Imagine yourself ready to add a new dog to your family. Based on your activity level and home environment, you have chosen an Australian Shepherd to be the right puppy breed for your family. Each breed has its uniqueness in size and temperament and also carries with it a predisposition to issues, so learning all you can about that breed is important in the decision making process. In this blog, we will spend some time talking about the world of Australian Shepherds!
These mottled bundles of joy, initially bred for the purpose of cattle herding, make highly intelligent, playful, and energetic pets with lovely personalities. Once they get accustomed to your family and friends, these dogs prove to be excellent companions, adaptable to a wide variety of living conditions. As long as you devote enough time and energy to it, an Australian Shepherd will reward you tenfold with loyalty and hard work.
Taking care of an Australian Shepherd, however, is no easy task: this dog breed demands a lot of attention and space to consume its energy. Furthermore, several health issues, such as genetic predispositions, can develop over time, taking their toll on your canine friend’s well-being and playful personality. The fact that looking after an Australian Shepherd implies constant work and attention is true, which is why we recommend that you look at the idea of adopting an Australian Shepherd from all angles beforehand. Have you already decided to welcome an “Aussie” pup into your family? Let’s discuss how to ensure your Australian Shepherd will live a longer, fuller life!
Health Issues You Should Look Out For
One fundamental step towards a healthy, happy life for your dog is to know the health issues that can crop up. As in the case of otherdog breeds, the Australian Shepherds show a genetic predisposition towards specific health issues, which can impair their eating and movement capabilities, their eyesight, etc. Research is paramount towards the adequate prevention of these diseases, which is why we are here to advise you which issues to keep a keen eye on. Let’s take a closer look at the list of health issues we’ve compiled for you:
Eyesight issues, such as cataracts, distichiasis (the growth of hairs inside the dog’s eyelids), pannus, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), are detrimental to your dog’s well-being; if left untreated, they can even cause blindness.
Best practice: Buy from breeders who screen for eye defects. Reputable breeders have their breeding stock examined by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist annually, with the results recorded by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). In addition, there is a brand new DNA test for bilateral posterior cataracts. Presently this is only available from labs in England and Australia but should become more widely available.
Issues associated with the dental disease – Australian Shepherds are not very fond of dental hygiene, which is why your focus on your dog’s oral health is paramount. Food residue and tartar build-ups generally lead to gum and root infections and, ultimately, to tooth loss. This will seriously endanger your dog’s overall health since chronic dental infection can lead to internal organs as well.
Best Practice: Feed a species-appropriate fresh, natural diet to minimize plaque buildup and healthy oral bacterial diversity. Get regular wellness checks of the teeth and gums.
Autoimmune disorders are any of a variety of typically chronic diseases in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. Those most commonly diagnosed in Aussies include thyroiditis (hypothyroid), lupus, generalized demodectic mange, and myasthenia gravis. For many auto-immune diseases, environmental factors play a large role. Signs of autoimmune dysfunction can also be more subtle, such as recurring infections or reproductive difficulties.
Best practice: Avoid pups that have near relatives diagnosed with any of the above-mentioned autoimmune diseases. Avoid highly inbred litters. Good breeders calculate the degree of inbreeding (“coefficient of inbreeding” or COI) of their matings and put this information on pedigrees. One general rule of thumb is that 8% inbreeding coefficient or below is low, and 9-13% is moderate.
Bone and joint issues, such as hip and elbow dysplasia and arthritis, threaten to impair your Australian Shepherd’s ability to freely roam in the backyard and use their energy to the fullest. Routine X-ray scanning will promptly identify developing issues; in some cases, however, surgery will be the only solution.
Best practice: choose a pup from parents that have been x-rayed and evaluated as normal by one of the orthopedic registries such as OFA or PennHIP. Due to the complexity of the mode of inheritance, it is possible for pups from normal parents to have poor hips. To reduce this risk, look for pups whose “horizontal pedigree” (parents’ siblings, parents’ other, older progeny) shows a preponderance of good hips.
Double merle are also called homozygous merles. These dogs have irregular white markings. They may have large patches of white, be mostly white with patches of merle or solid color, or they may have a predominantly white head with or without a predominantly white body. They have vision and hearing defects to varying degrees; some are both blind and deaf. They are sometimes inaccurately called “lethal whites”; this is not a fatal condition.
