Australian shepherds are a breed of dog that has taken the hearts of many around the world. They’re energetic, unique in appearance, and incredibly smart—it’s hard not to love them. But as with any breed that takes off in popularity, there’s also an increase in notable genetic health problems.
Australian shepherds are a very special breed, though contrary to what the name would have you believe, the breed was actually developed in America to help herd Australian sheep—rather than the dog actually originating in Australia.5 They are a very smart and energetic breed and are often quick to pick up on new tricks and tasks. All around, they are a breed that is popular for a reason.
But as with any breed of dog, there are some specific health concerns that come along with their genetics. For Aussies, there are some that are easy to manage and others that are important to keep an eye out for.
Common health concerns that Australian Shepherds face include:2
The two most common forms of cancer that Australian Shepherds develop are lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma.1
Lymphoma is a cancer that attacks white blood cells called lymphocytes. When the lymphocytes are working properly, they are a major part of the immune system and help identify threats to the body. Unfortunately, because the job of a healthy lymphocyte is to circulate the body, when those cells become cancerous they then have more freedom to spread and metastasize.
Hemangiosarcoma is another cancer that affects blood cells. More specifically, this cancer targets the endothelial cells, which are cells that create a thin membrane around all blood vessels and the rest of the cardiovascular system. This membrane is incredibly important for the blood’s functions because it affects platelet adhesion, clotting, and vascular relaxation and contractions. Hemangiosarcoma commonly leads to tumors developing in the spleen, liver, right atrium of the heart, and skin—though it can also appear anywhere else in the body. Treating hemangiosarcoma can be similar to treating lymphoma because they are both affect cells that interact with the whole body, so there are often many similarities issues that arise in both cancer treatments.2,4
Lymphoma is one of the more common cancers that Aussies can encounter, which, unfortunately, has some more complicated treatment methods. Lymphoma affects cells in the immune system which are found throughout the whole body; those cells can’t be effectively treated through localized procedures like surgery or radiation the way that a skin tumor could, for example.
Lymphoma is most efficiently brought into remission through the use of a multi-drug chemotherapy protocol, the most common of which l is called CHOP. By using more than one chemotherapy medicine, the treatment is able to come at the cancer cells from multiple different directions to neutralize them.
Generally, treating with chemotherapy is one of the lower-impact ways of treating dogs with cancer because they are more equipped to respond in a positive way than they would be to surgery or other more invasive treatments. However, for herding breeds like Australian Shepherds, treating with medicine can come with a different set of problems should a patient carry the MDR1 gene mutation.
Australian Shepherds are one of the more common breeds to have the MRD1 drug sensitivity gene passed along. This gene is widespread among many herding breeds, and it can have a severe impact on your dog’s treatment options for systemic cancers like lymphoma.
The MDR1 gene affects your dog’s body’s ability to process certain drugs or medications in the bloodstream without the drug reaching and impacting the blood in the brain. For dogs without this gene mutation, there are proteins in the barrier between the blood in the rest of the body and the blood in the brain that restrict the drug from entering the brain. When this gene is mutated, those proteins are not produced effectively to protect the brain, which can lead to some very unwanted side effects of drug toxicity such as vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination, lethargy, tremors, seizures, blindness, and death.2,4,6
Studying the health of dogs often leads to your pet feeling like it’s grouped together with other members of its breed, rather than being assessed as an individual. It can be frustrating to be told that your dog will probably respond to a medication a certain way because other dogs in their breed have taken well to it—ImpriMed personalizes treatment for your pet by focusing on the individual and finding each patient the best treatment plan for them.
We help veterinary oncologists provide the very best treatment possible to every canine lymphoma patient that we encounter. And we now have testing available to find out if your dog has the unlucky drug sensitivity MDR1 gene. This can be done alone or as an add-on with any of our services, especially with the Personalized Prediction Profile, to help narrow down the safest and most effective treatment for that patient. Adding the MDR1 test is highly recommended for Australian Shepherds with lymphoma.
Using advanced labs, an ever-growing database of information on cane lymphoma patients, artificial intelligence, and your dog’s live cancer cells, we create a Personalized Prediction Profile specific to your pet and your pet alone.
The Personalized Prediction Profile shows your vet the best anticancer drugs for your dog and helps them to develop the best treatment plan to get your dog into remission most efficiently, and—most importantly—keep them there as long as possible.