Do Collies Have Health Problems?
Any dog, just by BEING a dog, is subject to health problems. All the heath testing in the world will not guarantee a dog from being affected by a health problem. Health testing should however reduce the incidence and put the odds in your favor. Some health issues we can identify and predict and others we can’t. As breeds were developed, the foundation stock often included a group of dogs that just happened to have a predisposition toward a health problem that came along with the phenotypic traits that early breeders desired. As a result, you often see certain health issues ‘fixed’ within the breed gene pool. Breeds that shared a common history often also shared many of the same health issues. A good example is the MDR1 gene which affects how dogs process certain drugs including many common wormers. This problem is shared among many herding breeds often becoming as simple a statement as ‘white feet – don’t treat’ as herding dogs often had white feet. The predisposition toward health problems within a breed also make ‘crosses’ or ‘designer dogs’ a much riskier prepositions since you are now faced with the health issues of not one breed, but inherent health issues of two or more breeds.
Why Testing Matters
As an owner, you want assurances that you are getting the healthiest dog possible. Health testing allows breeders to help you toward that goal. Even though we are both on the same side in wanting better for our dogs, science is just beginning to help us understand the genetics of canines in general and Collies specifically. In some cases, health testing is not an exact science. There are many disorders where we have absolutely no testing available. For all of our efforts, Mother Nature can still throw us a curve ball.
Any litter produced should be for the betterment of the breed. Not only should the goal of breeding dogs be to improve the physical and mental characteristics of the breed, but reasonable health clearances and medical testing specific to that breed should be performed. The official written standard for the Collie does not address any health issues so it is up to responsible breeders to produce both a beautiful dog and a dog with a good quality of life.
There are dozens of tests that can be run for the Collie or any other breed and not all of the disorders impact quality of life. Some tests focus on problems that have very low incidence while others should be considered for all breeding stock.
The same tests and healthcare procedures apply to all puppies regardless of whether the puppy stays here at Tercan Collies or it is placed in a companion or show/performance home.
I have heard the comment that breeders who do a lot of testing must have a lot of problems. Often times, at least in my case, breeders test because they either want to avoid problems or have run into a problem and want to eliminate it from their program. The simple answer is if you don’t test, you don’t know. I prefer to test and know.
As advances in science have allowed for more testing and understanding of disease and genetic defects, the tools of a breeder seem to expand every year. With those tools come more choices to make in a breeding program. We no longer are looking at JUST the physical traits of our dogs but also at their genetic components in understanding health and longevity. When I started in this breed, the only test available to us was a puppy eye check to screen for physical abnormalities and a listen by the vet to check for any heart problems. Trying to understand the myriad of other issues that affect our Collies was left to hearsay, personal experience, and guesswork. Today we have the advantage of understanding how the MDR1 gene is transmitted and what drugs must be avoided. Canine cardiologists help us screen for heart defects. Eye defects can be identified with genetic precision so that we can understand and predict clear, carrier, and affected status. Thyroid screening and hip and elbow x-rays help breeders understand what goes on ‘beneath the surface’. New testing for Degenerative Myelopathy and Dermatologists are in the works although the full scope of transmission and how our dogs are affected are still subjects science needs to clarify.
Each breeder is free to decide what health issues and conformation issues they choose to prioritize. Believe it or not, that is a GOOD thing. The individual decisions breeders make contribute to the development of different lines, diversity, and concentration of different virtues. Each breeder should be free to pursue their goals as they see fit. There are no guarantees to dog breeding and any attempt to legislate or ‘breed with committee approval’ is doomed to degrade the virtues of any breed when the ethics of one group are regulated as superior to another. The challenge of a responsible breeder is to balance known genetic influences against the overall quality of life of the dog while meeting the requirements of the standard.
Experience is a masterful teacher. My decisions and comments on health are the result of my experience and my personal decisions I make as a breeder. Whether your Collie is destined for the show ring or the couch, thousands of dedicated breeders have worked for hundreds of years to protect and improve the breed. It is a privilege and an honor to continue the work and it should not be taken lightly.