For the most part, Shelties are athletic and healthy. Like the Rough Collie, there is a tendency toward inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual puppy should have his/her eyes examined by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some lines may be susceptible to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, or skin allergies. Compared to other dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs have a four-fold increased risk of developing transitional cell carcinoma, a cancer of the bladder.
Dermatomyositis may occur at the age of 4 to 6 months, and is frequently misdiagnosed by general practice veterinarians as sarcoptic or demodectic mange. The disease manifests itself as alopecia on the top of the head, supra- and suborbital area and forearms as well as the tip of the tail. If the disease progresses to its more damaging form, it could affect the autonomic nervous system and the dog may have to be euthanised. This disease is generation-skipping and genetically transmitted, with breeders having no clear methodology for screening except clear bloodline records. Deep tissue biopsies are required to definitively diagnose dermatomyositis. Lay assessment of end-stage dermatomyositis is observed difficulty or inability to swallow, even water. At this point, the dog must be euthanised.
Von Willebrand disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. In Shelties, affected dogs as a general rule are not viable and do not live long. The Sheltie carries type III of von Willebrands, which is the most severe of the three levels. There are DNA tests that were developed to find von Willebrands in Shelties. It can be done at any age, and it will give three results: affected, carrier and non-affected. Shelties may also suffer from hypothyroidism, which is the under-functioning thyroid gland. It is an Autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Clinical symptoms include hair loss or lack of coat, over or under-weight, and listlessness.
Although small breed dogs are not usually plagued by hip dysplasia, it has been identified in Shelties. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur and the acetabulum do not fit together correctly, frequently causing pain or lameness. Hip dysplasia is thought to be genetic. Many breeders will have their dogs' hips x-rayed and certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.