Australian Kelpie

Updated Feb. 6, 2024
brown australian kelpie dog standing in a field looking up

In This Article

General Care

The Australian Kelpie is an intelligent and active breed. Imported from Scotland to Australia in the late 19th century, Kelpie dogs served as sheep herders. While there were once rumors that the breed came from foxes, they are actually related to another Scottish breed: the smooth Collie.

Australian Kelpies are medium-sized dogs who stand 17–20 inches tall and weigh 35–50 pounds. They have large, pricked-up ears; a smooth, sleek coat; and come in shades of red, brown, tan, and black.

Caring for an Australian Kelpie

The Australian Kelpie is a loyal and smart dog that requires lots of exercise and mental stimulation, but has minimal grooming needs. Bred for centuries to work, Kelpies thrive when given jobs or tasks to complete. This makes structured activities, such as running agility courses or dock diving competitions, fun for the breed.

But don’t worry: Once all their energy is spent, these active dogs will love cuddling and being affectionate with the people they love. Like all dogs, Australian Kelpie puppies need to be socialized early and consistently to become well-adjusted and confident dogs.

Australian Kelpie Health Issues

The Australian Kelpie was bred to be a hardy and healthy dog. They typically live 10–13 years and are prone to a handful of health issues.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease where the hip joint doesn’t conform properly and becomes too loose, causing the cartilage and bone to wear down. As the body attempts to stabilize the joint, degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis may develop. Arthritis, in turn, leads to pain, limping, and difficulty rising.

Maintaining a lean body condition is important for preventing arthritis in Australian Kelpies. Many vets recommend low-intensity exercise and supplements of omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin for dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia.

When pain is present, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are frequently prescribed to reduce inflammation and pain. If the pain from hip dysplasia cannot be managed, your vet may recommend surgery.

Luxating Patella

The patella (kneecap) is a small bone that normally sits in a groove within the femur at the knee. In dogs with patellar luxation, the patella moves (luxates) outside of its assigned groove when the knee is flexed. This movement can cause discomfort and may lead to arthritis.

Many pets will skip or run on three legs when the patella is out of place. In some cases, this may last only a few steps until the patella returns to its proper alignment. In more severe cases, the patella remains out of place.

For mild cases, joint supplements or anti-inflammatory medications are used to manage pain and prevent arthritis. In dogs more severely affected, surgery may be recommended.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a group of diseases that causes the breakdown of the photoreceptor cells (rods and cones) in the retina. Initially, the dog may have difficulty seeing in the dark, but over time the condition will result in complete blindness.

In most cases, PRA is an inherited disease, so dogs with this condition should not be bred. Before bringing home a new puppy, ask your Kelpie dog breeder if the dog’s parents have been tested. There are currently no effective treatments available for PRA.

Cerebellar Abiotrophy

Cerebellar abiotrophy (CA) is usually an inherited, degenerative disease where the body attacks cells in the part of the brain called the cerebellum. As the cells die, dogs lose the ability to balance and walk normally.

In Kelpie dogs, CA usually begins to cause clinical signs between 6 weeks and 6 months of age. These signs will progress over time.

What To Feed an Australian Kelpie

Feeding your Australian Kelpie dog food that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards is a good way to make sure your dog receives a complete and balanced diet.

Kelpie puppies should be fed a diet formulated specifically for puppies or designated for “all life stages” before transitioning to adult dog food.

How To Feed an Australian Kelpie

Australian Kelpies should be fed a measured amount twice a day; puppies need to eat three or four measured meals a day. As an active breed, Kelpie dogs are less likely to become overweight—but that doesn’t mean you should free-feed them.

How Much Should You Feed an Australian Kelpie?

Just like humans, the recommended caloric intake your dog needs varies depending on their size, metabolism, neuter status, activity level, and overall health.

The best way to determine how much to feed your Kelpie is to talk with your veterinarian, who can calculate caloric needs for your specific dog. Additionally, the feeding guide labels on your dog food provide valuable information.

