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
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)
|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