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Pretty much any disease that affects humans can also occur in dogs. That's why research universities such as Texas A&M study canine genetics in order to understand the human genetics of diseases. It would be impossible to review all possible diseases here. So, I will select a more common few to provide information on.

Eye Diseases

The Canine Eye Registration Foundation tracks eye diseases in dogs. The dog is examined by an ophthalmologist who fills out a computerized form and gives a copy to the owner. This copy can be sent to CERF by the owner along with the registration fee to receive a CERF registration number. Registration is good for one year and it must be renewed annually by examination, to maintain an up-to-date CERF number. Because this is only a one year registry, many breeders choose not to register with CERF but will instead provide a copy of the opthalmologist's form upon request.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

(PRA) is a genetic, inherited disease of the retina, which occurs in both eyes simultaneously. The disease is nonpainful, and there is no cure for it. PRA is recessively inherited PRA occurs in most breeds of dogs and can occur in mixed breeds also. This early onset version of PRA has been easy to eliminate as an examination by an opthalmologist can immediately determine if a Sheltie or Eskie suffers from it. Responsible Sheltie and Eskie breeders have had their breeding dogs checked for several generations now, making it relatively unusual to encounter in Shelties and Eskies from US pedigrees

The Eskie suffers from a form of late onset PRA called "prcd" (Progressive Rod Cone Degeneration). A dna test is now available - offered by Optigen to determine each Eskie's propensity for this disease. A dog that is rated "normal" (sometimes called Pattern A) has no genes for this disease and will never develop it. A dog that is rated a carrier (Pattern B) has one copy of the gene for this disease. He will never develop the disease but can produce it if not bred carefully. This dog should be bred carefully. Breeding to an Eskie that is rated "normal" will eliminate any possibility of producing affected puppies. A dog that has two copies of the prcd gene (Pattern C) is affected and will eventually go blind. This dog should only be bred to an Eskie rated "normal" for prcd. Such a breeding will produce only carriers that will never go blind.

Since the Optigen testing is relatively newly available, it is not unusual to find affected Eskies being bred to those rated normal and carriers bred to normal in order to slowly eliminate this disease. The Eskie gene pool is very small and wholesale elimination of carriers and affected Eskies from breeding would be unwise. Bred carefully, these Eskies need never produce affected offspring.

Sheltie Eye Syndrome

Shetland sheepdogs have Collies in their background and thus are prone to Sheltie Eye Syndrome (SES) which is really the Sheltie version of Collie Eye Anomoly. This eye disorder results in the dog having "blind spots". This conditional is not a life threatening disorder and the animals are capable of having normal, full lives. It is only through screening breeding stock at 6 weeks of age that this problem has been greatly eliminated in Shelties.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia occurs in most breeds of purebred and mixed breed dogs. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals 7.3% of the Eskies x-rayed have excellent hips and 8.7% have dysplasia. For the Shetland Sheepdog, the figures are 26.9% excellent and 4.8% affected. In between these figures are the dogs in each breed with Good and Fair (non-dysplastic) hip evaluations.

All Shelties and Eskies (regardless of size) should have their hips x-rayed and evaluated by OFA prior to breeding. If this is done prior to the dog being 2 years of age, OFA will provide a preliminary rating. An x-ray taken when the dog is 2 years or older is needed to obtain a permanent evaluation from OFA.


Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is a common disease in both pure and mixed breed dogs, particularly as they get older. This is a condition that occurs when not enough thyroid hormone is produced. It can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but is often suspected in dogs that have trouble with weight gain or suffer from hair loss and skin problems. Hypothyroidism is easy to diagnose with a blood test that checks the level of various thyroid hormones including T3 and T4. Treatment consists of putting the dog on a daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormone. There are numerous brand names of this drug with Soloxine being the most common. The dose and frequency of administration of this drug varies depending on the severity of the disease and the individual response of the animal to the drug. Once therapy is started, the dog will need to be on treatment for the rest of his life. Usually after the treatment is started, the majority of the symptoms resolve.

Von Willebrand Disease

Von Willebrand Disease (vWD) is a lack of clotting factor in the blood. Forms of von Willebrand's disease have been found in over 50 dog breeds (including Shelties) and in cats and humans as well. There is a dna test to determine the whether a Sheltie carries the genes for this disease. There are two types of vWD seen in dogs - the inherited type which can be determined by this dna test and vWD as a sub symptom of low thyroid! This second type of vWD will gradually resolve when the thyroid issue is taken care of.


Dermatomyositis (DMS), is an autoimmune disease of the skin and muscle that occurs in both humans and dogs. In dogs, DMS is most often diagnosed in Shetland Sheepdogs and Collies and is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Skin lesions consist of hair loss and crusts on areas with minimal muscle overlying the bone such as the face, ear tips, legs and feet, and the tip of the tail. Muscle involvement is uncommon in Shelties. Onset of lesions may occur as early as 12 weeks of age or in mature dogs.

The American Shetland Sheepdog Association along with the Collie Foundation paid for dna research into DM by Texas A&M. This results of this study blew several widely held theories out of the water. DM is not an autoimmune disease as we originally thought. The immune system is brought into play as a result of the disease, but is not the cause of the disease. The disease appears to be inherited. In 2017, Dr. Leigh Anne Clark of Clemson University and her research team found 3 genes that, in combination, contribute to the development of DMS in Shelties and Collies.

DMS is a complex issue, for more indepth information on this please see ASSA DMS Page.