Common health issues with Border Terriers

13 May 2024 - 4 min read
Border Terrier with a pink circle drawn over one of its hind legs

Energetic, affectionate Border Terriers are generally considered a hardy breed. They were bred originally to be skilled hunters, after all—doggedly chasing foxes and vermin across rugged terrain.

But that doesn't mean they're invincible. Like a lot of pedigree dogs, they are predisposed to certain health issues that current (and prospective) owners should know about before adopting.

Today, we'll delve into common health problems in Border Terriers, how much they might cost to treat, and some tactics for keeping your Border healthy.

Hip dysplasia

Border Terrier

This condition occurs when the hip joints don't develop properly, potentially leading to arthritis and other issues. Veterinary surgeon Dr. Sophie Bell, DVM, explains how this develops:

“The hip joint consists of a ball called the ‘femoral head’ and a socket, the ‘acetabulum’. Both the ball and socket should grow at the same rate, but with hip dysplasia they grow at different rates. That leads to a lax joint where the head doesn’t sit snugly inside the socket.”

Typically, dysplasia is hereditary, and responsible Border breeders won't breed dogs exhibiting signs of hip dysplasia. But occasionally, hip dysplasia develops from trauma.

Signs of hip dysplasia can be difficult to see in the early stages, which is why it's important to be vigilant so you can start managing the condition early to minimise discomfort.

Recurrent seizures (epilepsy)

Border Terrier

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes unexpected, uncontrolled seizures. While generally not painful or life-threatening, it can be scary to witness.

Recurrent seizures may not be related to any known cause (known as "idiopathic"), and dogs with the condition can go on to lead full, happy lives, even with occasional seizures. They'll likely require ongoing medication, lifestyle, and potentially diet changes to manage the condition.

Luxating patella

Border Terrier

A luxating patella occurs when the kneecap moves out of its normal location. This can cause pain or limping and, in severe cases, may require surgical intervention.

This is another one of those pesky hereditary conditions, so adopting from a great breeder is key. If your Border does develop luxating patellas, keeping them at a healthy weight can help keep the condition from rapidly progressing, but they may still eventually require surgery.

Heart disease

Border Terrier

The sweet, affectionate big hearts of Border Terriers may unfortunately also be prone to heart disease. This might manifest in congenital heart defects or heart failure, particularly as your pup ages. Heart disease and some heart conditions are often passed down generationally. Regular veterinary check-ups are vital for early detection and treatment.

Cushing’s disease

Cushing's disease is related to an overproduction of cortisol and can lead to severe health complications such as kidney damage and diabetes. According to Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, most cases of Cushing's are caused by either a benign tumour in the pituitary gland (80%) or adrenal tumours (20%). Another type of Cushing's can be triggered by high doses or long-term use of corticosteroid medications, like prednisone and dexamethasone.

The condition is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged or senior dogs. While some symptoms, like increased thirst, can provide clues, it's not possible to determine if your dog has Cushing's based on observation alone. This is why it's key to keep up on wellness plans and share your concerns with your vet if you notice changes in your dog's behaviour.

Juvenile cataracts

Border Terrier

Border Terriers may be born with or develop cataracts shortly after birth. This opacity in the eye's lens can severely impair vision and potentially lead to blindness if not addressed.

Skin disorders and dental disease

Border Terrier

Allergic reactions often manifest as itchy and irritated skin, especially around the ears, belly, and skin folds. These symptoms typically appear between one and three years of age.

Now onto the teeth. Lack of dental care can lead to periodontal disease, characterised by gingivitis and potentially advancing to tooth loss if untreated.

So...are these insurmountable breed challenges? Not necessarily.

“I encourage owners of Border Terriers to be proactive with teeth brushing at home and appropriate dental cleanings with us at the clinic to decrease the likelihood of oral pain as they age," adds Ronngren. "Additionally, if owners do start to mention signs of an itchy pup, we make sure to consider allergies as a possible underlying cause.”

The bottom line

Of course, if we could all only adopt perfectly healthy pedigrees, we'd be ahead of the game. And buying from a responsible breeder is a step in the right direction, as you can (hopefully) circumvent some hereditary diseases in Border Terriers.

Being aware of these health conditions is the first step towards keeping your Border Terrier healthy. Regular visits to the vet, along with special attention to dental health, skin care, and maintaining a healthy weight, can significantly improve your dog's quality of life.

But sometimes, despite your best efforts, your Border might develop a sudden illness or run into some accidents you weren't expecting. That's where pet insurance comes in. A great dog insurance policy is designed to help reimburse you for the cost of treating (covered) accidents and illnesses.


Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.