BREED HEALTH2023-04-03T09:55:18-04:00

Health and Genetics

Border Terriers are generally a healthy breed.  Responsible breeders work hard to keep it that way.  But, like every breed, health problems may occur in an individual dog.  In these days of the internet, conditions may be discussed and everyone with an affected dog joins in.  However, we do not hear about the unaffected individuals.   Even when we do Health Surveys the bias is always toward individual dogs that are affected with a condition.

The standard states that the Border Terrier “is a working terrier of a size to go to ground and able, within reason, to follow a horse, his conformation should be such that he be ideally built to do his job.”   As the breed was being developed, dogs that were affected with a disorder that impaired their working ability were eliminated from breeding programs.

The Border Terrier Club of America requires the following tests for the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program:

  • X-rays for Hip Dysplasia,
  • exam for Luxating patellas,
  • yearly eye exams by a Board Certified Ophthalmologist,
  • a Basic Cardiac Exam by a Board Certified Cardiologist, or an Advanced Cardiac exam (echocardiogram) particularly if any murmur is detected,
  • SLEM (Spongiform Leukoencephalopathy – Shaking Puppy) DNA test (or one generation of Clear by Parentage.)

The CHIC program requires that the dog have Verified Identification (microchip or tattoo when the test is performed), and that ALL results are entered in the OFA OPEN Database.  A CHIC number does not require a Normal result.  It requires that all results are OPEN.  A breeder should be able to verify the information and decide on which dogs they will use in their breeding program.  Buyers should discuss health testing with breeders.

There are other disorders that have been reported in Border Terriers.

Gall Bladder Mucocele (GBM)2023-03-28T08:38:41-04:00

Gall Bladder Mucocele (GBM) results when the inside lining of the gallbladder produces a solidified mucus. The mucus remains attached to the lining of the gallbladder and over time fills the entire lumen of the gallbladder leading to obstruction to the flow of bile or rupture of the gallbladder.  GBM has received a lot of attention recently.  In the past it may not have been diagnosed correctly, however the availability of abdominal ultrasound has made it easy to diagnose.  In the UK (where there are at least 5 times the registration of Border Terriers than we see in the US) there has been a concern about the incidence of GBM.  Surgery to remove the gall bladder is often the outcome.  Late diagnosis does not help as the dogs are often a poor surgical risk at that time.

CECS (Spike’s Disease)2023-03-28T08:40:01-04:00

CECS aka, Spike’s Disease, appears to be Paroxysmal Gluten-Sensitive Dyskinesia (PGSD) in many dogs.  Symptoms include a seizure like disorder where the dog remains fully conscious during episodes.  But signs can vary.  Age of onset is widely variable but often occurs in young adulthood.  The definitive diagnosis is to test for gluten and gliadin antibodies prior to being put on a Gluten Free diet.  At this time these tests are not available in the US.  Dogs that respond to a strict Gluten free diet are presumed to have PGSD.  No genetic markers have been associated with this disorder at this time (2022).

Idiopathic Epilepsy2023-03-28T08:40:37-04:00

Idiopathic epilepsy is a term used for a group of seizure disorders that occur due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain where no structural brain abnormalities exist.  Epilepsy is a rule-out disease.  Trauma, toxins, viral diseases and brain tumors can also cause seizure-like activity.  New anti-epileptic drugs allow many dogs with epilepsy to live normal lives.  Idiopathic epilepsy has many presentations and is not always a grand mal seizure where the dog loses consciousness and thrashes around.

Paroxysmal Dyskinesia2023-03-28T08:41:08-04:00

There are some dogs that have Paroxysmal Dyskinesia episodes that do not fit the diagnosis of PGSD or idiopathic epilepsy.   Paroxysmal Dyskinesia (PD) is an umbrella term given to a range of movement disorders, existing both in humans and domestic animals, characterized by intermittent episodes of involuntary motor movements that are debilitating, sometimes even on daily basis. These disorders were originally suspected to be seizure events, however, some differences in clinical presentation were noted. As opposed to seizures, many times during the episodes consciousness is intact, autonomic signs are absent and abnormal post-ictal behavior is not observed. The episodes can last minutes to hours which is uncommon for epileptic seizures.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL)2023-03-28T08:41:39-04:00

Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) disease concerns tears and ruptures of the knee ligament.  At first we thought these might be associated with luxating patellas (which may contribute) or with poor rear angulation conformation.  However, one cause may be associated with the increased number of Border Terriers participating in Agility and similar high impact activities.  Weekend Warrior syndrome can occur in dogs as well as in humans.  It is important that dogs participating in high impact and acute turning sports be properly conditioned.   Luxating patellas are familial in some breeds but we do not have evidence at this time to support that in Border Terriers.   The same applies to dogs with CCL disease.

