Australian Cattle Dog

AustralianCattleDog1of1Your Australian Cattle Dog

Caring for Your Faithful Companion

Australian Cattle Dogs: What a Unique Breed!

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 Heelers and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:

  • Well suited as a companion, family dog, or working dog
  • Confident, steady, and fearless
  • Plenty of stamina
  • Has a short, easy-to-care-for coat
  • Well suited as a companion or working dog
  • Small, but sturdy

However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • Aggressive toward other animals
  • Has a tendency to herd, including small children
  • Overprotective of family and territory if not socialized properly
  • Strong herding instinct can lead to chasing cars and small animals
  • Determined and has a mind of her own

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! Give her a problem and she will solve it. She can work long and play hard.

Australian Cattle Dogs were developed in the 1800’s to protect and herd cattle under severe environmental conditions. Cattle Dogs are intelligent, loyal, devoted, courageous, and hard-working. Because they have strong protective instincts, they may be aggressive with other dogs and dominant with children. They should be socialized with children and pets while young. Cattle Dogs are good watch dogs, and enjoy human companionship. They have high exercise needs, and are best suited for families with an active lifestyle and a large fenced yard. Australian Cattle Dogs have a life span of 12-13 years.

Your Australian Cattle Dog’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 Cattle Dog. By knowing about health concerns specific to Australian Cattle Dogs, 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 Australian Cattle Dogs 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 Australian Cattle Dogs. 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 Heeler 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.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

 

General Health Information for your Australian Cattle Dog

Dental Disease

Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Australian Cattle Dog 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 Australian Cattle Dog’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.

Infections

Australian Cattle Dogs 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

Obesity can be a significant health problem in Australian Cattle Dogs. 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!

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

 

Parasites

All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Heeler’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 Cattle Dog 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 Australian Cattle Dogs

Multidrug Resistance

Multidrug resistance is a genetic defect in a gene called MDR1. If your Australian Cattle Dog 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.

Bone and Joint Problems

A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in Australian Cattle Dogs. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.

Normal hip x-rays

Normal hip x-rays

 

X-rays taken of a dog with hip dysplasia.

X-rays taken of a dog with hip dysplasia.

 

Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Cattle Dog’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!

Sometimes your Cattle Dog’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.

Eye Problems

Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Australian Cattle Dogs 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.

Cataract

Cataract

 

Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Cattle Dogs. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.

Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Australian Cattle Dogs and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, Australian Cattle Dogs are a bit more likely than other dogs to have this condition. PRA is not painful, but also not curable. In dogs with the bad gene, early symptoms such as night blindness or dilated pupils generally begin around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.

Sometimes small strands of tissue that were meant to disappear soon after birth remain attached to the iris. When this happens, it’s called Persistent Pupillary Membrane, and your Australian Cattle Dog is more likely to have this condition than other dogs. Fortunately, these tissue bits usually don’t hurt or impede vision, but occasionally they can cause problems.

Primary Lens Luxation (PLL) is an inherited disease, common in Heelers, that causes the tiny fibers that hold the lens suspended within the eye to degrade and break. When this happens, the lens drops out of place. If it happens to fall forward, it can block the normal circulation in the eye and cause secondary glaucoma. Surgery to remove the loose lens may be needed to relieve pain.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, Australian Cattle Dogs are a bit more likely than other dogs to have this condition. PRA is not painful, but also not curable. In dogs with the bad gene, early symptoms such as night blindness or dilated pupils generally begin around three to five years of age. A genetic test is available for this condition.

Stones can form in the urinary bladder resulting in irritation and potentially obstruction.

Stones can form in the urinary bladder resulting in irritation and potentially obstruction.

 

Bladder or Kidney Stones

There are a few different types of stones that can form in the kidney or in the bladder, and Australian Cattle Dogs are more likely to develop them than other breeds. We’ll periodically test his urine for telltale signs indicating the presence of kidney and bladder stones; they are painful! If your buddy has blood in his urine, can’t urinate, or is straining to urinate, it is a medical emergency. Call us immediately!

Thyroid Problems

Cattle Dogs are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.

Bleeding Disorders

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. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Australian Cattle Dogs. 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.

Blood Disorder

A relatively rare blood disorder called Pelger-Huet Anomaly can occur in your Australian Cattle Dog. If he is a carrier of the disease, his infection fighting white blood cells will look abnormal microscopically, but operate normally. Puppies that inherit a copy of this abnormal gene from both parents, however, usually die before or shortly after birth. For this reason, it is important to diagnose breeding dogs who are carriers of this defect so they don’t pass it along to their offspring.

Liver Problems

Your Heeler is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, we’ll test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, we can treat with a special diet and medication.

Mast Cell Tumor

Mast cell tumors are a particularly nasty type of skin cancer found more often in Australian Cattle Dogs, and the sooner they are surgically removed the better. Trouble is, they often look just like other kinds of skin lumps and lesions, some of which are harmful, and others not. All suspicious lumps should be tested and any questionable lump should be surgically removed as soon as possible. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, so early detection and removal is critical.

Deafness

Heritable deafness has been noted in some Heeler bloodlines, so if his ears are healthy and he’s still ignoring you, a more thorough hearing workup may be needed, including brainwave analysis, if indicated. If you suspect he may not be hearing as well as he should, schedule an appointment with us right away as the problem could also be caused by a severe ear infection.

Nerve Disease

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis, shortened to NCL, is a progressive neurologic disease found in several breeds, including your Australian Cattle Dog. Clinical signs usually appear in younger dogs, between around one to three years of age. In the early stages, rear leg weakness and imbalance can occur. It can progress to weakness involving all four legs, and some dogs also lose vision. There is currently no effective treatment for this disease, but a genetic test is available. Dogs carrying the mutation should not be used for breeding, since it is readily passed to future generations.

AustralianCattleDog2of2Taking Care of Your Australian Cattle Dog 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 Cattle Dogs. 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 Heeler 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.
  • Very easy to groom, just run a brush through her coat once in a while. Her weather resistant coat needs its natural oils, so don’t over bathe her.
  • Australian Cattle Dogs 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 very 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.
  • 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 Australian Cattle Dog needs help.

Office calls

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

Emergencies

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
  • Lethargy, drooling, or abnormal behavior following drug administration
  • Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
  • Slow or stunted growth; sometimes seizures after eating
  • Easily startled, no reaction to unseen sounds

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 Cattle Dog 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.

References:

  • Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. Second edition. AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • 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/australian-cattle-dog
  • 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=australian-cattle-dog

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