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Hereditary defects of the Border Collie

By - P.A. Roger - B.Sc., M.Sc., B.Vet.Med, D.S.H.P., M.R.C.V.S.

Paul Roger was Consultant Vet to Border Collie Rescue Management Council between 1993 and 2003 .
He worked his own practice from Reeth in Swaledale, later joining up with a larger practice in the North Yorkshire Dales.
That practice covers a huge area, taking in hundreds of hill farms and smallholdings, most of whom keep Border Collies to assist them with controlling their sheep and cattle and is still the principal veterinary practice for Border Collie Rescue.

Paul left general veterinary practice to become an RCVS Recognised Specialist and consultant in Sheep Health and Production and European Veterinary Specialist and consultant in Sheep Health and Production.
He has become somewhat of an expert in sheepdogs as a result of his interest and qualifications in the health of sheep.

With regard to breeding to avoid hereditary problems

There are always more puppies about than there are homes available and working dogs need a lot of extra care and attention.
Many do not get this.

I therefore think that it is a good idea to ask yourself why you are thinking of breeding from your bitch or using your dog for stud.

The only justifiable reason for breeding is that you have a proven and top class line in either working or companion dogs.
Responsible breeding requires that all possible step to ensure that active, healthy and wanted pups are born, reared and taken. This starts with the selection of the dam and sire.

My personal priorities would be -

1) Temperament.
If the animal is unreliable, snappy or poorly socialised, then it should not be considered.

2. General Health.
The animal should have no abnormal disease history and should be fit and healthy and of good conformation and size for the breed.
This is common sense but there are hundreds of Border Collies that are produced with over or under-shot jaws, poor limb conformation and other defects; this does indicate poor breeding practices occur.
The animal should be correctly fed and should be following a regular preventive heath scheme.(e.g. regular grooming and parasite treatments). If you want an animal that will perform well for you then it is only reasonable that you maintain the health and welfare of that animal.

3. Age
Bitches should not be bred before they are 2 years old or after they are 4 years old for the first time.
Bitches that have already bred may continue until they are 6.5 years old.
Stud dogs should not be used before 2 years old and can be used whilst they remain in peak condition. I would not normally advocate the use of a dog over 8 years old.
Dogs that are to be used for breeding should be used regularly. Becoming a successful stud dog requires regular use and good experience gained through careful management of the mating situation.
Whatever, the one-off mating to give the dog or bitch some anthropomosed romantic experience should stay strictly for the birds.
Management of males and females that are not required for breeding should include neutering. This does not cause problems for the animal and allows easier handling, reduces worry of wandering and removes the risk of unwanted pregnancies. It also has some beneficial effects on future health, especially of bitches.

4) Hereditary Disease.
All breeding animals should be screened before breeding for possible hereditary defects.
The Border Collie is no exception.
There are a number of different systems that should be checked and these often need to be done at different ages. There are a number of official screening boards for different problems.
These should be used as their scrutineers have the experience and training to recognise and score these defects and can offer advice on whether or not to use the examined animal for breeding.
Often these schemes are seen as expensive and possibly unnecessary as the parents have never had a moment of lameness in their lives and can spot a rabbit at 100 metres - BUT- these screens are a minimal requirement in the face of the complexity of some of the diseases that we face.
The dog or bitch may be carrying genes that predispose to certain conditions and may not necessarily show any signs of disease themselves.

The major problems faced by the Border Collie are

a) Progressive Retinal Atrophy
The genetic predisposition to this disease leads to a progressive sight loss which may be unnoticed by the owner as the sight loss is central and not peripheral.
Pedigree analysis and eye examination under the scheme is essential as all affected animals develop central blindness.
This should be screened for in dogs over 1 year old.

b) Collie Eye Anomaly
This disease affects pups from birth and diagnosis has to be made under 12 weeks of age as the signs can be masked after this age. All litters should therefore be screened.
Pedigree analysis is also useful but is complicated as carrier animals exist that may appear normal.
CEA causes a progressive loss of sight and in severe instances pups can be blind from birth.

c) Primary Lens Luxation
This is probably an inherited condition with a dominant gene so pedigree analysis is useful.
The peak incidence occurs when the dog is around 3-8 years old and so can shorten the useful life of the animal.

d) Hip Dysplasia
All active working breeds should be screened for this as there is a strong hereditary component and identification of animals unsuitable for breeding due to hip dysplasia makes a strong contribution to the welfare of the breed.
There is an official scheme for this.

e) Osteochondritis dissecans
Again all working breeds should be screened for this disease. A working dog with arthritic changes is neither going to want nor be able to work well.
Particular attention to the elbows is warranted.

f) Epilepsy
There is evidence to suggest a hereditary component in the development of this disease.
Onset usually occurs when the animal is between 0.5 and 5 years old.

This list of hereditary diseases includes the major hereditary problems faced by the breed but is not definitive.
It is not inclusive of all hereditary disease that can occur within the breed but it emphasises the importance of responsible breeding.

Breeding Border Collies is a serious business and time and trouble must be taken to get the business right.

If you feel you must breed then discuss your breeding plans with your own Veterinary Surgeon and remember that the decisions you make now about breeding may have great implications for not just one but many generations.

As a breeder you control the future of the breed.

For more information about the pro's and con's of breeding follow these links -

Importance of Correct Breeding
Breeding Methods

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