Athletic and nimble, full of energy, and once notated as one of the most intelligent dog breeds, Border Collies have deep roots as sheepherders. Nevertheless, this smart canine has had no issue creeping its way right into the lives of many dog owners who want a canine with an ability to think and react, play and have fun, and be a loyal companion. While the Border Collie is happiest with a job to do, that job doesn't necessarily have to be herding. Borders are just as pleased with helping you pick up toys around the yard, rounding up a flock of backyard chickens, and tirelessly trotting beside you during a hike.
History and Background of the Border Collie
Border Collies are known across the planet to be some of the greatest canine herders, and their long history as a working herding dog proves just how popular the dogs are in the field. Even today, Border Collies are common on U.S. cattle and sheep farms. These dogs originated from a combination of dogs used for herding during the Roman Empire and dogs used by Viking Raiders who invaded Britain sometime near the great falling away of the Roman Empire. Crosses between heavy-boned herders used by Romans and the spitz-type Viking canines brought about a smaller, agile dog with incredible energy and amazing intelligence and trainability. A shepherd's dream, Borders know how to crouch like a stealth watcher, react with sheer focus, and rule herding championships, which they've done in competitive herding arenas for over a hundred years. The AKC officially listed the Border Collie as a breed in 1995.
- Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
- Height: 18 to 22 inches
- Weight: 30 to 55 pounds
- Breed Type: Herding group
- Temperament: Intelligent, eager to please, alert
Most Common Border Collie Health Issues
Border Collies can have a few health concerns related specifically to the breed and some that are related to canines of the same size or type.
1. Canine Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition that is common among Border Collies. The condition causes a malformation in the hip joint that can lead to inflammation and other problems. All Border Collies should be screened for hip abnormalities as puppies, but the condition often shows up later in life, especially dogs that live beyond the 10 or 12-year mark.
- Altered gait
- Resisting movements that require flexing the rear legs (climbing stairs, jumping, etc.)
- Lower activity levels
Border Collies should be given a nutrient-rich diet throughout their lives, but this is especially important from the time they are about three months of age until ten months of age because this is when puppies grow the most. Doing so can be the key to preventing hip dysplasia later in life. However, if your Border does develop hip dysplasia, the vet will work with you to create a care plan, which may include oral medications, physical therapy, and a special diet. Surgery for hip dysplasia is only done when the condition is so severe that the dog cannot live a normal life. The cost of hip replacement can be from $3,500 to $7,000 per hip.
Tips for Owners
- Keep your dog's weight in check; obese Border Collies are more at risk
- Dogs with slight dysplasia can still live full lives
- Medication to counteract inflammation is the most common treatment
2. Osteochondritis Dissecans or OCD
Osteochondritis dissecans occurs when the bones and the cartilage in certain joints do not fuse together properly during the growth process. The condition is more common among larger Border Collies that go through faster growth patterns as puppies. In general, a growing puppy should not gain more than four pounds in a single month.
- Awkward gait
- Joints that appear to bow outward or inward when dog is standing
- Less agility than what is usual for a Border Collie
Owners may be able to prevent the issue by watching growth patterns and feeding regimens closely when the Border Collie is still young. Puppies should not be eating adult food as well, which can contain more calcium than puppy food and encourage rapid bone growth. Dogs that are determined to have OCD later in life after they reach full growth may require surgery to attach cartilage to the joints and bones properly. Diagnosis usually requires assessing symptoms and doing in-depth x-rays. X-rays can be anywhere from $75 to $150 each.
3. Idiopathic Epilepsy
Idiopathic epilepsy can be an inherited condition for Border Collies. Epilepsy that is idiopathic in nature does not have an underlying, obvious cause like a metabolic issue or some kind of brain trauma. Signs of seizures can arise as early as six months of age and idiopathic epilepsy is usually is diagnosed before three years old.
- Localized seizure activity (head twitching, holding up one paw, etc.)
- Generalized seizures (unresponsiveness, drooling, rigidity, etc.)
- Changes in vision
- Repetitive behaviors
Treatment for idiopathic epilepsy is most often oral medications, which sounds simple enough. However, some drug resistance in Border Collies can be an issue. Studies have shown that 71% out of 24 dogs tested did not respond to two primary types of epilepsy drugs. For dogs that do well with treatment, basic monitoring and medication usually cost between $200 and $500 per year.
4. Malignant Hyperthermia
Malignant hyperthermia is an overheating disorder that is considered to be genetic in nature. The condition is almost like the dog has a broke internal thermostat; the dog's body does not regulate heat properly. High body temperatures can lead to stroke and organ damage when the condition is not promptly treated.
