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Information about Shetland Sheepdogs

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Health Problems Affecting Shetland Sheepdogs 

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) | Hip dysplasia | von Willebrandís Disease (vWD) | Dermatomyositis (DM)


Hypothyroidism (low thyroid)

Hypothyroidism is a condition resulting from the bodyís inability to maintain sufficient levels of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, so lower than normal thyroid levels can result in a variety of symptoms. Thyroid gland insufficiency can be due to age and the resulting decreased ability of the thyroid gland to function, as the result of medications and other health problems, or as the result of autoimmune disease. Autoimmune thyroid disease is not actually a thyroid problem; it is an immune system problem that causes the body to produce antibodies against the thyroid hormones or the thyroid gland itself. It is believed that autoimmune thyroiditis, like other immune system problems, is inherited.

Symptoms: weight gain, thinning coat, dry skin, slow heart rate, intolerance to cold. A dog may have one symptom or may have a variety of symptoms. Thyroid disease is a progressive disease, so the changes are often gradual and subtle. Low thyroid can also make other conditions, especially those involving the hair and coat, more pronounced.

Diagnosis: To accurately diagnose thyroid disease, a complete thyroid panel needs to be run. This panel should include values for Total T4, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, T4 antibodies, T3 antibodies, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), and TgAA. The most commonly used lab for this test is Michigan State University. Only testing for the T4 and/or T3 levels cannot produce an accurate diagnosis. Without performing a complete thyroid panel, it cannot be determined if the problem is immune related, and the presence of antibodies can cause the values for T4 and T3 to be inaccurate.

Treatment: Supplementation with thyroid replacement hormone. Periodic retesting should be done until thyroid values are stabilized at the desired level.


Hip dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is not as prevalent in Shetland Sheepdogs as it is in many other breeds. It is a condition that causes the degeneration the hip joint and can affect one or both of the hips. Hip dysplasia can be mild to severe, with some mild cases never exhibiting noticeable changes in the dogís gait.

Symptoms: irregular gait, difficulty getting up or climbing stairs

Diagnosis: Diagnosis can only be done through the use of x-rays. Although the more severe cases will produce noticeable symptoms and obvious discomfort, the absence of these does not mean a dog is not affected. X-rays should be sent to Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHip for evaluation by specialists. The specialists at OFA examine the x-rays for signs of hip dysplasia and rate the hips as clear of hip dysplasia (Excellent, Fair or Good) or dysplastic (borderline, moderate or severe). OFA will do preliminary evaluation on dogs under the age of 2 years, but will only certify dogs that are radiographed after the age of 2. The PennHip evaluation involves actual measurements taken to determine the laxity in the joint and can be done at a much younger age.

Treatment: In some cases, relief can be provided by using glucosamine supplements or medications. Weight management is very important, as excess weight puts more stress on the joints. The only "cure" for hip dysplasia is hip replacement surgery.


von Willebrandís Disease (vWD)

von Willebrandís disease is a bleeding disorder that prevents a dogís blood from clotting properly. It is inherited and is caused by a single recessive gene. Dogs that have one gene are carriers, those that have 2 are affected.

Symptoms: excessive bleeding times, excessive bruising, hemorrhaging.

Diagnosis: The gene that causes vWD has been identified and there is a DNA test that can be done through VetGen. A small brush is inserted into the dogs mouth to collect the DNA sample, which is then sent to VetGen for analysis.


Dermatomyositis (DM)

Dermatomyositis is an inherited disorder that can cause skin lesions and in severe cases, affect the muscles. DM primarily affects Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, although dogs in other breeds have been diagnosed.

Symptoms: Unfortunately, some dogs never exhibit symptoms, but pass the disease along to their offspring. There can be a wide range in the severity of the symptoms, even among littermates. No one is sure why some dogs are severely affected while others show few, if any, symptoms. The skin lesions typically appear first on the head and ears and the front legs. These lesions may have a white or yellow crust or they may appear to be an area of dry flaky skin or just a small bald spot. In moderate cases, there may be extensive hair loss and scarring on the face and ears, as well as on the legs and the tip of the tail. In severe cases, the disease affects the muscles as well as the skin.

Diagnosis: The only way to diagnose DM is through a skin punch biopsy evaluated by a dermapathologist. The biopsy needs to be done on an active lesion. An active lesion need not be crusty, it may just be an area of hair loss. DM is probably often overlooked or misdiagnosed as allergies or demodectic mange. There are a number of conditions that produce similar symptoms, which is why it is so important to do a biopsy. A positive skin scraping for demodectic mange does not rule out DM, as it is possible for the dog to have both. Research is currently being done to try and identify the gene(s) responsible for DM. Once the gene(s) are identified, hopefully a DNA test can be developed.

Treatment: There is no cure for DM. The usual treatment is with steroids. Mild cases may clear up without treatment, but more severe cases may require long tern steroid use. Stress and sunlight can make aggravate the condition.

© 2000 Susan Sparks


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