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Health of the Scottish Terrier Breed


It is in the best interests of all who are considering the purchase of a Scottish Terrier to know as much as possible about the breed, in particular issues concerning the long-term health of the Scottie. It is the intention of this article to introduce the reader to the subject - the author is neither a veterinarian nor a genetic specialist. There are, however, many resources available for further detailed study and links or references will be made available at the conclusion.

Scotties as a Breed

Scotties tend to be a healthy breed. This happy situation is a result of their long genetic evolution in the Scottish Highlands and the care of the breed taken by fanciers over the years. This is not to say that there are not health problems - there are, and some breeding lines will show more problems than others, but the openness of breeders and the action taken by breed clubs to address the problems are actually improving the breed.


The Scottish Terrier Club of America is a leader in this work. The STCA has developed a health survey of the breed which has served to focus attention on the serious conditions in the breed. The Club's Health Trust Fund sponsors research, education and outreach programs and has funded research into many of the problems which affect the Scottie.

One of the keys to the health of the Scottish Terrier is his routine care. An important first step is finding a good veterinarian, ideally one who is familiar with the breed. Your vet will advise you on preventive care such as regular checkups, inoculations and on other preventive steps like heartworm testing, stool testing and teeth cleaning. Cleanliness, appropriate food in appropriate quantities, exercise and lots of love are equally key in the good health of the Scottie.

The Problems in the Breed

In his book, Control of Canine Genetic Diseases, Dr George A Padget, DVM, Professor of Pathology at Michigan State University, has identified 36 genetic diseases which affect the Scottie. Most such as missing teeth or tail kink are relatively minor problems and affect a very small percentage of the breed, but some are killers and are being addressed. Much remains to be done, however, as it is still not fully known how many of the problems occur, and it is almost impossible to determine if a puppy is affected as many of the problems are not apparent until later in life. Some of the major conditions are briefly described below.

Von Willebrand's Disease is a serious, often fatal, hereditary bleeding disorder, similar to haemophilia in humans. For many years a major concern in the breed, research has found a genetic marker for the condition and conscientious breeders are testing their dogs and working hard to eradicate the disease from the breed. The genetic testing is simple and relatively inexpensive and can be done by all breeders.

Cushing's Syndrome is a condition caused by an excess of the hormone cortisol and manifests itself in the dog's considerable increase in consumption of water and a corresponding increase in the amount and frequency of urine production. The affected dog gradually gains weight and looses coat, combined with a darkening and thickening of the skin. Caused usually by a tumour on the pituitary gland, it is treatable with drugs and, in the rare case, surgery.

Cancer. Scotties are at high risk for some cancers, particularly lymphosarcoma, bladder and urinary tract cancers, malignant melanoma and gastric carcinoma. Research into cancers is ongoing and early detection is critical in affecting a cure.


Scottie Cramp is a widespread but fortunately benign neurological disorder which affects the dog's ability to coordinate movement. Not apparent under normal conditions, an affected dog, when stimulated by exercise, fear or prey will show a stiffening or cramping of the hind legs, an arching of the spine, a goose-stepping gait and an eventual fall. The dog is not in pain as the "cramping" appearance of the disorder is really an inability of the dog to coordinate his movements. As the dog calms down, the symptoms disappear completely. As mentioned, the condition is benign and affected dogs live long and happy lives with the disorder. Sometimes apparent as early as 6-8 weeks old, dogs learn rapidly to adjust to the condition and some affected dogs never exhibit the disorder. Treatment can serve to lessen the severity of the episodes but there is no cure, nor has research yet discovered a genetic marker to assist breeders eradicate the condition.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy is a disorder of the mouth which usually sees an abnormal growth of the lower jaw in the puppy. It usually appears in puppies around four months of age and is a painful condition which, fortunately, is both treatable in the young and is one which the pup "grows out of" with little or no effect on the adult dog.

Hypothyroidism is an underproduction of the hormones of the thyroid gland. Symptoms include poor coat condition, loss of coat and fading colour, chronic skin conditions, weight gain, fatigue and lethargy. Causes may range from failures in the endocrine system to liver malfunction to inadequate diet. Treatment of the condition is effective but determining the exact cause of the problem is critical to the type of treatment.

Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent seizures, which involve excessive salivation, dilation of the pupils, stiffening of the limbs and arching of the back and sometimes the loss of consciousness. The seizures may be caused by a number of conditions ranging from brain tumours to low blood sugar and heatstroke. Diagnosis and treatment of seizures is complicated and the dog should be taken to vet immediately.

Skin Problems. There are many conditions which affect the skin and coats of dogs, ranging from true hereditary conditions to diet to parasites to symptoms of more serious underlying medical conditions. Diagnosis and treatment of parasites such as fleas, demodetic and sarcoptic mange are fairly simple but some skin conditions are chronic and require careful attention by your vet. Diet is a big factor in the health of the skin and coat and many problems are caused by improper feeding.

Eye Problems. As Scotties age they are susceptible to many of the eye problems associated with growing age. They can be affected with cataracts, glaucoma, PPM (persistent papillary membranes), and PRA (progressive retinal atrophy) and all of these conditions can be treated through your vet.

Portosystemic Shunt. This condition, also known as liver shunt, occurs when the blood cannot enter the liver in sufficient quantities for the liver to perform it's cleansing. Present at birth, the condition becomes apparent between 8-10 weeks of age when the pup appears lethargic, the coat becomes dull and there are periodic staggering episodes. Difficult to diagnose at this early stage, the condition requires extensive blood testing for confirmation and is difficult and expensive to treat, usually requiring a number of surgeries with little guarantee of success. Fortunately, this serious condition is still quite rare in the Scottish Terrier.


There is a wealth of information on dogs in general and the Scottie in particular available both in book form and on the internet. The references and websites used to prepare this article, and some additional sites which are related, are shown below.

The Canadian Kennel Club
The American Kennel Club
The Canadian Scottish Terrier Club
The Scottish Terrier Club of America
Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF)
Healthgene Corporation
The New Scottish Terrier, Cindy Cooke, Howell Book House, 1996.
The Kennelgarth Scottish Terrier Book, 2nd Ed, Betty Penn-Bull, Axxent Limited, 1995
Control of Canine Genetic Diseases, George A Padgett, Howell Book House, 1998

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