Lancashire Heeler

The Lancashire Heeler is the smallest pastoral breed and has been well-established as a type for over 150 years. It was recognised by The Kennel Club in 1981. The breed is generally a long-lived one but there are health issues which interested parties need to be aware of. Four eye conditions have been identified under the Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association/International Sheepdog Society Eye Scheme and appear on the schedules for health conditions in the breed. Two (Primary Lens Luxation and Collie Eye Anomaly) are on Schedule A (proven inherited conditions) and two (Hereditary Cataract and Persistent Pupillary Membrane) are on Schedule B (under investigation). It is recommended that Lancashire Heelers are eye-tested at least once a year. Cases of Patella Luxation have been reported in the breed and this condition is being investigated.


This is a well documented, painful and blinding inherited condition that affects many breeds, including the Lancashire Heeler. The fibres that hold the lens in place break down as the dog matures and the lens falls out of the correct position. If it falls into the back of the eye, glaucoma and loss of vision can result. The age of onset varies considerably which is why we recommend regular eye-testing so that the condition may be picked up at an early stage, giving the widest options of treatment. The condition is usually found in one eye at first but the other will luxate eventually. There is now a DNA test available from the ANIMAL HEALTH TRUST which can identify whether a dog is CLEAR (has two normal copies of the gene) CARRIER (has one normal copy and one faulty copy) or AFFECTED (has two copies of the faulty gene) which will enable breeders to make informed decisions when planning litters to minimise the risk of producing affected dogs whilst keeping a wide gene pool. The test became available on October 19th 2009 and there will be dogs already born who will go on to develop PLL. Each case is very individual, depending on how it happened and what age the dog is etc. so expert advice must be sought. Drops which reduce the pressure in the eye may be prescribed and can be very effective but in some cases they have not proved beneficial. Removal of the lens may be undertaken but the operation is expensive and there is no guarantee of success. The final solution may be to remove the eye altogether. A small percentage of carriers (AHT estimate is 2% of carriers) go on to become affecteds in later life. The reason for this is as yet unknown and research continues to locate the cause.


CEA is a condition that a puppy is born with and this is the same condition as found in the Border Collie. There are several aspects to CEA and it is the subject of on-going research. CEA is an ‘umbrella’ term which covers several conditions, all within the spectrum of CEA. They include CH (choroidal hypoplasia), coloboma, retinal detachments and intraocular detachments. CEA/CH causes abnormal development of the choroid, an important layer of tissues under the retina. It can be diagnosed when a litter is screened and the severity varies considerably. A mildly affected parent can produce severely affected offspring. A DNA test is available for choroidal hypoplasia is available from the American company OPTIGEN. This is the same test as for Border Collies. Coloboma are ‘pits’ in the eye tissue layers and, depending on size and position, can affect sight severely. They can sometimes lead to serious problems such as retinal detachment. Research into CEA and coloboma in particular continues at several laboratories. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE OPTIGEN TEST IS FOR CHOROIDAL HYPOPLASIA ONLY.


This condition has been known in Lancashire Heelers for a long time. A cataract forms at an early age, usually before the age of five, unlike the ‘senile’ or ‘old age’ cataract which develops much later as the dog becomes elderly. In the 1980s several dogs were withdrawn from stud when it was found they had produced the condition. This helped to limit the number of cases and we do not hear of many these days in Great Britain. There have, however, been a number of cases recently in Scandinavia. The Animal Health Trust is currently researching HC in a number of breeds and has included the Lancashire Heeler in the programme but research is hampered by lack of samples from affected dogs. The AHT are working in cooperation with a laboratory in Finland to try and identify the rogue gene.


This manifests itself as a ‘cobweb’ over the eye and is the remnant of the blood vessels that fed the eyes in the womb. They usually disappear by the time the pup is 6-10 weeks old but sometimes small pieces remain, called ‘tags’. In some breeds the problem can be severe so it is important that we monitor the situation in the Lancashire Heeler. Tags cause the dog no distress but advice should be sought before breeding.


The patella is the equivalent of the kneecap and a luxating patella is one that moves out of its correct location. It is usually, but not always, found in small breeds. Several affected Lancashire Heelers have been reported, some requiring surgery. Although some cases may be the result of accidents, most researchers believe it to have a strong inherited element, though the mode of inheritance is not yet known. ‘Hopping’ or ‘skipping’ are often indications of patella luxation. Some countries have an official testing scheme which grades the condition according to severity and the BVA is examining the possibility of introducing one in this country.


Our thanks go to the Lancashire Heeler Community Website for permission to reproduce these articles. For further information, visit the website


The Animal Health Trust –
The Kennel Club –
British Veterinary Association –
Dog Genetic Health –