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Border Terrier Breed Health Report 2022

Updated: Jul 3

The Breed Health Co-ordinator publishes an annual report from the Border Terrier Breed Health Group each year.  Please read on for the full 2022 Breed Health Report from Doctor Eddie Houston BVMS MRCVS, who is also Chairman of the Border Terrier Club and a Championship show judge.

Border Terrier Breed Health Report 2022

Fortunately there haven’t been any new conditions highlighted this year so, as for the last few years, those of most concern continue to be:

  • Spongiform- Leuco- Encephalo-Myelopathy (SLEM)

  • Gallbladder Mucocoele (GBM)

  • Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS) aka Paroxysmal Gluten Sensitive Dyskinesia (PGSD)

  • Cushing’s syndrome

  • Late onset hereditary cataract

Spongiform Leuco-Encephalo-Myelopathy (SLEM)

I am pleased to record that there have been no reports of any litters affected by SLEM having been born.  It is important that breeders do not become complacent about this and must continue to monitor the genetic status of their dogs.  Approximately ten per cent of those tested last year proved to be CARRIERS so the gene is still widespread within the population and to breed a litter from a pairing where at least one parent is not known to be CLEAR is highly irresponsible.

Of the results so far published for this year the incidence of CARRIERS is about seventeen per cent. This might appear worrying but in reality, it seems to reflect that breeders recognise the need to test the offspring of matings where one of the parents has been a CARRIER, a number of which have taken place.  There is nothing wrong with using a quality dog which is a CARRIER for breeding but they must only be mated to animals known to be CLEAR, never to other CARRIERS or those of unknown status.

The Canine Genetic Team (CAGT) are now established at their new base in the University of Cambridge Veterinary School and SLEM testing kits may be ordered directly from them.  Results from here are forwarded to the Kennel Club and will be added to the individual dog’s records.  If the SLEM test is carried out elsewhere it is asked that owners forward the results to the Kennel Club.

The Kennel Club have put their plans to recognise animals from CLEAR parents as being Hereditarily Clear for only two generations on hold due to difficulties with technical aspects of logging the data. Although we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the DNA test it is still a good idea to have some animals regarded as Hereditarily Clear tested, particularly stud dogs just in case any inaccuracies in identifying parentage may have occurred — a mismating can occur in even a well-organised kennel! £50 once in a lifetime is a small price to pay to ensure that the genetic status of your dog is accurately recorded.  Dogs produced from a mating where one of the parents was a CARRIER should, of course, always be tested prior to breeding.

Cushing’s syndrome

Studies based on data obtained from VetCompass,  a Royal College initiative involving hundreds of veterinary practices, would seem to confirm our long-held suspicion that Border Terriers are one of the breeds at increased risk of developing Cushing’s syndrome.  In this study, our breed is placed as second to the Bichon Frise in a list of breeds more likely to suffer from this illness.  The same survey suggests that dogs which are larger or heavier than the normal range for their breeds may be at greater risk.

We have been compiling a list of affected dogs to put on an Open Register and are keen to obtain details of as many affected dogs as possible.  Whilst grateful for forms submitted from any cases, of particular interest are those where the pedigree name of the animal is known as these may be of help to anyone trying to investigate any genetic bias towards the disease.  The Open Register is ready to go but we really need details of more cases to make it worthwhile.

Gallbladder Mucocoele (GBM)

GBM continues to be reported and is a most distressing and frequently life-threatening condition. Reports of GBM are also being received from Scandinavia and North America so it is a condition of international significance.  There haven’t been any further reports from those researching the disease this year but work is ongoing at The Willows Referral Centre and it is likely that further research projects may commence next year.

I receive regular queries regarding the diagnosis of GBM and as it cannot be diagnosed purely on blood results the best advice I could offer anyone at present would be that if your middle-aged or older Border has had bloodwork which shows increased liver enzymes have it followed up with an abdominal ultrasound if at all possible.  If picked up at an early stage, gallbladder issues may respond to dietary changes and the use of drugs which stimulate contraction of the organ.  More advanced cases are likely to require surgery which is both risky and expensive.

Unfortunately, many dogs don’t show any signs of illness until the condition presents as an acute emergency.

