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Sheltie Health

The Sheltie is generally a healthy and resilient breed, but like any breed, mixed or pure, they can be prone to medical conditions in a small percentage of dogs.

This list of medical conditions below is not meant to discourage you from purchasing a Sheltie, but more so you are aware that these conditions do exist in the breed, and to help you in selecting a breeder who makes an effort to ensure the dogs they breed are healthy and sound and free and clear of genetic problems. 

Although testing of breeding dogs does not always guarantee problems will not occur in their offspring, it does statistically reduce, and in some cases, eliminate the chances. A good breeder will take suitable measures to get the appropriate medical tests and clearances on their dogs prior to breeding.

Medical conditions that can occur in Shelties include:

  • Dermatomyositis
  • von Willebrand’s Disease vWD
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Multi-drug Resistance MDR1
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cushings Disease
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Occasionally gall bladder problems and bladder cancer
  • Eye Diseases including Corneal Dystrophy, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Collie Eye Syndrome (CEA), Distichiasis

Dermatomyositis (DM)

Also known as Sheltie Skin Syndrome, is a degenerative autoimmune disease occurring between the ages of 4 – 6 months that manifests as hair loss around the faces, eyes, ears, and sometimes feet, often leaving the dog scarred for life.  In its more severe form, DM damages the underlying muscles and deep tissue, and euthanasia is required. Though considered hereditary, the mode of inheritance is unknown, and there is no genetic test for this condition. Breeders must use care in breeding dogs that do not exhibit or have DM in their lineage.

von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD)

vWD is a clotting disorder that can result in uncontrolled bleeding, depending on the type of vWD.  It is a very serious disorder with no treatment or cure. DNA tests are available to detect carrier, clear, and affected dogs.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia a painful, often crippling disease caused by an abnormality of the hip joint where the head of the thighbone (femur) does not fit properly into the pelvic socket. It is often progressive, causing inflammation, pain, and arthritis. The inheritance of hip dysplasia is polygenetic and multifactored, meaning more than one mode of inheritance is involved and environmental factors such as weight and growth rates can also play a part. The hips of breeding dogs should be evaluated by a specialist in canine orthopedics prior to breeding.

Multi-Drug Resistance (MDR1)

Multi-Drug Resistance is found in a number of herding breeds, and results in a sensitivity to certain medications. It is found as the result of having the MDR1 gene – better known as the multi-drug resistance gene mutation.  Veterinarians are well aware of the possible presence of this gene in herding breeds, and appropriate precautions and alternatives are provided. DNA testing for normal and affected dogs is available.


This can occur in all breeds, mixed or pure. It is a dysfunction of the endocrine system resulting in the impaired production and secretion of thyroid hormones, causing poor metabolism, weight gain and skin and coat problems. Though easy to diagnose and treat, some breeds are more predisposed than others, including Shelties, and genetic testing known as the TgAA test (Thyroglobulin Auto Antibody) is required prior to breeding. Dogs testing positive for TgAA should not be used for breeding purposes.

Corneal Dystrophy

A disease of the cornea which appears as grayish white lines, circles, or clouding of the cornea, caused by fatty deposits (lipids or cholesterol crystals) in the cornea. It is often mistaken as cataracts by owners of the dog because of the cloudiness that can appear over the eye. Depending on the type of dystrophy, the condition can be serious and can lead to ulceration and vision loss if not treated appropriately. Although the exact mode of inheritance is unknown, it is thought to be heredity in nature, and dogs should be screened prior to breeding. Corneal Dystrophy can occur at any age, so yearly testing of breeding dogs is recommended.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

A classification of eye diseases characterized by the degeneration of the retina. Depending on the breed, type of PRA (central or generalized) and age of onset, PRA leads to vision loss and eventual blindness in one or both eyes. Inheritance factors vary by breed, and dogs in affected breeds should be screened through ophthalmologic examination or DNA testing prior to breeding.

Collie Eye Syndrome

CEA encompasses a number of eye deformities from the inadequate development of blood vessel to detached retinas.  It is diagnosed at a young age, often as early as 6 weeks. All breeding dogs should be tested for CEA though it is no longer a common occurrence in the breed due to careful and selective breeding.


Distichiasis is where extra eyelashes grow from abnormal follicles located on the inside edge of the eyelid. It can cause eyelashes to rub against the cornea and surgical correction is often required. Distichiasis is not common, but can occur in this breed. Other eyelash disorders can also occur.

Gall Bladder Disease

There has been an increase in gall bladder disease in shelties in recent years. Although DNA tests are not yet available, a genetic link has been established.


Legg-Perthes Disease:  Occurrences of legg-perthes disease have also been known to occur in Shelties. Legg-Perthes disease is a disorder of the hip joint where the blood supply to the femoral head is interrupted, resulting in vascular necrosis, or death of the surrounding bone cells. It is thought to be genetic in nature, but the mode of inheritance is not known.

Double Dilute (Double Merle): Double merling, also known as the “lethal white gene” is found in a number of breeds and can result in eye deformities and blindness, and in some cases, deafness. Because of the diluted genes, it can affect internal organs and bone strength. A double dilute sheltie comes from the breeding of two blue merles. These are called homozygous merles and because of health problems that occur as a result of a diluted colour gene, such breedings between merles are discouraged.

Double merles are different than a coloured headed white sheltie. If you are interested in a white sheltie, it is critically important you talk to a responsible breeder to fully understand the differences in the two.

This breed health description has been used with permission and is provided through the courtesy of

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