Common Medical Conditions in Australian Cattle Dogs

Watch out for eye, ear and orthopedic problems in your Australian cattle dog.
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Australian cattle dogs, also known as blue heelers or Queensland heelers, are pretty tough canines. However, even the hardiest breeds are prone to certain medical issues. The primary health problems affecting the "Aussie" involve the eyes, ears and joints. Expect your Aussie pal to share your life for 10 to 13 years.

Eye Problems

Aussies are susceptible to various eye issues, including progressive retinal atrophy, or PRA. This degenerative and incurable eye disease is often hereditary in nature. Dogs with PRA initially experience night blindness, or difficulty seeing in the dark, which progresses to complete loss of vision within about a year. However, Aussies rely on their noses and other senses, so a well-cared for blind dog can enjoy a good quality of life. Aussies are also prone to cataracts -- a lens clouding that can lead to blindness -- and the congenital condition known as persistent pupillary membranes. Dogs with PPM are born with fetal tissues on their eyes. These small white spots often don't cause problems, but can impair sight.

Orthopedic Issues

Orthopedic problems affecting the Aussie usually revolve around the hip and elbow, resulting in dysplasia of either joint. The dysplasias are a hereditary condition, as the joints didn't develop properly. While mildly affected dogs might not show any symptoms, active, energetic breeds such as the Aussie might limp or show other signs of lameness. Your veterinarian can recommend a diet and exercise regimen, along with joint supplements, that can postpone or eliminate the need for surgery. Aussies might also experience luxating patellas, or slipped kneecaps. In severely afflicted dogs, surgical correction is necessary.

Portosystemic Shunt

Some Aussies are born with a portosystemic liver shunt, which eventually requires surgical correction. In utero, the mother dog's liver takes care of fetal waste, via a large vein -- or shunt -- from the puppy that should close after birth. In some puppies, that closure doesn't take place, so waste material heads into the bloodstream rather than going through filtration in the liver. Dogs with liver shunts usually don't grow properly and exhibit neurological issues, such as seizures, incoordination and head pressing. Although the surgery to repair the shunt is difficult, most dogs recover well from the operation and lead fairly normal lives.

Hearing Loss

Aussies are genetically predisposed to deafness, with either complete or partial hearing loss. In an Australian study published in 2012, researchers found that while deafness was not associated with a cattle dog's coat color or facial mask coloration, females were more likely to suffer from deafness than males. However, deafness was more likely in dogs with solid-colored, mask-free faces, as well as those who didn't have pigmented patches on the body. A breeder should be able to identify a congenitally deaf puppy by the time the animal is six weeks old.