We are compiling a list of affected dogs for an Open Register and as for Cushing’s syndrome reports for dogs where their pedigree name is known are of particular interest.

Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS)

There is nothing new to report regarding CECS research in the UK.

Late-onset hereditary cataract

A number of breeders have had their dog's eyes tested this year and all results reported to us have been clear.  The only cataract picked up on a BVA eye exam was not considered to be hereditary.  It would be appreciated if owners could notify us directly of any test results available. 

Late-onset hereditary cataract is present in our breed and we need to determine the prevalence.  Based on the results from the last few years it doesn’t appear to be a significant problem in the breed in the UK at present.  However, eye testing any animal intended for breeding is always a worthwhile exercise.

Borders 2020 health discussion

At the Borders 2020 event held in May 2022 one of our speakers was Marg Pough, Chair of the Border Terrier Club of America Health Committee. 

In the USA they are rather more pro-active as regards health screening and recommend that breeders attain Canine Health Information Centre (CHIC) Certification for their dogs, a scheme which comes under the auspices of the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).  This involves SLEM testing, eye testing, cardiological exam and an orthopaedic assessment for hip dysplasia and patellar luxation.

Border Terrier Health Survey

In 2022 we have had fifty responses to our ongoing health survey, including 12 regarding dogs with no known issues.  The other 38 have reported a diverse range of conditions including a few where an individual dog has been reported as suffering from multiple conditions.  However, the majority of owners rated their dogs as being generally healthy.

The conditions reported this year were:


  • Hypothyroidism (1)

  • Cushing’s syndrome (2)


  • Pancreatitis (2)

  • Liver shunt (1)

  • Duodenal ulcer (1)

  • Hepatitis (1)

  • Cholangiohepatitis (1)

  • Gallbladder Mucocoele (4)

  • Foreign body (2)


  • CECS (2)

  • Autoimmune meningoencephalitis (1)

  • Brain tumour (1)

  • Canine Cognitive dysfunction (senility) (1)


  • Cutaneous lymphoma (1)

  • Extraskeletal osteosarcoma (1)

  • Lipoma (1)

  • Warts (1)

  • Skin tumours (1)

  • Brain tumour (1)


  • Perthe’s disease (1)

  • Osteoarthris (2)

  • Cervical spondylosis (1)

  • Bilateral patellar luxation (1)

  • Bilateral rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament (1)


  • Pyometra (2)

  • Caesarean section (3)


  • Excessive timidity (1)

  • Aggression (2)


  • Urinary incontinence (1)

  • Ectopic ureter (1)

  • Renal hypogenesis (1).


  • Undershot jaw (1)

  • Kinked tail (1)


  • Lingually displaced lower canine (1)

  • Dental extractions (2)


  • Cataract (2), Glaucoma (1)

  • Pigmentary keratitis (1)

  • Enucleation (1)


  • Recurrent otitis (3)

  • Allergic dermatitis other than otitis (2)

  • Neoplasia (4) - Warts (1), Cutaneous lymphoma (1), Skin tumour (2)

Breed Health Survey

Isolated reports of numerous different health problems come through on the health survey forms, fortunately at low incidences.  However, the more owners who submit forms for their dogs the greater the chance of picking up an increasing trend in any of them and hopefully being able to pinpoint any emerging problems with a view to addressing them before they become too widespread.

I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to complete one of our questionnaires and ask as many owners as possible to submit these, including those who own dogs with no known health issues.  Reports on healthy dogs help to give a more balanced view of breed health. 

The questionnaire can be downloaded from the homepage of the Border Terrier Health website (scroll down to the Breed Health Survey section).  All survey responses, whether submitted online or downloaded and posted, are received by myself.

Overall health status

Overall the health status of the Border Terrier appears to be pretty good - let’s try to keep them that way.

Eddie Houston, BVMS MRCVSBreed Health Co-ordinator

For more information

More information on Border Terrier health can be found on our website and in more detail on the Breed Health Group Border Terrier Health website.

We would encourage all Border Terrier owners to complete the Breed Health Survey, whether their Borders are healthy or have health conditions like those listed above and others.

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