Border Collies are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Border Collies will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed. If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Border Collies, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Hip Dysplasia: This is an inherited condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but others don’t display outward signs of discomfort. (X-ray screening is the most certain way to diagnose the problem.) Either way, arthritis can develop as the dog ages. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred — so if you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a family of eye diseases that involves the gradual deterioration of the retina. Early in the disease, affected dogs become night-blind; they lose sight during the day as the disease progresses. Many affected dogs adapt well to their limited or lost vision, as long as their surroundings remain the same.
- Epilepsy: This is a neurological condition that’s often, but not always, inherited. Epilepsy can cause mild or severe seizures that may show themselves as unusual behavior (such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding) or even by falling down, limbs rigid, and losing consciousness. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. It’s important to take your dog to the vet for proper diagnosis (especially since seizures can have other causes) and treatment.
- Collie Eye Anomaly: This is an inherited condition that causes changes and abnormalities in the eye, which can sometimes lead to blindness. These changes can include choroidal hypoplasia (an abnormal development of the choroids), coloboma (a defect in the optic disc), staphyloma (a thinning of the sclera), and retinal detachment. Collie eye anomaly usually occurs by the time the dog is two years old. There is no treatment for the condition.
- Allergies: There are three main types of allergies in dogs: food allergies, which are treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog’s diet; contact allergies, which are caused by a reaction to a topical substance such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, and other chemicals; and inhalant allergies, which are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. Treatment varies according to the cause and may include dietary restrictions, medications, and environmental changes.
- Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): This orthopedic condition, caused by improper growth of cartilage in the joints, usually occurs in the elbows, but it has been seen in the shoulders as well. It causes a painful stiffening of the joint, to the point that the dog is unable to bend his elbow. It can be detected in dogs as early as four to nine months of age. Overfeeding of “growth formula” puppy foods or high-protein foods may contribute to its development.
While the Border Collie is a highly adaptable dog, he’s best suited to an environment that gives him some elbow room: a city home with a securely fenced yard, or a country farm or ranch. Because he has a propensity to herd and chase, he must be protected from his not-so-bright instinct to chase cars. Regardless of the environment, he requires a great deal of mental and physical stimulation every day, and he needs an owner who is willing and able to provide that. This can be a great burden to owners who don’t know what they’re getting into. If you’re considering a Border Collie, make sure you can provide him with a proper outlet for his natural energy and bright mind. If you don’t have a farm with sheep, dog sports are a good alternative.
Recommended daily amount: 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals. NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don’t all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you’ll need to shake into your dog’s bowl. For more on feeding your Border Collie, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.
Coat Color And Grooming
The Border Collie breed boasts two varieties of coat: rough and smooth. Both are double coats, with a coarser outer coat and soft undercoat. The rough variety is medium length with feathering on the legs, chest, and belly. The smooth variety is short all over, usually coarser in texture than the rough variety, and feathering is minimal. His coat is most often black with a white blaze on the face, neck, feet, legs, and tail tip, with or without tan. However, he may be any bicolor, tricolor, merle, or solid color except white. The hardworking Border Collie isn’t prissy, and he doesn’t need excessive grooming to keep him looking good. His weather-resistant double coat needs weekly brushing to keep coat oils well distributed, and to prevent matting in the rough variety. More frequent brushing during shedding season is a good idea to minimize hair shed around the house (he sheds seasonally). Bathe only as needed — about every four months or when he’s really dirty or smells terrible.Brush your Border Collie’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.Trim his nails once a month if needed, and check his ears once a week for dirt, redness, or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. Then wipe them out weekly with a cotton ball dampened with gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner to prevent problems. As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.