Hip Dysplasia2023-03-28T08:43:17-04:00

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal development and growth of a dog’s hip joint.  It has been reported in Border Terriers.  Some dogs have presented with severe lameness.  Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a complex disease with a high environmental component associated with the expression of lameness.  Inheritance is complex with multiple genes contributing to the expression of CHD.  Responsible breeders evaluate the hip status of dogs, as well as their siblings and parents, when making selections on breeding pairs.  In Sweden hip scores are required for registration.  Where breeders have selected for better scores there has been an improvement in total scores.  Unfortunately, in the US not all hip results are entered into the OFA Open database.

Congenital Cardiac Disease2023-03-28T08:43:46-04:00

Congenital Cardiac Disease.  Ventricular septal defects (VSDs) have been reported as well as congenital mitral valve dysplasia.  The BTCA recommends that every puppy have a careful cardiac exam by a veterinarian prior going to its new home and that the pediatric cardiac form is submitted to OFA.  If a murmur is heard and if it persists beyond 14 weeks, we recommend that a cardiologist do an echocardiogram with the results submitted to OFA for the OPEN Database.  VSDs in Border Terriers have been known to close by the time a pup is 6 months old.  Great for the life of the dog, but not one you want to breed from.  Congenital cardiac disease appears to be complex inheritance.  The genetic basis is still unknown.

Juvenile Cataracts2023-03-28T08:45:14-04:00

Juvenile (developmental) cataracts have been reported.  These may appear between 2 and 4 years of age.  Cataracts that appear at a young age and that are bi-lateral are presumed to have an inherited basis.  No genes have been identified in Border Terriers to date.  Breeding dogs should have yearly eye exams until at least age 8.  Exams beyond that provide useful information.  Young dogs with cataracts should have eye exams every year for at least 3-4 years and the results entered in the OFA database.  Depending on the rate of progression exams may be spread out after that. Longitudinal data can provide useful information.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy2023-03-28T08:45:40-04:00

Progressive retinal atrophy, a degenerative disease that affects the photoreceptor cells in the eyes, has been reported very rarely.  Dogs were removed from the breeding population and there have been no cases reported in recent years.

SLEM (Shaking Puppy)2023-03-28T08:46:25-04:00

SLEM (Shaking Puppy) is a neonatal neurologic disorder identified in Border Terriers.  In 2017 the gene mutation that causes SLEM was identified.  The test is currently available through OFA.  It is inherited as a simple autosomal recessive.  It is important that ALL SLEM (including carriers) results be entered on the open database.  Knowing the SLEM status of an individual allows us to make sure we do not breed two carriers together.  Carriers can be used in breeding programs with the hope that we can gradually reduce the frequency of the SLEM gene in the population without putting the breed through a genetic bottleneck. (See the articles by Jerold Bell, DVM.)

Related Border Terrier Health Information

Border Terrier Health Donations2023-03-28T11:27:33-04:00

Want a Way to Donate For Border Terrier Health?

If you want to give a donation for health – there are a number of ways you can help.

Donate to the Border Terrier Club of America Donor Advised Fund at the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

Donations need to be marked for the Border Terrier Club of America DAF.  If they are in honor of or memory of, that can be stated. If in honor of, name and address of the honoree can be given and they will be told that the fund has received a donation.

  • The BTCA Health Committee makes recommendations to the BTCA Board of directors on those AKC CHF Grants that we feel would best help the health of Border Terriers.
  • Our Donor advised fund (DAF) is then used to help fund those grants. AKCCHF is a 501c3 organization and all donations are tax deductible.
  • Our DAF is funded from individual donations made by Border Terrier owners and friends, by the Border Terrier Club of America and from the Purina Partnership program.
  • Our DAF has funded a number of grants, most partially, but some completely.

To donate to the DAF the money should be sent to AKC Canine Health Foundation:

American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 900061
Raleigh, NC 27675-9061

 Donate to the Border Terrier Club of America Health and Scholarship Foundation and indicate HEALTH.

  • These donations are tax deductible as the Foundation has 501c3 status.
  • These funds help pay for the Health Clinic subsidies at the National Specialties
  • We pay the FedEx charges for samples submitted to the CHIC DNA Bank
  • We are establishing a pilot program for eye exams on dogs not in breeding programs in order to get a feeling for eye health in the general population of Border Terriers.
  • We are establishing a pilot program for eye exams to follow dogs with eye problems and make sure the results are in the open database.
  • We make donations to the AKCCHF for grants that help the health of Border Terriers.

Border Terrier Club of America Health and Scholarship Foundation

Health and Genetics Committee2023-03-28T11:28:55-04:00

The BTCA Health Committee has a new email:

Please use the new email above to submit questions to the BTCA Health Committee.