Nutritional Tips for Australian Kelpies

Australian Kelpies may benefit from the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to their diets. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in skin and joint supplements, fish oil, and even in some specially formulated dog foods. These fatty acids act as natural anti-inflammatories that help to support your dog’s skin, coat, kidneys, joints, and heart.

Always speak with your vet before giving your dog supplements.

Behavior and Training Tips for Australian Kelpies

Australian Kelpie Personality and Temperament

The Australian Kelpie is a high-energy breed that’s extremely loyal to their family. Kelpies need a lot of exercise to keep their bodies and minds stimulated, so apartment living is difficult for them. They need space to run and do best when focused on a job.

Australian Kelpie Behavior 

It’s important that Australian Kelpies get enough exercise. Excess energy in dogs often presents as anxiety, and can lead to destructive behaviors like chewing and digging.

When socialized appropriately, most Australian Kelpies behave well with children and most other pets, though they may be prone to “herding” them. Proper training and supervision will help your dog learn that kids and other pets aren’t supposed to be herded.

Australian Kelpie Training

Like with all dogs, an Australian Kelpie puppy must begin obedience training and socialization at an early age. Kelpies should also be exposed to new things (including children and other animals) in a supervised setting when they are young. This early exposure will help your Kelpie be more comfortable in new situations as they age.

As such a loyal breed, the Kelpie aims to please, making training less challenging. Positive reinforcement and training games will help keep them interested. In addition to training, participating in dog sports or having a “job” will help with behavioral concerns by keeping their minds active and their bodies tired.

Fun Activities for Australian Kelpies

Australian Kelpie Grooming Guide

The Australian Kelpie dog breed has a smooth double coat. These dogs have minimal grooming needs, but brushing will help prevent heavy shedding.

Skin Care

Australian Kelpies tend to have healthy skin and don’t need any special skin care. Unless they get particularly dirty or smelly when running around outside, most Kelpies don’t need baths more than a few times a year.

Coat Care

Coat care is minimal for the Australian Kelpie. Weekly brushing helps to remove dead hairs and prevent shedding.

Eye Care

No special eye-related grooming care is necessary for a Kelpie dog. However, if any changes such as squinting or eye discharge are noted, contact your veterinarian. These can be signs of more serious eye conditions.

Ear Care

Cleaning your dog’s ears every two weeks will help prevent ear infections from occurring in your Australian Kelpie. If a large amount of ear debris, head shaking, or scratching at the ears is noted, take your dog to the vet.

Considerations for Pet Parents

The Australian Kelpie is a very active dog who requires a lot of exercise to stay healthy and stimulated. They are loyal to their family and enjoy keeping busy, whether through having a job or competing in dog sports competitions.

Without a lot of physical and mental stimulation, Kelpies can be destructive. And, due to their history as a herding breed, they may have a strong drive to herd other animals and kids. But if you can keep up with their activity needs, Kelpie dogs are healthy, loyal companions.

Australian Kelpie FAQs

Are Australian Kelpies common in the US?

The Australian Kelpie is not a common breed in the United States. Many Australian Kelpies are kept as working dogs. They are less popular as pets, but make a great companion with the right structure and socialization.

How smart are Australian Kelpies?

Australian Kelpies are a very intelligent breed. Without mental and physical stimulation, however, pet parents may be managing destructive behaviors.

What’s the difference between Australian Kelpies and Australian Cattle Dogs?

The Australian Kelpie and the Australian Cattle Dog have similar qualities but are different breeds. Though they’re both high-energy herding breeds and similar in size, looking at their coloring is an easy way to tell the breeds apart.

Kelpies are always bi-colored (such as red and tan, or black and tan) or solid (black, brown, tan, or red). Australian Cattle Dogs, on the other hand, are often speckled or mottled. 

Featured Image: iStock/Wirestock Creators

Virginia LaMon, DVM


Virginia LaMon, DVM


Dr. Virginia LaMon graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. She completed her clinical year at Auburn...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health