What to Expect for an Australian Shepherd's Health? Lymphoma In Aussies

August 14, 2023
Australian Shepherd dog is enjoying the sunshine.

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’ Health

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

  • Dental disease
  • Maintaining your Aussie’s teeth by brushing regularly can help combat this problem (and prevent doggy breath)
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Australian shepherds are noticeably more susceptible to infections than other breeds so keeping up on their vaccinations is very important
  • Obesity
  • High-energy dogs can gain weight more quickly (and noticeably) if they aren’t getting enough exercise. Exercise also helps maintain their mental health along with physical
  • Eye problems
  • Aussies have been known to develop cataracts as they get older; some dogs will adjust to the development and be able to continue to live a comfortable life, but for some others, surgery is often a better option.  Pannus and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) are a couple of other common eye ailments that may affect your Aussie, leading to vision problems with age and sun exposure
  • Hip dysplasia 
  • Though hip dysplasia is often associated with German Shepherds because of the posture that their back legs have been bred to stand at, many other breeds also experience this wear and tear on their joints and ligaments 
  • Cancer
  • Australian shepherds are just as likely to develop cancer as any other dogs, but they are more likely to develop two specific kinds of cancer than others

Common Forms of Cancer in Australian Shepherds

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.

Canine lymphoma is the focus at ImpriMed so we have a lot of resources about lymphoma, you can see our blog for more info. 

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 

You can learn more about hemangiosarcoma in our post here. 

Treatment Options for Australian Shepherds with Lymphoma 

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. 

MDR1 Gene 

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

You can learn more about the MDR1 gene and how vets can work around it for treatments in our post here

How ImpriMed Can Help Your Australian Shepherd

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.

Find the best drugs for
treating your dog’s lymphoma
BEFORE treatment begins

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