Common Australian Shepherd Health Issues

Written by: BARK

November 16, 2022

What do you think of when we say Australian shepherd? You may picture their gorgeous double coat, striking eyes, and infectious energy—as well as all their endless lovable personality traits. But with so many positive qualities coming to mind, possible health concerns may elude you.

The excitement of adopting a new dog can sometimes overwhelm our debt of service to them. As owners, we must look for signs of health issues and schedule regular doctor visits. However, when every dog breed has a unique background, how do you know what signs to look out for?

Consider this your official Australian shepherd guidebook. We’ll break down some of the most common Australian shepherd health issues and discuss warning signs and treatment options. By staying on top of your Aussie’s health, you can lead them on their way to a long and happy life.

#1 Cataracts

Australian shepherds, like other purebreds, can often suffer from cataracts.1 This eye disorder can invade your dog’s iris and lead to vision impairment and sometimes blindness. You can usually identify cataracts by cloudiness covering the iris. 

Other types of vision loss can occur among Australian shepherds, too. Some other eye disorders to watch for include: 

  • Colobomas – Often diagnosed shortly after birth, iris colobomas occur mainly in merle-colored Australian shepherds. Colobomas refer to the failure of an iris to develop fully. This lack of development hinders a dog’s ability to dilate its eyes, resulting in some mild discomfort in bright light. 
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy – While relatively rare in Aussies, this condition causes the retina to degenerate over time and can often lead to total blindness. 
  • Collie Eye Anomaly – Collie Eye Anomaly (or CEA) manifests in various forms, ranging from mild to severe. It can also impact both eyes. However, CEA is usually very treatable and can be diagnosed early on in life through testing. 

Luckily, while these conditions may sound distressing to us humans, they tend to occur gradually and painlessly. With some patient practices and extra precautions, Aussies can adjust well to the changes as they come. Australian shepherds are too intelligent to let a slight vision impairment stand in the way of a good time. 

Due to the Australian shepherd’s proclivity for eye-related illness, it’s in your best interest to schedule regular eye exams for them. Puppies should get tested once they turn six weeks old. After that, an annual vet visit should help you stay on top of your pup’s peepers. 

aussie and some sheep

#2 Hip Dysplasia

With their athletic expertise and constant squirrel chasing, it’s hard to imagine an Australian shepherd with joint issues. But hip dysplasia occurs relatively often for these natural-born herders.2 And, as hard as it is to imagine, it can be even harder to identify. 

Hip dysplasia refers to a misalignment in the hip socket and can commonly be found in larger dogs such as the Bullmastiff, Great Dane, and Golden Retriever. This condition is practically unrecognizable from the outside and can only be identified through X-Ray. If left untreated, hip dysplasia can lead to:

  • Arthritis
  • Hip replacement
  • Lameness

Monitor your dog’s hips by staying on top of your doctor’s visits. It would be best to wait until your dog has turned two years old before asking for dysplasia exams, as it can’t be detected before then. 

This condition also has a sister known as elbow dysplasia. The same rules as above apply—the trouble just happens to occur in the elbow joint. So make sure to pay equal attention to both the front and hind legs. 

#3 Multidrug Resistance Mutation 

Herding dogs have many genetic attributes that help them excel in athletics and outsmart their owners (who unlocked the kennel and stole the peanut butter?!). However, they can also sometimes carry a genetic mutation that can cause adverse side effects. 

The mutation we’re referring to is called the Multidrug Resistance Mutation (sometimes called the MDR1 gene).3 This mutation means that many commonly administered dog medications can cause damage to a dog with this disorder.

The MDR1 gene affects something called the blood-brain barrier. In dogs without this condition, the barrier filters blood-borne substances from entering the brain, keeping drugs from interfering with neural pathways. The MDR1 gene, however, weakens this, which puts a dog’s brain at risk. 

Some common dog medicines that can cause harmful side effects for MDR1 genes include:3 

  • Ivermectin – Ivermectin acts as a preventative parasite solution for dogs. However, to a dog with the MDR1 gene, a high dosage can cause severe neurological damage. 
  • Loperamide – This anti-diarrheal drug can help many sick dogs get back on their feet. Unfortunately, this drug can cause neurological side effects in dogs with this condition. The MDR1 gene includes a mutated form of p-glycoprotein, weakening the blood and brain barrier.   
  • Sedatives – While dogs with an MDR1 gene can still receive sedatives, they’re more sensitive. Therefore, a vet will need to know about the gene to adjust their dosages and ensure your pet’s safety.

