shelties with mild to moderate Von Willebrande's Disease can have a good quality of life without any specialized treatment. Even severely affected dogs can live well—but they do need a blood transfusion before any type of surgery to prevent high levels of blood loss. You also need to be more vigilant watching for episodes of prolonged bleeding, and take your Sheltie to the vet for emergency blood transfusions if needed.

Author Bio

Becky Casale is the author of Sheltie Planet and Science Me. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, two children, and Piper Woofington Moon.

Download Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide