All purebred dogs are subject to certain hereditary diseases, border collies included. Your super-active, super-smart border collie might appear to be Superdog, but it's possible he harbors genes that cause serious illness. Before purchasing a border collie, have simple genetic tests done to avoid heartbreak.
Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome
Among the most prevalent, and tragic, illnesses affecting border collies is trapped neutrophil syndrome or TNS. Ten percent or more of all border collies might suffer from the disease. In TNS, the dog's bone marrow traps the neutrophils -- white blood cells that aid in infection fighting -- it produces, so they're not released into the bloodstream. Border collies with TNS usually show symptoms in puppyhood, although some dogs remain asymptomatic until the age of 2 or later. While a vet can prescribe antibiotics or steroids to help a dog live normally for a time, the border collie eventually dies from a severely compromised immune system. Testing allows dogs with the mutation to be identified and removed from the breeding pool so the TNS gene won't continue.
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis
Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, often called CL, is another incurable genetic illness that eventually causes death in border collies. Less common than TNS, it affects as many as 3 percent of the breed. This disease results in accumulation of lysosomal storage bodies in the tissue cells of the affected border collie, according to Optigen, a genetic testing services company. The dog's eye and brain cells degenerate, resulting in serious neurological issues. Symptoms don't occur until the dog is between the ages of 1 and 2. Besides losing vision, a border collie loses coordination and motor skills, and exhibits cognitive impairment. Within two years, most dogs die or are humanely euthanized. CL genetic testing is available.
Epilepsy affects some breeds more than others; the border collie is susceptible. Affected dogs usually start experiencing seizures while young. At the time of publication no genetic test to screen for the disease existed. But medication, such as phenobarbital, can sometimes control seizures or limit their severity. Your vet will conduct various tests to rule out other causes for seizures. During a seizure, your border collie might stiffen, drool profusely, move his legs uncontrollably, and lose control of his bladder and bowels. A dog experiencing a mild seizure might just seem out of it, so you might not realize the dog is affected.
You might think your border collie has OCD -- the breed is compulsive about herding and other activities. Obsessive compulsive disorder is called OCD; but osteochondritis dissecans, also known as OCD, is a common illness in border collies. Osteochondtritis dissecans occurs more often in males than in females. It affects border collies when they go through growth spurts early in life. Normally, growth cartilage converts to bone. In dogs with osteochondritis dissecans, some of that conversion doesn't take place, generally in joints. Symptoms range from severe limping to lesions, visible only with an X-ray. Over time, osteochondritis dissecans leads to arthritis in the affected joints.
Heartworm infestation can kill your dog. However, some border collies have a genetic mutation that causes neurological symptoms if they're given ivermectin, one of the most common heartworm preventative medications. While a genetic test is available to detect ivermectin sensitivity in rough and smooth collies, the mutation for the border collie remains undiscovered. Your vet can offer you an alternative to ivermectin if you don't want to take the chance that your dog is sensitive.
- Border Collie Society: CL and TNS Testing
- American Border Collie Association: Genetic Diseases
- Vetstreet: What You Need to Know About Border Collie Health
- Animal Genetic UK: Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome (TNS)
- Optigen: CL Test for Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis
- PetMD: Seizures (Epileptic) in Dogs
- Border Collie Society: Osteochondrosis
- Washington State University: Ivermectin
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.