With the intensive and very rugged type of breeding programs, combined with the infusion of both wild dogs, the Dingoes, as well as various domestic breeds, the Australian Cattle Dog is really a very healthy dog overall. Unlike some purebreds that have been extensively line bred or inbred to enhance specific characteristics, the originators of the Australian Cattle Dog breed used out breeding programs to develop the specific characteristics.
However, with more and more emphasis, at least in some lines, with specific types of conformation as opposed to just working abilities, there are a few genetic issues beginning to surface within the Australian Cattle Dog breed. This is not unusual and considering the number of genetic conditions that purebred dogs or almost any other type of dogs are likely to have the Australian Cattle Dog is outstanding. In general there are three major genetic conditions that can occur, none which are life threatening with proper care and management.
One interesting note is that although the Collie breeds were used in the development of the Australian Cattle Dog, the Australian Cattle Dog is virtually completely free of a condition known as Collie Eye Anomaly. This condition can cause mild to complete blindness in almost all Collie breeds, however it is statistically absent in purebred Australian Cattle Dog lines. Very, very rarely an Australian Cattle Dog will have an issue with Collie Eye Anomaly and these dogs are simply not used in breeding programs.
There is one condition of the eyes that is seen in the Australian Cattle Dog, as it is in almost every other breed or hybrid dog. This is a condition known as PRA or progressive retinal atrophy. PRA is an inherited condition that results in the gradual decrease in the functioning of the retina, eventually leading to complete blindness. It is not a painful condition and when the condition is slow to develop the dog will naturally adjust to decreasing eyesight and can continue to live a very normal life, just with additional safety precautions.
The genes for PRA are passed down from the parent dogs, although often there is no sign of the condition, especially if the parent dogs are under the age of about 5 years of age. In most Australian Cattle Dogs the PRA conditions occur once the dog is mature, typically between 4 and 8 years of age, and is considered to be a late onset form of the condition. Although no treatment is available to completely cure the condition, feeding a raw foods diet or a diet supplemented with antioxidants, may help to slow the advancement of full blindness.
Another condition that is often seen in Australian Cattle Dogs that is also common in virtually all medium to large breeds of dogs is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is also inherited and is a condition that is caused by a malformation of the hip ball and socket joint and the surrounding ligaments and muscles. Typically the ligaments and muscles don't hold the joint together securely, resulting in worn areas and rough spots in the joint that lead to decreased range of motion, pain and stiffness. Like PRA this is not typically a condition of younger dogs but occurs when the dog is very active, often at the peak of their athletic ability. Usual symptoms include stiffness and pain in the joints, inability to move the hindquarters and a particular hopping type gait as the dog tries to compensate for the pain by moving both hind legs together.
Hip dysplasia can be corrected with different surgical procedures if it is diagnosed and treated before bone and joint damage occurs. This procedure actually tightens and restructures the muscles and ligaments around the joint, allowing proper functioning. Typically this is only done when puppies or juvenile dogs are diagnosed with the condition. Other surgical procedures include a full hip joint replacement, which is often very successful but very costly with a long and difficult recovery period.
Proper food, lots of appropriate exercise and the use of various types of supplements are also effective in some cases. It is always important to ask for both parent dogs to be hip checked and certified before using them in breeding programs.
Although the infusion of Dalmatian bloodlines into the Australian Cattle Dog added a gently factor and a very unique coat pattern, it also added a genetic problem to the breed. As with all breeds where puppies are born mostly white, there is a slightly higher than average chance that Australian Cattle Dog puppies may be born deaf. This is considered a relatively uncommon occurrence but owners should be aware and check for hearing issues with puppies.
A good test is to jingle keys or make a sudden, unusual sound around the puppy. If the puppy turns towards you there is at least some hearing, however if they don't turn towards you or give any response, you may wish to have a more significant hearing test done prior to purchase. Most canine research facilities can complete BAER testing, which stands for Brainstem Auditory Evoke Response testing. This will allow you to understanding how significant the hearing loss may be. Typically the hearing will not get worse with time and even with completely deaf dogs there is still the opportunity, with lots of patience and understanding, for them to become ideal companion dogs.
Like any breed the Australian Cattle Dog will need regular worming and flea treatments, and should be on heartworm medication in areas where heartworm is present. In any show or competition dogs it is important to keep them on heartworm medication as well as have them treated for Bordetellosis or Kennel Cough as well as Lyme Disease if there are ticks in the area. Any dog that is in contact with lots of other dogs, even if just in the off-leash park or a training class, should also be fully vaccinated and treated as some of the common health diseases are highly transmittable with direct contact between dogs.
Always talk to the breeder about any health concerns that may be in the breeding line you are considering. A reputable breeder will take about the genetic issues in the breed and will also be able to show certificates of testing for both eye and skeletal issues such as elbow or hip dysplasia.