For the last 50 years Marg Pough, our Health Chair, has received thousands of health questions, and because of connections with the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, was able to advise people. Historically, these questions have come by phone calls, by email, and now more frequently by messages and messenger.  The volume and multiple methods of receiving meant that questions could get buried and sometimes lost in the gobs of other things that arrive.

Marg is not getting younger. We now have a larger health committee that includes three veterinarians. As always information about owners, breeders, and individual dogs is confidential.  The release of identification information is the owner’s option.

When you are asking a question remember that your own veterinarian knows your dog and should always be your first call. However, when consulting the health committee, there are certain things you can do that will help you, your dog, your veterinarian, and the committee.

  1. Describe the signs you are seeing. Provide the results of any workups your veterinarian has done.
  2. Keep a log that should include: age of onset, how long the condition been occurring, any treatment, diet changes and any improvements or decline.
  3. WRITE IT DOWN. It helps you remember, it helps your veterinarian and it helps anyone the committee consults with.

We cannot diagnose your dog, but we have a network of knowledge and of people we can consult with. We can only make suggestions.

If a disorder is new to Border Terriers we will continue to let the membership know. We are in the planning stages of a new General Health Survey, and are discussing the possibility of an OPEN Health Database where owners can enter information on their own dogs.


The Border Terrier Club of America Health and Scholarship Foundation is pleased to offer AKC Reunite Prepaid Enrollment Microchips for sale at a substantial cost savings to members. The cost is $15 per chip plus a $10 S/H fee.  This club rate is substantially less expensive than if you were to purchase individual chips from AKC Reunite. For example, the exact same chip individually purchased from AKC Reunite costs $32.95, not including shipping. A pack of five (5) chips from AKC Reunite is $20 per chip, not including shipping while the chips you purchase from the Foundation are always less expensive at $15 per chip and you do not need to order a minimum number. We are thankful to AKC Reunite for providing this opportunity to us as it is a direct benefit to BTCA members and serves as an ongoing fundraiser for the Foundation.

All chips are scanned prior to being shipped to ensure accuracy. A master list of chips sold is kept in the event the contacts you enroll to the chip are not available. When contacted, Reunite will aways contact the purchaser of the original chips in another effort to track down the owner or breeder. The parent club health committee has a list that indicates for example, Jane Doe purchased three chips – with the chip numbers. We won’t necessarily know which dog she used it on, but we can always try to locate Jane Doe using club records which occasionally are updated more often than contacts enrolled to microchips. It is an additional layer of assistance and a benefit to members. In addition, the Foundation receives a small donation from your chip purchase.

Once you receive your chips, the numbers can be reflected on the individual AKC registration for each puppy. In addition, we recommend you make sure that each chip is registered to the new owner, and list yourself as a secondary contact. You can also contact Reunite and request your information is automatically set to default to be the secondary (or primary if you desire) contact and / or your information may never be removed by the owner without your consent. This is customizable for each breeder depending on how you choose to enroll.

Margaret Henning, 20572 N Margaret Ave, Prairie View, IL 60069 is the point of contact for this opportunity.  To order chips, please send two checks to Margaret Henning. The first check is for the chips and should be made out to the Border Terrier H&S Foundation. The second check is for the shipping and handling cost per order (not per chip) and it should be made out to Margaret Henning in the amount of $10.00. Margaret will send your chips to you.

Participate in Research2023-03-28T11:37:19-04:00

Canine health researchers throughout the country are looking for dogs to help them better understand disease. In some cases, you and your dog need to live close to the research institution. In other cases, you can participate no matter where you live. Learn more about the significant impact you can make on canine health research through your participation.

Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) DNA Repository

The CHIC DNA Repository, co-sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF), collects and stores canine DNA samples along with corresponding genealogic and phenotypic information to facilitate future research and testing aimed at reducing the incidence of inherited disease in dogs.  DNA samples from any purebred dog may be submitted at any time.  Researchers may then access these samples to be included in their canine health studies.  Learn more at

We strongly recommend that any Border Terrier with ANY health issue submit a sample to the CHIC DNA Repository.  The BTCA Health & Scholarship foundation will cover the FedEX charges for shipping a sample to the DNA Bank.  Many veterinarians will not charge you extra if you ask for collection of a blood sample when you are in for any exam.

The BTCA Form can be found here

Clinical Trials

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with a disease there may be a clinical trial in your area investigating a treatment for that disease.  Enrolling in a clinical trial brings with it a commitment to follow through on therapies and testing. The benefits can include access to cutting-edge medicine and the chance to help future generations of dogs. Use the Individual Research Projects search engine below or review these resources for finding clinical trials.


