Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Collies and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
Highly intelligent, playful, and energetic
An excellent companion, family, or working dog
Good with children and other pets
Protective of family; good watch dog
Highly trainable and eager to please
Sweet, gentle, and sensitive
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
Needs a lot of activity and mental stimulation to avoid boredom vices
May have a tendency to bark excessively
Has a tendency to herd, including small children
Exhibits signs of separation anxiety if left alone too much
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! The Collie is a faithful, loving, and friendly companion. She is naturally responsive to people and always enjoys playing.
The Collie originated in Scotland and England during the 18th-century and was bred as a herding dog. There are two Collie breeds; the Rough Collie with long hair and the Smooth Collie, which has shorter hair. Lassie, the iconic television dog, is a Rough Collie. The Collie is a clean dog and is said to lack “doggie odor.” Intelligent and energetic, Collies excel when entered into obedience, agility, and herding events. The Rough Collie is a devoted family dog and a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 14-16 years.
Your Rough Collie’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Collie. By knowing about health concerns specific to Rough Collies, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Rough Collies to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Rough Collies. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Collie looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Rough Collie
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Collie is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Collie’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Rough Collies are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Rough Collies. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Collie’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Collie is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Rough Collies
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, also known as GDV or Bloat, usually occurs in dogs with deep, narrow chests. This means your Collie is more at risk than other breeds. When a dog bloats, the stomach twists on itself and fills with gas. The twisting cuts off blood supply to the stomach, and sometimes the spleen. Left untreated, the disease is quickly fatal, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes. Your dog may retch or heave (but little or nothing comes out), act restless, have an enlarged abdomen, or lie in a prayer position (front feet down, rear end up). Preventive surgery in which the stomach is tacked down or sutured in place so that it is unlikely to twist is an option. If you see symptoms, take your pet to an emergency hospital immediately!
Collies are susceptible to a condition called Patent Ductus Arteriosis, in which a small vessel that carries blood between two parts of the heart does not close shortly after birth as it should. This results in too much blood being carried to the lungs, fluid build-up, and strain on the heart. Outward signs may be mild or you may see coughing, fatigue during exercise, weight loss, shortness of breath, or weakness in the hind limbs. We listen for a specific type of heart murmur to diagnose this problem during his examinations. If your pal has this condition, we may recommend surgery to close the problematic vessel.
There are several types of inherited bleeding disorders which occur in dogs. They range in severity from very mild to very severe. Many times a pet seems normal until a serious injury occurs or surgery is performed, and then severe bleeding can result.
Hemolytic Anemia and Thrombocytopenia occurs when the immune system goes haywire and starts attacking the pet’s own red blood cells or platelets. If the immune system destroys red blood cells, your dog quickly becomes anemic, weak, and lethargic. His gums will look whitish or yellow instead of the normal bright pink color. If the immune system destroys platelets, his blood won’t clot properly and he’ll have bruises or abnormal bleeding. We’ll perform diagnostic testing for blood clotting to check for these problems before we perform any surgeries. To slow or stop the immune system’s destruction of cells, we’ll prescribe steroids and other immune-suppressive drugs. Sometimes an emergency transfusion of red blood cells or platelets is needed.
Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Rough Collies. We’ll conduct diagnostic testing for blood clotting time or a specific DNA blood test for Von Willebrand’s disease or other similar disorders to check for this problem before we perform surgery.
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Rough Collies can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Rough Collies commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.
When Collie puppies are allowed to grow too quickly, the cartilage in their joints may not attach to the bone properly. This problem is known as osteochondritis dissecans or OCD . If this occurs, surgery may be required to fix the problem. It’s best to stick to our recommended growth rate of no more than four pounds per week. Don’t overfeed him and don’t supplement with additional calcium. Feed a large-breed puppy diet rather than an adult or a regular puppy diet. Weigh your puppy every three to four weeks.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a fairly rare autoimmune disease caused by the dog’s immune system fighting itself. This results in chronic inflammation of skin, joints, and internal organs, sometimes leading to death in severe cases. Collies are more commonly affected, with signs beginning in middle age, around three to seven years old. There is no cure, but medications can help manage symptoms. Sunlight can cause flare-ups, so avoid sunlight exposure or use a dog safe sunscreen on sensitive parts like ears and noses.
