|The Australian Cattle Dog is affected by three main health problems. At present we are gradually eliminating these hereditary disorders thanks to different forms of screening. These tests are indispensable tools for breeders as they allow them to offer a real guarantee when it comes to the quality of their production.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
According to the American laboratory Optigen, at the turn of the century, around 25% of Australian Cattle Dogs were free from PRA PRCD (falling into the PRA A category), 50% were carriers of the disease (PRA B), while 25% were likely to develop it, thereby gradually becoming blind (PRA C).
In 2001 Optigen launched a DNA test offering the possibility of determining, as of the age of 5 weeks thanks to a blood sample or cheek swab, whether an Australian Cattle Dog is A, B or C. Knowing which category your dog falls into is of use for several reasons. First of all, the test indicates whether a dog will develop this disease before he starts to show any symptoms (4 years of age at the earliest). It also allows breeders to make the right choices in view of no longer producing PRA C dogs.
Optigen advocates the following pairings:
- A X A - automatically producing A dogs
- A X B - producing As or Bs
- A X C - systematically producing Bs
However the following combinations should be strictly avoided:
- B X B - producing As, Bs, but also Cs
- B X C - producing Bs and Cs
- C X C - producing only Cs
It goes without saying that untested dogs should only be mated to PRA As.
Thanks to the DNA test elaborated by Optigen, the above mentioned figures have evolved. At present most Australian Cattle Dogs are either "A" or "B".
If PRA PRCD is the chief eye disease affecting ACDs, it's still a good idea to have any dog to be used for breeding checked out by a qualified eye specialist before the age of two for other diseases, and every second year after that to confirm the efficiency of the Optigen test.
According to official statistics, around 12% of Australian Cattle Dogs become partially deaf as they gain their colour, while 2% become fully deaf. Only one of the parents needs to be a carrier of the problem for it to be passed on to some of the offspring, but the results are worst if one of the parents is actually half deaf.
If it's easy to spot a deaf dog, such isn't the case for individuals with partial hearing loss. In light of the number of half deaf ACDs, it's important for dogs to undergo a Brainstem Auditory Response "Baer" test before being used for breeding. Pups, that can be checked as of 6 weeks of age, should also be tested before being sold to their future owners. This test helps determine whether a dog hears perfectly well or not by detecting electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways in the brain, the way an antenna detects TV signals. The response waveform consists of a series of peaks, with an ear that is deaf forming an essentially flat line. In France it is possible to have one's dogs tested at various Veterinary Hospitals or by a handful of private clinics.
Bad hip dysplasia isn't a frequent problem for Australian Cattle Dogs but it could become a concern if too many untested dogs or those with the disease are used for breeding.
As a result, dogs with a score of "E" or "D" (advanced stages of the problem) should only be kept as pets, while those with a score of "C" should only be mated with "A" dogs.
The same rule applies to elbow dysplasia. ACDs with a mild degree of elbow dyplasia (0/1 or 1/0) can still be bred from, as long as they are mated with dogs that have been formally identified as clear.