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Updated: Mar 21, 2022

No new conditions have come to light this year and the focus of attention continues to be on those diseases which have become important in recent years: Spongiform-Leuco-Encephalo-Myelopathy (SLEM),Gallbladder Mucocoele (GBM),Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome(CECS) aka Paroxysmal Gluten Sensitive Dyskinesia (PGSD), Cushing’s syndrome and late onset hereditary cataract.


Closure of the Animal Health Trust in July 2020 meant that the only laboratory offering SLEM testing was that of the University of Missouri in the United States. They do process samples from overseas but this is obviously not so convenient for UK breeders although a number did use their service.

When Dr. Cathryn Mellersh and her team from the Kennel Club Genetics Centre (KCGC) transferred from the Animal Health Trust to the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University they had hoped to have resumed running DNA testing by the end of 2020 but this was, for various reasons, delayed and it looked as if testing might not resume until the late autumn of 2021.

Discussions between Dr. Mellersh and the Breed Health Group, with the support of the Border Terrier Club, resulted in the resumption of SLEM testing from early May. This arrangement went on until December 3rdwhen the order fulfilment work was transferred to the service Canine Genetic Testing (CAGT) at Cambridge. During the eight months in which we were involved with supplying the test kits 375 kits were distributed 30% of which went to overseas owners.

This has been of great benefit to breeders and helped prevent any loss of momentum in the ongoing control of this condition. Much of the organisation and administration of this project was carried out by Ronnie Irving and we would like to sincerely thank him for his efforts.

No reports of affected litters have been submitted and in order to maintain this, breeding advice continues to be that at least one member of a breeding pair must be CLEAR and that CARRIERS or animals of unknown status must only be mated to a CLEAR. To do anything else is highly irresponsible. Ideally all breeding animals should be tested to allow us to gradually remove CARRIERS from our breeding programmes and thus decrease the frequency of the mutation within the population. Remember that the DNA test can also be used to confirm that a puppy with neurological issues has SLEM and not some other condition and that it is important to report the birth of affected pups.


Gallbladder Mucocoele continues to be of great concern and an increasing number of cases have been reported to us. As before, most cases reported involved middle aged and older animals with a substantial number of them having an unhappy outcome.

This condition is the subject of ongoing research by a team at the Willows Referral Centre who have been trying to identify risk factors and comparing these in the Border Terrier with those in other at-risk breeds. Preliminary results confirm the high incidence of the disease within our breed but do not show PGSD, diabetes, hypothyroidism or gluten free diets as being risk factors. They do suggest that having Cushing’s syndrome is a significant risk factor. In this survey 14/121 affected dogs had Cushing’s syndrome as opposed to 3/128 unaffected older dogs which formed the control group. The mortality rate in the affected group was 27.6%.

We know from studies in other breeds that having Cushing’s syndrome is a significant risk factor for the development of GBM but from this sample it’s not apparent that other endocrine diseases such as diabetes and hypothyroidism pose as much of a risk as they may do in some other breeds. It will be very interesting to see further results as this survey continues.


The easing of restrictions imposed by the pandemic has made it possible for breeders to resume eye testing. As six affected cases were reported to us last year the Breed Health Group are keen that owners should report any results to us, clear or affected, via the questionnaire available on our website. Eye testing is always a sensible option as it is only by ascertaining the number of affected dogs being detected that we can determine how prevalent the condition actually is and whether we should be advising that eye testing be made mandatory for breeding stock.12 results have been forwarded this year, all clear.

I would like to thank those who have forwarded their dog’s results and request that as many others as possible do likewise. A dog’s test results are added to its profile on the Kennel Club database and also published in the Breed Records Supplement so are in the public domain. It would be greatly appreciated if owners could find the time to also forward them to the Breed Health Group as it makes the task of gathering data much simpler.


A number of further cases of Cushing’s syndrome have been reported this year and we are keen to hear of any others. The number of cases reported thus far is approaching a level where it will be worthwhile starting an Open Register for the condition and the same applies to GBM so please do fill in a questionnaire if you have or have had a dog which suffers/suffered from either problem.


There has been a good response to our ongoing health survey with 87 questionnaires having been completed plus a further 9 CECS questionnaires, 8 of which related to dogs whose owners didn’t complete the general questionnaire.

Of the dogs reported on, 65 were regarded by their owners as being generally healthy with 29 of them having no health problems of any description. 66 of the dogs reported on had experienced some health issues, some of them having complex, multiple problems.

5 results were submitted from overseas, USA, Australia, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands.

The conditions reported were:

ENDOCRINE (30): Cushing’s Syndrome (19), Hypothyroidism (5), Diabetes (4), Diabetes insipidus (1), Addison’s Disease (1)

DIGESTIVE (26): Gallbladder Mucocoele (11), Liver disease (6), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (5), Pancreatitis (3), Intestinal foreign body (1)

NEUROLOGICAL (23): CECS/PGSD (13), Brain tumours (3), Other seizures (3), Intervertebral Disc Disease (1), Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (senility) (3).

DERMATOLOGICAL (13): Allergic skin disease (6), Tumours (2), Ear issues (5)

NEOPLASIA (8): Skin (2), Soft tissue sarcoma (1), Lipoma (1), Brain (3), Mammary (1)

ORTHOPAEDIC (9): Osteoarthritis (4), Anterior cruciate ligament rupture (3), Toe amputation (1), Limb fracture (1)

REPRODUCTIVE (3): Pyometra (1), Mammary tumours (1), Retained testis (1)

BEHAVIOURAL (5): Aggression (1), Excessive timidity (2),Poor house training (2)

CARDIOVASCULAR (1): Mitral valve disease

URINARY (2): Renal failure (1), Urinary calculi in bladder (1)

CONFORMATIONAL DEFECTS (3): Umbilical hernia (1), Kinked tail (1), Undershot jaw (1)

DENTAL (8): Lingually displaced canines (1), Undershot jaw (1), Extractions due to dental disease (6)

OCULAR (2): Recurrent conjunctivitis (1), Eye atrophy of unknown origin (1)


EYE TESTING: We have had 12 reports of dogs tested under the BVA/KC scheme and all have been clear.

HIP/ELBOW SCORING: One result reported. Excellent result with Hips 0:2, Elbows 0:0 and normal patellae.

I would like to thank everyone who has completed our questionnaires and would encourage as many owners as possible to do likewise. Your information helps us to monitor what is happening health-wise within the breed and hopefully detect any new conditions which might be emerging. Questionnaires relating to perfectly healthy dogs are as welcome as those from ones with health issues and can be accessed on the website

Eddie Houston B.V.M.S, M.R.C.V.S

Breed Health Coordinator


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