6 Common Health Problems in Shelties

But before we get to genetic diseases in Shelties, we need to consider one big lifestyle issue that affects humans and dogs alike: obesity.

1. Obesity in Shelties

It's very easy to overfeed a Sheltie; you can't always tell when he's getting overweight under that thick double coat.

Sadly, this can become a major health problem. Obesity is associated with serious long term diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Being moderately overweight can ultimately shorten your Sheltie's lifespan by months or years.

So how much should you feed a Sheltie? It depends on several factors. We need to consider the size and nutritional content of kibble, as well as your Sheltie's body type, activity level, health status, and whether or not he's been de-sexed (which affects metabolism).

Reduce his serving size immediately by 25-50% and perform this test again after a week. It may take a couple of weeks to start to feel the difference. If you can get your dog to sit still on the scales, you can measure his progress more precisely, but not all Shelties will comply!

Kibble manufacturers recommend feeding your Sheltie 1-2 cups of kibble per day. Unless you have a particularly large Sheltie, I recommend you stick to the lower end of this range. If your Sheltie eats dog treats and table scraps as well, then he may need even less than one cup of kibble.

In fact, you can do this on a regular basis. Soaking dog kibble before feeding can have health benefits like better hydration, digestion, appetite, circulation, and electrolyte balance.

Also remember that the typical American Sheltie weighs 22lbs (10kg) and the English Shelties weigh 18lbs (8kg). These are small animals who don't need anywhere near the same amount of food as humans.

If your dog eats too fast and seems dissatisfied after a meal, you can prevent bloating, hiccups, and regurgitation with a slow feed dog bowl. These are great if you have multiple dogs in the house who are in the habit of resource guarding. Slow feed bowls take the race out of eating while making each dog focus on their own food.

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

Slow Feed Dog Bowls prevent bloating, hiccups, and regurgitation.

Split feeding time into two meals, about 12 hours apart. If your Sheltie complains in between meals, you can offer a small amount of low calorie scraps like cooked or raw vegetables. Just be sure to avoid these 30 common foods that are toxic to dogs.

Also ensure your Sheltie gets to run outdoors every day. Letting him potter around the yard isn't enough—he needs to go on an adventure with you! Exploring territory beyond the house, including off-leash time, excites him to run around and discover all kinds of smells, sights, and ideally other dogs.

Swimming is excellent for overweight dogs as it burns calories without straining his already overworked joints. If you live near water, it's well worth desensitizing your Sheltie to water wile he's still young.

Desensitize your Sheltie to water when he's young

Desensitize your Sheltie to water while he's still young.

Once you've got this common Sheltie health issue under control, your Sheltie will be much more likely to live a long and healthy life.

Now let's turn our attention to genetic conditions that your Sheltie may have inherited from his parents.

Note: If your Sheltie comes from a professional breeder, they'll very likely have performed genetic screening of the parents to avoid passing these conditions on to puppies.

2. Patellar Luxation (PL) in Shelties

Patellar Luxation is common in small dog breeds like Shelties. It's where the knee cap (patella) floats out of position (luxation). This causes pain and difficulty straightening the leg.

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 it is a recurring problem. If severe, she may suddenly become lame and unable to walk.

Your vet can diagnose patellar luxation 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.

Still, if your Sheltie is diagnosed with Patellar Luxation, it's not the end of the world. The condition can be managed and may or may not require surgery, depending on whether she has a mild, moderate, or severe case.

"Our Tyson had Patellar Luxation. He had surgery to correct both back knee caps. He also had a pin inserted. Due to it going undiagnosed for a little while, his leg started to turn outward. Easy surgery with relatively easy recovery. Have not had any issues since." - Anne Wiseman Multani
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.

"My Blaze had Patella Luxation since he was at least 6 months old. I used to massage his knees with my palm under the paw (both were affected) and gently press upward to pop it back into place for him. It was never painful for him when I did it and it was really easy to do. This only happened during heavy activity for him with his rowdy sister." - Jamie Milheim

3. Hip Dysplasia (HD) in Shelties

Hip Dysplasia is caused by a subluxation (partial dislocation) or full dislocation of the ball-and-socket hip joint.

Normally this joint moves smoothly to give flexibility of the hind legs, but a genetic malformation causes the hip joint to develop incorrectly. It leads to loss of function as well as painful arthritis.

Hip Dysplasia Illustration

Illustration of Hip Dysplasia and resulting arthritis.

Hip Dysplasia usually affects large dog breeds. However due to historic cross-breeding, the mutation has been passed into Shelties.

