Most herding breeds, the Border Collie included, are naturally healthy dogs that have been bred to be highly athletic and strong. They also have amazingly strong respiratory and circulatory systems, probably due to the intensive screening done by early farmers and shepherds in only continuing to breed the healthiest and best working dogs.
With all that being said, the Border Collie, like every other type and breed of dog, does have some health issues. Most of the concerns that Border Collie lines have are very similar to all other medium to larger sized dogs and they tend to include congenital skeletal issues which are, by definition, present from birth. These are hereditary issues that are genetically passed down through breeding lines. The most significant of these is hip dysplasia, which can be debilitating but not life threatening. With early diagnosis and treatment this condition can be minimized and the dog can lead a great life as a companion and pet, but not as a working dog.
Hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket joint of the back leg or legs don't properly fit each other. In a healthy joint the femur bone forms the ball or rounded part and the pelvic bone forms the socket or cup. The femur fits into the socket with a layer of jelly-like lubricating material between the two bone surfaces. The cartilage of the two bones is in contact through the lubricant but because of the design of the hip joint and the muscles and ligaments this is safe and normal. Ligaments and connective tissues, including muscles, hold the ball and socket joint together and the jelly prevents friction between the two perfectly matched bone surfaces. This style of joint allows for flexing and rotating, giving the dog a full range of movement in every direction for the hip.
When hip dysplasia occurs the ligaments and connecting tissue don't hold the femur into the pelvic socket correctly. Since the bones are not constantly held in the correct position damage is done to the cartilage surface and the gel like lubricating layer as the dog moves. This starts from the first step the tiny puppy makes. Over time this wearing starts to impact on the shape of the head of the femur and the socket, resulting in pain for the dog, loss of mobility and range of motion and arthritis in the joint.
Generally this disease is progressive and doesn't become problematic until the dog is mature. Often the stiffness and pain seems to come and go and will typically be much worse when the dog is first moving about after resting. Either one or both hips can be affected with the condition.
There are different treatment options including early surgical procedures to tighten the muscles and ligaments around the hip socket itself. These are often highly successful but are usually only done on dogs under 1 year of age with diagnosed precursors to full hip dysplasia. For puppies there is also a fusing of the pelvic bones that can be done to minimize damage. Older dogs can have full hip replacements or corrective surgery to reconstruct the damaged bone surfaces and tighten ligaments. Changing the diet, adding supplements and using standard and holistic arthritis treatments are also very effective when started early. Moving to a modified exercise plan and avoiding any strenuous exercise is also important.
Any Border Collie that has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia or suspected hip dysplasia should be removed from working and breeding programs. This will prevent the inheritance of the condition plus prevent excessive exercise that can contribute to the condition.
Another health concern that is more prevalent in the Border Collie and other Collie breeds is an eye condition known as Collie Eye Anomaly or CEA. Like hip dysplasia this is an inherited condition that is found predominantly in Collies, but also in some other breeds, mostly within the herding group. Generally Border Collies have a lower incidence than other Collie breeds, but it does still occur. CEA can be mild, resulting in a dog with little if any vision impairment through to complete blindness. It is not fatal and can be tested for when a puppy is as young as five weeks.
Generally CEA will appear as a slightly discolored spot on the choroid or the lining of the eye itself. It is important to note the CEA can be several different related eye issues, with each one being more or less problematic for the dog's overall vision. More significant forms of CEA may include bulging or distortions of the shape of the eye, loss of blood to parts of the eye or retinal detachment.
The conditions do not get worse as the dog matures, it is either present or it is not. In some cases such as the issues with blood loss to parts of the eye, the tissue may further degenerate, but this is not a result of the eye condition itself. Collie Eye Anomaly can occur in one or both eyes and many dogs with limited vision or full vision loss in one or both eyes become very well adjusted dogs within a short period of time.
Although CEA cannot be treated, it will also be something that both the dog and the owner can adjust to. Dogs with CEA that is mild can still work and lead completely normal Border Collie lives. Dogs with severe CEA vision problems or full blindness can still make excellent companion pets with a few additional safety issues put into place.
Any dogs exhibiting moderate to severe CEA should be spayed and neutered as soon as possible to avoid any possibility of passing down the genetic condition. Although there is some controversy about breeding mildly affected Border Collies and other Collie breeds, most reputable breeders now have all puppies eye checked and remove any with even mild diagnosis from breeding programs.
Epilepsy, Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA as well as skin allergies are also occasionally noted in the breed. PRA is similar to CEA and occurs in many purebred lines, not just in Collies or Border Collies. With this condition gradual loss of sight occurs as the puppy matures. There is no treatment for the condition, which will eventually lead to full vision loss.
Having a Border Collie pup tested for hip dysplasia, PRA and CEA as well as gathering all the information you can about the parent breeding lines is the best way to ensure your Border Collie will be free from any genetic health concerns. Routine vaccination, worming and flea treatments are also important, but talk to your vet as some Border Collies are highly sensitive to specific types of worming medications, especially those containing ivermectin.