These links give information on clinical programs so that you can search for ones in your area.  Some of these links are easier to navigate than others.   Your veterinarian may also be aware of clinical trials in your region.

DNA Test for Shaking Puppy (SLEM)2023-03-28T12:13:02-04:00

DNA Test for Shaking Puppy – Spongiform LeucoEncephaloMyelopathy (SLEM) in Border Terriers

From the time puppies begin to support weight and attempt to walk Border Terriers with SLEM show severe tremors predominantly in the hind limbs creating a characteristic side-to-side shaking sometimes called “rump shaking” or “rocking horse” movements. Most affected pups die at a young age or are euthanized due to quality of life issues. In some rare cases, with extensive supportive care, affected pups can improve with time. Collaborating researchers at the University of Missouri, at the Animal Health Trust and at Wisdom Health identified the gene harboring the mutation responsible for this disease. The disease is a simple autosomal recessive trait, which means that affected puppies have inherited a defective copy of the gene from the sire and a defective copy of the gene from the dam. The researchers have developed a DNA test that identifies which dogs are genetically normal (with 2 normal copies of the gene), which dogs are otherwise healthy carriers of the disease (with one normal gene copy and one mutant gene copy), and which dogs suffer from SLEM (with 2 mutant gene copies).

The key individuals involved in this research include Dr. Ana Kolicheski and Dr. Gary Johnson (University of Missouri), Dr. Louise Burmeister (Animal Health Trust), and Dr. Oliver Forman (Wisdom Health). This research was possible because of support from the AKC Canine Health Foundation with funds from Border Terrier Club of America Donor Advised Fund, Wisdom Health and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust. In addition, Marg Pough, Health Chair of the Border Terrier Club of America, deserves special credit for providing the researchers with key samples and persistent encouragement.

Border Terrier breeders wishing to avoid producing affected puppies in future litters can use the DNA test to ensure that at least one member of a breeding pair has a normal DNA test result. In addition, the DNA test can be used to confirm a diagnosis of SLEM. If your bitch has not been SLEM tested, breed only to a clear (normal) male. Same with a stud dog, only breed to normal bitches if the male has not been tested. The Genetics and Health Committee strongly recommends that every Border used for breeding have SLEM results on the OFA website. OFA Clear by Parentage (CBP) requires that the sire, dam, and puppy have AKC DNA profiles, as well as the sire and dam having normal (clear) DNA results. OFA accepts CBP for only one generation.

Testing your litter of puppies.

  • Register the Litter
  • Assign a registration number to each puppy (using whatever means you use to differentiate the puppies.)
  • Order microchips and then assign a chip # to each registration #.
  • Order the SLEM tests, and use the registration #, the Chip # and your puppy identifier (collar color or puppy “name”). You do not need the registered name at this point as long as the registration# is there.
  • SLEM swabs are big. It is easier to wait until the pups are six weeks old to swab them.
  • At that point the puppies can also be microchipped with the chip that you have associated with their registration number. The registration # and microchip # assure that the SLEM results will follow the pup through its life as health tests are done. The Border Terrier Genetics and Health Committee strongly recommends, that at this time, breeders test every puppy in every litter. That will give us accurate information on the prevalence of carriers in the Border Terrier population. If we only test litters from carriers, it makes the prevalence appear higher than it is.
  • Testing is through a partnership with OFA ( Click the “ORDER DNA TESTS” on the top bar. Orders placed through OFA use a cheek swab & barcoded card to collect DNA. Testing is done by University of Missouri. The OFA staff will send a kit and complete instructions for all orders. This test has been available since October, 2017.
Vaccine Recommendations2023-03-28T11:40:04-04:00

Please visit the AAHA site to review recommended canine vaccine guidelines.

All puppies should have received an initial dose of the CORE vaccines prior to leaving the breeder.  Owners should complete the puppy series, as recommended.

As the site says, non-CORE vaccines vary with where you live, prevalence of disease in your area and the lifestyle you and your pup will live.

From the AAHA site:

“Licensed canine vaccines have a high degree of proven safety and efficacy. For this reason, dogs that present with an incomplete or ambiguous vaccination or health history can still be vaccinated with the expectation of a protective immune response and a low risk of serious post vaccination adverse effects. Stated another way, veterinarians can assume that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks in cases of dogs with unknown immune status or vaccination history—a common occurrence in veterinary practice. Examples of these real-world scenarios include the possibility of recent natural exposure, absence of serologic data to guide a vaccination decision, or suitability for noncore vaccines such as Leptospira spp. Thanks to the reliability of the licensed vaccine armamentarium, a good rule of thumb is, “When in doubt, vaccinate.””

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