Degenerative Myelopathy is a neurologic condition, similar to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in people, that causes weakness and poor nerve function in the hind legs. It affects Collies more frequently than other breeds. If your dog has this disease, he will become increasingly weak and disabled in the hind legs and will eventually suffer from paralysis in his hindquarters, along with incontinence. Rehabilitation, exercise, acupuncture, and dietary supplements can be helpful, but there is no cure. A genetic test is available to determine whether your dog is at risk for this heritable disease.
Cancer is a leading cause of death among dogs in their golden years. Your Rough Collie is a bit more prone to certain kinds of cancer starting at a younger age. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll do periodic blood tests and look for lumps and bumps at each exam.
An inguinal hernia is a hole in the body wall (but not through the skin) in the area of the groin in males and less commonly, females. Usually it is seen as a soft bulging between the anus and the center of the belly, with abdominal fat and sometimes intestines protruding through the hole. Not as common as other types of hernia in dogs, they are usually inherited, and your Collie is at greater than normal risk for this problem. In most cases the bulging abdominal contents can be easily pushed back into place with gentle massage, but occasionally the intestines can become stuck in the hernia and require immediate veterinary attention. We’ll check your baby for this congenital defect at his first exam, and discuss treatment options at that time, if needed.
Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory condition of the skin and muscles seen in young Rough Collies. It appears to be caused by a defect in the immune system passed genetically as an autosomal dominant trait, meaning that if one parent is affected, all the puppies will be susceptible to the disorder, but some will be affected more than others. Medications can help alleviate symptoms, but affected dogs should not be used for breeding.
Demodex is a microscopic mite that lives in the hair follicles of dogs. All dogs have them. Normally a dog’s immune system keeps the mites in check, but some breeds, like your Collie, develop an overabundance of these mites. In mild cases, pet owners may notice a few dry, irritated, hairless lesions. These often occur on the face or feet and may or may not be itchy. Secondary skin infections may occur. Prompt veterinary care is important to keep the disease from getting out of hand. Many pets seem to outgrow the problem, while others require lifelong management.
Autoimmune Skin Disease
Pemphigus foliaceus is a superficial skin disease that is more common in Rough Collies. It often starts at around four years of age and causes crusts and hair loss, usually on top of his nose and inside the ear flap. Some dogs can get it on their footpads and toenails. Bacteria usually invade the damaged area, so secondary skin infections are common. Skin crusts typically wax and wane; there is no cure, but there are a variety of effective treatments. Sunlight makes it worse, so apply zinc-free sunscreen to sensitive parts before heading outdoors.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
The pancreas has two major functions: regulating blood sugar and helping digest food. The enzymes that digest food are made by the exocrine part of the pancreas. Rough Collies are at an increased risk of having too few digestive enzymes (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency). This causes inadequate digestion and absorption of nutrients, weight loss, foul smelling greasy diarrhea and a dry and flaky coat because of his inability to absorb dietary fats. Lifetime dietary supplementation with digestive enzymes is an effective therapy.
Multidrug resistance is a genetic defect in a gene called MDR1. If your Rough Collie has this mutation, it can affect his processing of many drugs, including substances commonly used to treat parasites, diarrhea and even cancer. For years veterinarians simply avoided using ivermectin in herding breeds, but now there is a DNA test that can specifically identify dogs who are at risk for side effects from certain medications. Testing him early in life can prevent drug-related toxicity.
Taking Care of Your Rough Collie at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Collies. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Collie live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
Brush her coat as needed, at least weekly.
Rough Collies generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
She’s a smart dog with lots of energy, so keep her mind and body active, or she’ll get bored. That’s when the naughty stuff starts.
She can be sensitive to warm weather; avoid any prolonged exposure and be very alert to the signs of heat stress.
Keep the dog-safe (zinc-free) sunscreen handy for her nose and ears.
Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Rough Collie needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
Change in appetite or water consumption
Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
Itchy skin (scratching, chewing or licking), hair loss
Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
Dry heaving or a large, tight, painful abdomen
Fatigue during exercise, coughing, or shortness of breath
Gums that are a color other than bright pink
Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
Dragging the hind toes and hind limb weakness
Dry, scaly, sometimes itchy hairless patches on face or paws
Greasy poops, weight loss, dry flaking coat
Lethargy, drooling, or abnormal behavior following drug administration
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Collie counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/collie-rough-and-smooth
Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http:/www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=collie