USASA Health & Genetics Program

The Health & Genetics Program supports USASA’s objective to promote the long term health and well-being of purebred Australian Shepherds by educating owners; providing information resources for breeders; sponsoring health clinics and supporting targeted research financially and with sample drives.

Healthy Aussies

Like all breeds, Aussies have their health problems. USASA supports our breeders and encourages testing, certifications and open dialogue regarding these issues. As science has advanced, more and more genetic tests are becoming available to identify health issues, and breeders are using these tests in their breeding programs. Breeders have tools for testing, reporting and tracking the health of their breeding dogs.

The most common health issues for Aussies include:

Health Issue Method of Testing Impact For More Information
Hip Dysplasia X-rays A condition of the hip joint in which the bones are not properly formed. It results in a loose hip socket to thighbone connection causing hip pain and lameness ranging from mild to crippling. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)
Elbow Dysplasia X-rays A condition of the elbow joint in which the bones are not properly formed. It results in a loose elbow connection causing pain and lameness ranging from mild to crippling. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)
Hereditary Eye Defects Eye exam by a certified veterinarian ophthalmologist and genetic test for cataract Aussies can inherit a number of eye defects which impair vision in varying degrees or cause complete blindness. They include ocular coloboma, iris coloboma, juvenile and senior cataracts, detached retina, persistent pupillary membrane, progressive retinal atrophy and distichiasis. Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF)
Animal Health Trust
Animal Genetics
MDR1 [Multi-drug sensitivity] Blood test Some dog breeds are more sensitive to certain drugs than other breeds. Aussies can have adverse reactions to drugs such as ivermectin and loperamide (Imodium). Drug sensitivities result from a mutation in the multi-drug resistance gene (MDR1). Dogs with the mutant gene cannot pump some drugs out of the brain as a normal dog would. The result may be an illness requiring an extended hospital stay - or even death. Washington State University
Thyroid disease Blood test Thyroid disease is considered the most common endocrine disease of dogs. Endocrine glands secrete hormones that help manage the body’s processes. Triiodothyronine and levothyroxine, the hormones produced by the thyroid, govern the body’s basic metabolism — including control of growth and development and maintenance of protein, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism — throughout life. Failure of the thyroid gland means trouble of one sort or another for the body. Canine Health Foundation
Cancer At present, there is no known test for cancer The two most common cancers are hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma. Canine Health Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation
Epilepsy At present, there is no known test for epilepsy Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that can be caused by a variety of things such as injury, infections, toxic exposure and genetics. Canine Health Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation
Canine Epilepsy Research Network
Canine Epilepsy Resource Center
Toby’s Foundation

Additional H&G Information

AKC/Canine Health Foundation have created the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) and certification for tracking the results of certain health tests. For Aussies, the mandatory tests for certification are: hip & elbow OFA evaluation and eye evaluation. Optional testing includes autoimmune thyroiditis, Collie Eye Anomaly and Multiple Drug Sensitivity.

Refer to the RESOURCES section for an extensive list of resources and links.

USASA Sponsored Health Clinic

This annual clinic, held in conjunction with the annual USASA National Specialty, is arranged by the H&G Committee who makes the arrangements, organizes the workers and offers a discount to participants due to the volume of samples taken at the event. In addition to these discounts, USASA partners with the USASFoundation in providing subsidies to members for many of the tests.

Please visit the current nationals event page for this year’s offering.

Funded Health Research

USASA has made significant contributions over the years in support of research that will have direct benefits for our breed. The H&G Committee is responsible for making recommendations on research studies that should be supported. USASA’s partner in these efforts is the USASFoundation.

There have been opportunities for USASA to form broad partnerships with other Foundations to advance important research. The prime example is the partnership USASA led, teaming ASHGHI, Toby’s Foundation, and the USASFoundation to help fund Epilepsy Research. The Canine Health Foundation had approved a research grant to Dr. Ned Patterson, University of Minnesota, for approximately $93,000. If the Aussie community raised half the grant, the CHF would match our contribution. This was such a large sum, at the time no one organization could provide the funding, but it was possible if we all worked together. And that is what we did for the benefit of our breed!

In addition to efforts with the USASFoundation, USASA has made the following donations to researchers and studies:

Disease Researchers Amount of Grant
Lymphoma Dr. Mathew Breen, NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine $3,000
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Dr. Timothy O’Brien, University of Minnesota $3,000
Epilepsy Research Dr. Ned Patterson, University of Minnesota $7,440
Angiogenic Phenotype in Cancer Dr. Jaime Modiano, University of Minnesota $2,000
MDR1 and Lymphoma Dr. Annette N. Smith, Auburn University $3,500
United States Australian Shepherd Association