- Excessive panting
- Lethargy after activity
- Abnormal body temperature elevation after anesthesia
Treatment for an overheating disorder may involve medications, but most often simply requires direct monitoring of the dog during all activities and a close regimen of care with the vet. If a dog is brought in while experiencing a major episode, the vet will perform a rapid cooling intervention to bring down their core body temperature, which can be a life-saving intervention.
Tips for Owners
- Watch for signs of malignant hyperthermia from an early age
- Work with a responsible breeder; the genetic condition can be screened for in breed pairs
- Diagnosed dogs must have access to a cool environment and are best kept as an indoor pet
5. Patent Ductus Arteriosis
Border Collies can be prone to a heart condition referred to as patent ductus arteriosis (PDA). PDA is a congenital heart defect; puppies are born with the condition, which can be hereditary. PDA can cause too much blood being carried into the lungs, which increases stress on the heart during activity and can lead to a short life span.
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness in the limbs
- Weight loss
- Unusual fatigue after activity
Symptoms of PDA can be mild to moderate, so some dogs may have the heart defect without showing any outward signs. The issue is detected through usual heart evaluations at the vet because it can sound like the dog has a heart murmur. Surgery to permanently repair the vessels of the heart that ar misrouting blood flow may be necessary. Unfortunately, 64 percent of dogs do die within a year of diagnosis due to heart failure without surgical intervention. Typical costs for diagnosis and treatment can be between $2,500 to $5,000.
Tips for Owners
- Make sure your Border has been properly evaluated by the breeder and comes from a screened breeding pair
- Even young dogs can have PDA and die of heart failure so regular vet exams are extremely important for cardiac monitoring
- Even though surgery is expensive, it has the potential to give a dog a lot of years of life
Other Border Collie Health Concerns
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS) - The Collie breed can be prone to a liver condition known as portosystemic shunt (PSS). This condition causes blood that should be going directly through the liver to take a "shunt" around the liver. Unfortunately, this can lead to a toxin collection in the bloodstream because toxins are not filtered from the blood as they should be. Liver function tests can be done for proper diagnosis. Special diets and medication can sometimes correct the condition, but some Border Collies do require surgery as well.
Imerslund-Gräsbeck syndrome (IGS) - Borders can have a genetic defect that prevents them from absorbing cobalamin (Vitamin B12). The lack of B12 can lead to poor growth and protein deficiencies in the body, both of which can be worrisome. Imerslund-Gräsbeck syndrome (IGS) is often diagnosed when a disorder is discovered. Thankfully, a simple blood test can detect the defect, and injections of cobalamin can be given to dogs just the same as they can be given to humans.
Pelger-Huet Anomaly - Pelget-Huet Anomaly is a rare blood disorder that can occur in Border Collies. Puppies that inherit this genetic condition after birth rarely live, which is why it is so important for the blood disorder markers to be checked for in breeding stock. Carriers can have white blood cells that are not properly developed or normal, but still act like normal cells.
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL) - The clinical symptoms of NCL will often show up between one and three years of age. This neurological disorder causes weakness in the legs and imbalance, but may also cause blindness in more severe cases. NCL is genetic, relative to a genetic deformity, so proper breed screens are critical to prevent passing the gene onto puppies.
Collie Eye Anomaly - Collie eye anomaly (CEA) is a genetic eye disease specifically related to the Collie breed, and it can lead to blindness in Border Collies. The condition usually affects both eyes, and it can be mild without progression as well. No treatment exists, but breeding stock can be screened for the condition to prevent the passage of the issue to puppies.
Hypothyroidism - Caused when the body does not produce enough pertinent hormones created by the thyroid, hypothyroidism can cause problems with obesity, lack of energy, and behavioral changes in a Border Collie. Treatment can be as simple as replacement hormone therapy with an oral medication from the vet.
Multidrug Resistance - Multidrug resistance is caused by a genetic mutation that can be present in some Borders and other herding breeds. This issue can mean the dog cannot process some common treatment drugs used in vet medicine, such as ivermectin to treat mange. The condition can be detected through a genetic blood test.
The Border Collie: A Fearless, Tireless, Working Canine with a Faithful Devotion to Its Owner
Robert Burns, an 18th-century poet, once said that Border Collies are an honest, faithful canine. Ask any owner, and they would likely tell you the same. These dogs dedicate themselves to their designated roles, and they have no complaints about going all-in. Whether you rely on a Border for keeping your herd, keeping you company, or keeping watch over your household, this dog will rarely disappoint. With a generally healthy physique, your Border Collie rarely causes concern, and they tend to track right on through any ailment that befalls them without falter.