Double merles can be confused with “mismarked” Aussies, in which white covers one or both ears and/or eyes. Mismarked Aussies have no more vision problems than any other Aussie, but because hearing is dependent upon pigmented hairs in the inner ear, any Aussie that has white over an ear could be deaf in that ear.
Best practice: Avoid pups with abnormal and/or excessive white from merle-to-merle crosses. Avoid any pup with white over either ear or get their hearing tested before purchase.
MDR1 is the acronym for Multiple Drug Resistance. Dogs with this gene mutation suffer bad reactions, up to and including death, when given certain common drugs, such as Ivermectin. Two copies of the gene cause considerably more serious drug reactions than one copy.
Best practice: There are safe substitutes for all the dangerous drugs; if you do not know that your dog is free of this gene, ask your vet to substitute drugs from the safe list. There is a cheek-swab DNA test for this gene that presently costs about $60. You do not need to go to a vet for it - you can just send it to the lab yourself. If your dog has two copies of the gene, his life may depend upon you and your vet knowing his status.
Taking Care of Your Australian Shepherd
We have outlined ways you can prevent getting a puppy with issues that may be genetic above but once you have your new puppy there are ways to prevent even genetic predispositions from being switched on to early.
This comes from following a set of common sense activities that encompass everything from medical aspects to the pup’s day-to-day activities. If you are looking for a starting point, this is how you should proceed:
Asserting Your Authority and Exercise
The first fundamental aspect to consider is authority - Aussie Shepherds always want to know who’s in charge, so they can follow and help them. This makes them prone to training methods that provide positive reinforcements (rewards). However, their overzealous behavior could become something of a nuisance, which is why obedience classes are recommended.
Puppies need at least a year to develop their skeletal system accordingly, which is why you should keep your pup from jumping or strenuous exercise. Additionally, they require extra supervising, so make sure that you puppy-proof the house: close the door after yourself and pick up objects that your dog can swallow.
Thorough proactive wellness in partnership with your vet is another key component of a healthy and happy life for your Australian Shepherd. Additionally, regular dental evaluations, coupled with a solid home dental-care regimen, are paramount for adequate oral hygiene. During your dog’s annual wellness visits, it is recommended that you ask for a comprehensive blood and thyroid-level test to ascertain whether your dog is developing a serious disease or not. Remember, time of day for the test is important and whether your dog is fasting. See Wendy Volhard’s Holistic Guide for the Healthy Dog to learn what blood results really mean once you get them.
A Well-Balanced Diet for a Happy Dog
The subject of how to feed your Australian Shepherd deserves a separate paragraph, considering its importance for a healthy dog life. To briefly summarize, what you need to pay attention to is not only what kind of food your dog eats, but also how they eat it. This could directly affect whether or not a genetic predisposition your dog may have might be realized or not.
What Type of Food Should I Feed My Dog?
To ensure healthy, constant growth, your Australian Shepherd needs a species appropriate, fresh, natural complete and balanced nutrition plan based on the following factors:
Your dog’s “table manners”
The way dogs consume their food plays a distinct role in their health, as we can observe in the case of humans. A feeding schedule should be established and dogs fed fresh food which is not let out for grazing all day. Plenty of hydration is important so as to flush the body of toxins and keep overall hydration high especially in warmer months. Moreover, it is best to serve dog food at room temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.
As for their overall diets, Australian Shepherds are not at all picky: dietary variations are not a thing for this dog breed, except for age-related changes. They can easily stick to the same food every day without experiencing digestive issues. In the case of dietary variations, the implementation process must be done gradually; sudden changes could upset your puppy’s digestive system.
Welcoming an Australian Shepherd into your family can only be a beautiful moment since the benefits of having an energetic and trustworthy friend around your loved ones are priceless. Here at Volhard, we are ready to help you provide your dog with the natural diet it deserves. If you would like to hear more about our mission and our products, feel free to contact us or check out our blog!
- Wendy Volhard, Kerry Brown, D.V.M., Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, Howell Book House, Foster City, CA, 2000.