While this mutation can be tricky to navigate, it’s not impossible. Talking with your vet about the mutation and lowering frequent doses of any medications they take can help keep your Aussie on the move. 

aussie chewing on a pumpkin stem

#4 Epilepsy

Though it’s not a health issue exclusive to Aussies, epilepsy is certainly one to look out for. Some dogs can experience seizures when subjected to particular external triggers.4 Protect your puppy from potential behavioral changes by avoiding common triggers, such as: 

  • Infections
  • Exposure to toxic material 
  • Injuries

Genetics can also play a part in the occurrence of epilepsy. Take care to look over your dog’s history carefully and see if there’s any sign of epilepsy within its family. This is currently the best kind of screening available, as medical screening tests for this condition do not yet exist for Australian shepherds. If you know your dog has epilepsy, your vet may recommend medications to help treat the condition.

#5 Demodectic Mange

Some affected dogs can react to the Demodex Canis mite.5 While this mite lives on all dogs, some (including Aussies) have an immune sensitivity, which can lead to demodectic mange. This disorder can cause dogs to lose their hair in patches, usually starting around the eyes. 

The two main types of demodectic mange include:

  • Localized demodectic mange – The first form of mange consists of hair loss in condensed patches. It’s usually very treatable thanks to topical medications.  
  • Generalized demodectic mange – The second form causes hair loss that has spread to many areas of the skin. This form can feel trickier to treat, as it may require a combination of topical, oral, or even injectable medicine. 
aussie running in the woods

#6 Hypothyroidism

Among the auto-immune diseases found in Australian shepherds, hypothyroidism occurs most often.6 This inherited disease refers to an imbalance in a dog’s hormones, which can affect its overall metabolism. 

Some signs that your Aussie may have hypothyroidism include:

  • Excessive weight gain or loss
  • Excessive shedding or balding
  • Lethargy
  • Repeated infections 
  • Cold sensitivity
  • High blood cholesterol

While not curable, this condition is treatable. Your vet may advise you to introduce a thyroid supplement into your dog’s daily routine to stabilize its metabolism. It’s a small price to pay to get them energized and back on their paws. 

#7 Cancer

Despite Australian shepherds’ notoriously active and healthy lifestyle, they can develop cancers and tumors throughout the years. While they can experience different types of cancers depending on their surroundings, the most common types found in Aussies include:

  • Hemangiosarcoma – This malignant illness occurs in the cells lining blood vessels. From there, this type of cancer can invade blood vessels and spread throughout the body. Warning signs to look for include lethargy and weakness.7 Treatment options may vary from operation to chemotherapy, depending on the severity. 
  • Lymphoma – Lymphoma affects your dog’s vital organs, including their lymph nodes, liver, and spleen.8 Due to its ability to spread, this sickness can slowly break down your dog’s immune system. Luckily, you can treat lymphoma with chemotherapy, and it’s more common in middle age or older Aussies. 

When it comes to Australian shepherds’ health issues, cancer’s no joke. Thankfully, veterinarians have been improving more and more with early diagnostic testing  and treatment options. Regular routine care, check-ups, and attention to your pup’s behavior remain essential. 

aussie looking handsome outside

#8 Earwax Buildup

Like any dog, Aussies can experience uncomfortable earwax buildup. It’s essential to clean out your Australian shepherd’s earwax routinely (even with those floppy ears in the way) to save them from unwanted inflammation and irritation. 

Wax buildup can stem from many different sources, such as:

  • Ear mites
  • Ear infections
  • Allergies

No matter where it comes from, removing earwax can cut down on your dog’s constant ear-scratching (and maybe even your veterinarian bill). Plus, they may be more receptive to your calls of who’s a good boy?

BARK Post: Your Healthy Dog Handbook

Despite their list of health concerns, it’s important to note that Australian shepherds remain among the healthiest dog breeds on the market. With their vibrant energy, loving personalities, and whip-smart attitudes, they constantly feel like they’re in the prime of their life. However, it never hurts to practice good care and caution. 

At BarkPost, we love providing responsible dog owners with valuable resources and helpful tidbits. After all, having a dog can be a lot to manage. There’s a lot to keep track of between scheduling vet visits, comparing dog food brands, and organizing puppy play dates. 

Browse our in-depth doggie guidebooks, reviews, and other resources to learn more about how you can boost your pooch’s health. You can even try BARK food for Australian Shepherds! Pro Tip: Get 25% off with code 25FOOD and free shipping!

Give your pup what they deserve with BARK Post.


  1. Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute. Can You See?
  2.  Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute. Hip Displaysia.
  3. VCA Animal Hospitals. Multidrug Resistance Mutation (MDR1).
  4. Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute. Canine Epilepsy. 
  5. VCA Animal Hospitals. Demodectic Mange in Dogs.
  6. VCA Animal Hospitals. Hypothyroidism in Dogs.
  7. Colorado State University. Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs.
  8. Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute. Lymphoma. 
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Written by: BARK

November 16, 2022


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.