Health Problems

The Australian Cattle Dog like most breeds have hereditary and congenital problems which the new owner should be aware exist and should discuss with the breeder prior to purchase.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA ) refers to a group of inherited diseases that cause loss of sight in many dog breeds. Most forms of PRA are believed to be inherited as simple Mendelian recessives. They differ in their age of onset and histology.  Progressive Rod/Cone Degeneration (prcd) is the form of PRA found in the Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) and in the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog (ASTCD).

Prcd is known to have caused blindness in Cattle Dogs as young as 3 years old. Age of onset is, however, variable. Some Cattle Dogs do not develop clinical signs of the disease until they are 6 or 7 years old, or even older.

Prcd has been known in ACDs population from early in the breed’s history. Old stories have been handed down about “moon-blindness” or “night-blindness” and inability to see in subdued light. These observations are often a sign of prcd. More recently, it become evident that the incidence of prcd was alarmingly high. Because prcd is commonly late in onset, affected animals may parent litters before the disease is diagnosed.

Wooleston Blue Jack, and his ancestors Little Logic and Logic Return are behind all modern ACDs.  Pedigree study suggests that the popularity of this lineage, and the genetic convergence on it, may have contributed to increased incidence of prcd.  It is probable that Little Logic carried the disease.  For example: Glennie Blue Gem, whelped in 1964, was closely line bred to Little Logic.  Her blindness is thought to have been the result of prcd.

Prcd is inherited as an autosomal recessive. This means that an affected dog must have inherited the prcd gene from both parents. A dog that inherits the prcd gene from one parent and the healthy gene from the other will not develop the disease, but can pass the prcd gene on to its offspring. Such a dog is known as a carrier for prcd. A dog which has no copies of the prcd gene can’t (obviously) pass on the disease – such a dog is known as clear for prcd.

Prcd in ACDs attracted the interest of Dr Greg Acland, an Australian veterinary ophthalmologist holding research and academic positions in the USA. In 1996, Dr Acland collected blood samples from over 100 ACDs in the United Kingdom and Netherlands for initial study. Blood samples from ACDs in North America and Australia later enlarged the collection. Dr Acland’s research, carried out at Cornell University, was successful, in 2002, in proving a DNA test that can (a) identify prcd affected ACDs before the disease becomes clinically evident, (b) can determine whether a dog carries the disease (even though it is itself unaffected), and (c) can identify dogs that are completely clear of the disease.  More information can be found at www.optigen.com.

Deafness

Studies of congenital deafness in the dog are limited although those breeds to date with the highest prevalence include the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Bull Terrier, Catahoula, Dalmatian, English Cocker Spaniel, English Setter and West Highland White Terrier.

Inherited congenital sensorineural deafness is usually, but not always associated with pigmentation genes responsible for white in the coat, but, as the Dalmatian is influential in the overall makeup of the Australian Cattle Dog, the breed is unfortunately plagued with this problem.

Through extensive research it has been established that deafness does not develop in dogs until the first few weeks of life, with normal development occurring to that point. Studies have shown that Australian Cattle Dogs do not go deaf until weeks 3-4 weeks after birth. The histologic pattern that occurs in most dogs breeds is known as cochleo-saccular, or Scheibe, type of end organ degeneration.

Since the ear canal does not open until approximately 14 days in dogs, and deaf puppies cue off the responses of litter mates, and it is not uncommon for deafness to go unrecognized for many weeks. In some breeds, deaf puppies will display more aggressive play with litter mates because they do not hear cries of pain, but deaf puppies after weaning will not waken at feeding times unless physically shaken.

Assessment of the presence of auditory function requires a simple test known as brainstem auditory evoked response or BAER as it is commonly known. In this test a computer based system detects electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways in the brain in much the same way that an antenna detects radio or TV signals.

Deaf dogs have special needs and dedicated, experienced trainers. Read The Story of Chance. Unilateral deafness where the dog has full hearing in one ear only is a easier problem to manage and these dogs make ideal pets with the owners often unable to detect any impairment. Some dogs with unilateral deafness will show a directional deficit and may not immediately reactive to your presence if sleeping soundly with the good ear on the ground. However, there is no evidence to discourage breeding from unilaterally deaf dogs, although preference to breeding with full hearing dogs will with the cooperation of all breeders eventually prevent further affected dogs and the ultimate increase in the prevalence of the disorder.

Read more about deafness at at www.lsu.edu/deafness/deaf.htm. Support for deaf dog owners is widely available, as it is a common problem in many breeds.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia appears in many breeds of dogs. In some breeds it is the most common cause of osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. The term dysplasia is a developmental condition that results in abnormal looseness or laxity of the hip joints.

The signs of HD vary from decreased exercise tolerance to severe crippling although some dogs may never shows signs of dysplasia and generally remain very fit and active. Even though a large percentage of Australian Cattle Dogs today do not work stock as such, they channel their energy and intelligence into other activities including obedience, agility, tracking, showing and being the active family member therefore the exercise diminishes the affects of this common and often crippling disease.

Any diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia must be made via expert radiographic diagnosis. This involves taking x-rays of the joint and typically sending the film to organizations that will evaluate, register and certify the dog. You cannot make a reliable diagnosis of HD on the basis of external symptoms such as lameness or gait.

More information can be found at www.hipdysplasiaindogs.com.

Luxating Patella

There are many types and degrees of patella luxation. The patella or kneecap can luxate or dislocate medially which is towards the body midline or laterally which is away from the midline and can be traumatic or congenital in origin. The problem has been evident in Australian Cattle Dogs for some time with the breed suffering from lateral luxation in most cases diagnosed. Surgical correction is not usually necessary unless the dogs shows symptoms such as pain or gait abnormalities. The condition can be easily diagnosed by your veterinarian and a simple check of the patella can be performed by your veterinarian to see if the dog is predisposed to the condition. In Australian Cattle Dogs luxating patellas has shown to be an inheritable problem, and as such a dog that possesses this problem should not be bred as the possibility of it’s progeny inheriting the condition is high. Also studies show that in about 50% of cases treated surgically the dog demonstrates reoccurring patellar luxation in as short a time as 1 year.

More information can be found at www.vetsurgerycentral.com/patella.htm.