If your Sheltie has Hip Dysplasia, you'll see him limping on his hind leg or hopping like a rabbit. He'll hesitate 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 in Shelties 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; give as much information as you can.

"Archie was diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia at 12 months old. We managed his condition very well with keeping his weight down, dietary supplements, Cartrophen injections, and chiropractic and laser treatment." - Tegan Farrelley
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) in Shelties

Dermatomyositis, or Collie Nose, tends to only affect Sheltie and Collie breeds, revealing its hereditary origins. It's an inflammatory disease affecting the skin, muscles, and blood vessels.

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

"We had a great Sheltie boy who had severe Dermatomyositis with both skin and muscle involvement and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency." - Suzanne Falk
Shelties with Dermatomyositis

Shelties with Dermatomyositis.

If your Sheltie has Dermatomyositis, you'll see redness, scaling, crusting, and hair loss. It appears around the eyes, ears, tail, and feet when they're still young. The lesions can vary in severity and may come and go over time. Although it can look scary, Collie Nose is not contagious and your dog can't infect humans or other pets.

Home-based treatments for Dermatomyositis in Shelties involves using hypoallergenic dog shampoo and vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.

Omega-3 and Vitamin E can help Shelties with skin problems

Omega-3 and Vitamin E can help Shelties with skin problems.

If the skin becomes infected, your vet will prescribe a course of antibiotics. They may also suggest topical steroid cream, medications to improve blood flow, and tattooing the affected areas to protect the skin from damaging UV light.

While treatments help mitigate the symptoms, there's no way to cure Collie Nose. The lesions will come and go over your Sheltie's lifetime, requiring ongoing medical and dietary management. Tragically, in extreme cases where the muscles are severely inflamed and the esophagus is enlarged, euthanasia may be the only humane choice.

5. Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) in Shelties

Collie Eye starts in the womb, when multiple genes which control eye development go haywire. When the choroid (an area of blood vessels which nourish the retina) becomes poorly developed it can ultimately lead to retinal detachment.

Collie Eye Anomaly is thought to affect up to 97% of Collies to some degree. It's also a common health problem in Shelties due to historic cross-breeding between Collies and 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 CEA, with the disease manifesting in several stages of increasing severity. It's linked to certain other eye deformities, so see your vet if your Sheltie has unusually small eyes (microphthalmia), eyes that are sunken in the sockets (enophthalmia), or cloudy eyes (corneal stromal mineralization).

As CEA progresses, a coloboma will appear. This is a hole in either the lens, choroid, retina, iris, or optic disc. Colobomas can be large or small, with large holes leading to partial or complete blindness.

The main treatment for Collie Eye is to surgically remove colobomas with laser surgery or cryosurgery. Retinal detachments can also be repaired with surgery. The only way to prevent Collie Eye is with selective breeding practices, thereby reducing the incidence of Collie Eye in future Sheltie generations.

6. Von Willebrande's Disease (vWD) in Shelties

Von Willebrande's Disease is a genetic mutation seen in some Shelties. It means they can't produce enough Von Willebrand Factor (vWF) which is essential for normal platelet binding in the blood. Affected dogs bleed excessively, even to the point of hemorrhage.

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 mutation is inherited from one or both parents. One analysis of 6,000 Shetland Sheepdogs found that 1,380 (23%) carried the mutation.

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 analyses. 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.

The good news is that 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—as long as they receive a blood transfusion before any surgeries to prevent high levels of blood loss.

If your Sheltie has vWD, you'll need to be vigilant watching out for bleeding episodes. Take her to the vet if you have any doubt and they will decide if she needs an emergency blood transfusion.

How Dog DNA Tests Can Help

If your Sheltie comes from a puppy mill or pet store, there's a higher risk she's carrying one or more of these common inherited diseases. Fortunately, you can screen her with an at-home Dog DNA Test to examine her risks.

The DNA test involves taking a cheek swab from your Sheltie and mailing it to the lab. In around two weeks, you'll get a detailed report on her susceptibility to 200+ genetic health conditions, drug sensitivities, and blood disorders.

A Dog DNA Test identifies disease genes and drug sensitivities in Shelties

A Dog DNA Test identifies disease genes and drug sensitivities in Shelties.

If disease mutations are found, take the report to your vet who can advise on preventative measures or an early treatment plan. This can make a huge difference to your dog's quality of life. Simply waiting for symptoms to show up can allow some disease to progress beyond the point of no return, with serious health implications down the line.

Becky Casale

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


Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide