Caring for Your Faithful Companion
Border Terriers: 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 Borders and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Highly trainable and eager to please
- Even-tempered; adapts to a wide variety of environments
- Vigilant watchdog with a ready bark
- Agile, sturdy, and muscular
- Obedient and devoted
- Great with kids and other dogs: a true family pet
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Easily bored if not given something to do, which leads to barking and chewing
- Needs a lot of activity and mental stimulation to avoid boredom vices
- Sees cats and small animals as prey unless trained otherwise
- Likes to dig
- Coat requires regular brushing and grooming
- Standoffish toward strangers
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is a small and solid working terrier with a vivacious personality. She’s eager to please her human companions and ready for a job!
Border terriers are one of the oldest British terrier breeds. With a head shaped like an otter’s, these are working terriers bred for protecting sheep from foxes and other predators. They are tenacious on the chase. She’s a highly active dog, easily trained because of her willingness to please. Border terriers are generally a healthy breed with an average lifespan of 13-15 years. Some can suffer from common health concerns such as seizures and cataracts. Early diagnosis is the key to a long and happy life; be sure to schedule routine checkups.
Your Border Terrier’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 Border Terrier. By knowing about health concerns specific to Border Terriers, 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 Border Terriers 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 Border Terriers. 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 Border 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 Border Terrier
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Border Terrier 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 Border Terrier’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.
Border Terriers 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 Border Terriers. 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 Border’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 Border Terrier 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 Border Terriers
Sometimes your Border Terrier’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.
Knee Ligament Tear
The cranial cruciate ligament is one of the four tough bands of tissue that hold each knee together. A torn cranial cruciate ligament is a common injury in active dogs, which includes your Border. Usually surgical correction is done to stabilize the knee and help prevent crippling arthritis. Physical therapy and multimodal pain management are necessary to get the best outcome. Keeping him at the right weight, feeding a high-quality diet, and avoiding too much twisting of the knees (like playing Frisbee) are key in avoiding this painful injury.
Hip and Elbow 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 Border Terrier’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!
Young Border Terriers may be prone to a painful degenerative hip condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. The exact cause of this condition is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be a problem with blood supply to the hip, which causes the femoral head (the top of the thigh bone) to become brittle and easily fracture. Ouch! Usually occurring between six and nine months of age, it causes pain and lameness in one or both rear legs, and often requires surgery.
Craniomandibular Osteopathy (CMO) is a bizarre and temporary overgrowth of bone that develops in the jawbone or head, beginning in puppyhood. Often the abnormal thickening of bone resolves on its own by 12 months of age, but affected Border Terriers may have difficulty chewing or swallowing and may feel pain when opening the mouth. Pain medication, a soft food diet and sometimes a feeding tube may be required to help him through this growth phase. If your pal is still young, we will examine him for this condition during his puppy visits.
Diabetes mellitus is a fairly common disease in dogs. Any breed can be affected, but Borders have an above average incidence. Dogs with diabetes are unable to regulate the metabolism of sugars and require daily insulin injections. It is a serious condition and one that is important to diagnose and treat as early as possible. Symptoms include increased eating, drinking, and urination, along with weight loss. If he shows signs, we will conduct lab tests to determine if he has this condition and discuss treatment options with you. Treatment requires a serious commitment of time and resources. Well regulated diabetic dogs today have the same life expectancy as other canines.
Border Terriers 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.
Some breeds like your Border Terrier can be born with a variety of heart defects. Most of these affect the structure of the heart’s dividing wall or the vessels. They can also cause problems with the electrical signals that control the heartbeat or with heart valve function. Because of the significant risk of heart disease, we’ll pay special attention to his heart during each examination. Special testing will be recommended if we hear a heart murmur or you notice any unusual symptoms such as tiring easily, coughing, a swollen belly, or fainting .
Heart failure is a leading cause of death among Border Terriers in their golden years. Most heart disease in dogs is caused by weakening of a valve. A heart valve slowly becomes deformed so that it no longer closes tightly. Blood then leaks back around this valve and strains the heart. Pets with heart valve disease (sometimes called mitral valve disease) have a heart murmur. If your dog has a heart murmur or outward signs suggesting heart problems, we’ll perform testing to determine the severity of the disease. The same tests will need to be repeated at least every year to monitor the condition. If heart valve disease is diagnosed early, we may be able to prescribe medications that could prolong his life for many years. Veterinary dental care and fatty acid supplementation can help prevent heart disease and weight control can help diminish symptoms.
Sometimes the sinus node, which is the part of the electrical system that signals the heart to beat, doesn’t work properly. If your Border Terrier has this condition, called sick sinus syndrome, he will have a very low heart rate and may faint with exercise. Mild cases can be treated with medication. If his symptoms are more severe, he may need more advanced care. We’ll perform a test of the electrical activity of the heart (ECG screen) each year as well as before he undergoes anesthesia to provide the best care for your friend.
In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Border Terriers often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.
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 Border Terriers 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.
Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome is a condition that can happen to Border Terriers. Not much is known about the condition, except that it is NOT a seizure, and that it is inherited. The condition does not appear to be painful, and dogs usually remain alert and responsive throughout the cramping episodes, which generally last from a few seconds to several minutes. Research is underway, but so far no known cause or effective treatment has been found. Dietary therapy and medications can help with symptoms, but affected dogs should not be used for breeding.
If your Border Terrier is affected by this rare inherited disease of his nerves, he will have weakness, poor reflexes, loss of balance and a loud bark starting around 8 weeks of age. Since young puppies can appear a bit unsteady on their legs as it is, it is easy to miss the first signs of the condition. Instead of improving as the puppy grows, the condition often worsens, progressing to death within a few months. However, some dogs experience a partial reversal of the condition, which allows the dog to relearn how to walk. There is no proven treatment for this nerve disorder, although some alternative medical therapies may help. In addition, the right dog lover can greatly enhance these dogs’ quality of life with the right assistive devices.
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Border Terriers. 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.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease in which the eyes are genetically programmed to go blind. Unfortunately, Border Terriers 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.
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 Border Terriers. 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.
Fanconi syndrome is a disorder of the kidneys that allows vital blood nutrients to escape into the urine. Because these nutrients are so important, affected Border Terriers can experience excessive urination and thirst, weight loss and weakness from abnormal electrolyte levels. Symptoms usually appear between two and six years of age. The severity and course of the disease varies from dog to dog, with some remaining stable for years and others falling into fatal kidney failure. Routine urine screening can help to diagnose Fanconi syndrome in its early stages; prompt treatment can greatly extend both your pet’s lifespan and his quality of life.
Underbite (prognathism) affects Border Terriers more than other breeds. In this condition, the lower jaw sticks out further than the upper jaw. Most cases do not require treatment, but if the abnormally positioned teeth are digging into his mouth, chronic pain may result. Extractions or orthodontic work may be needed.
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 Border Terriers. 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 Border 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. Twice a year stripping is also required for her wiry double coat.
- Border Terriers often have serious problems with their teeth, so you’ll need to brush them at least three times 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.
- She is a highly active dog that excels at Earthdog, flyball, agility, and tracking competitions.
- Border Terriers can have a high prey drive, so she needs to be leash walked and a securely fenced yard is a must.
- 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 Border Terrier 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
- General reluctance to run or play
- Pain when opening the mouth or chewing
- Increased hunger and thirst, weight loss
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
- Tiring easily, coughing, a swollen belly or fainting/collapse
- Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
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 Border Terrier 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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- 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/border-terrier
- 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=border-terrier