Epilepsy in Border Collies: What You Need to Know
Know the Risks and Treatments for Epilepsy in Border Collies (and other Herding Breeds)
Epilepsy in the Border Collie is the last thing you’d expect. The breed hangs its furry hat on its reputation as a tireless working machine. However, the Border Collie is among the list of dogs that are susceptible to epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which abnormal electrical activity results in spasms, twitching, convulsions and loss of consciousness. Seizures can range from minor and infrequent, to debilitating and even life-threatening.
Alarming and often unexpected, seizures can occur in dogs for a variety of reasons, such as head trauma, illness, disease or exposure to toxins. Because there is no specific test for epilepsy in dogs, determining the cause of seizures is a process of elimination. A veterinarian will need to be consulted to do a thorough work-up on your dog, which may include a full history, blood test, MRI or X-ray. If no precipitating cause can be found, the veterinarian will likely diagnose the seizure disorder as idiopathic epilepsy.
Idiopathic epilepsy is hereditary. Generally, the Border Collie will show signs of epilepsy between 6 months and 5 years of age. Idiopathic epilepsy can present itself in a number of ways. Primary generalized seizures come on suddenly and affect the entire body. Generally the dog will fall to the ground, usually on one side. Their body muscles will tightly contract resulting in a very stiff appearance. Convulsions will cause the dog to shake. It is not uncommon for a dog to lose bladder control during a seizure of this type. Focal seizures are spasms or twitching that affect a section or part of the body. These may be so insignificant that the owner may not notice that a seizure has occurred. Primary focal, secondary generalized seizures are a combination of both of the above types. The seizure begins on a localized body part before breaking into a whole body, generalized seizure.
Immediately prior to an epileptic event, some dogs exhibit unusual behavior such as agitation, restlessness, clinginess, vomiting, aggression and drooling. Some owners describe a limping gait or slowed response to commands a day or two before a seizure. Many epileptic episodes occur while the dog is at rest—either at night or early morning, or when napping during the day.
Treatment for the Border Collie is a mixed bag. Dogs that do not exhibit epileptic episodes on a regular basis have a good prognosis. In those cases, medication may not be recommended. For more serious problems, phenobarbital is the most commonly used medication. This medication provides effective control for many epileptic dogs, but side effects can impair the working ability of the dog. Meant to calm the nervous system, it also tends to slow the dog down. The Border Collie, proficient in fluidity and efficiency, may be seriously hampered by heavy medication. Furthermore, research involving the Border Collie shows that this breed may be more prone to drug resistance than other breeds.
No matter the level of severity, epilepsy in the Border Collie should always be taken seriously. A treatment program should begin earlier rather than later. Some dogs do experience remission of the disorder later in life, particularly if seizures are infrequent and the dog has been treated promptly and consistently. Because of the heritability of the disease, breeders who find they have a dog with idiopathic epilepsy should not continue breeding that dog. The Border Collie with a severe case of epilepsy may require modifications to his environment and work schedule. Many Border Collies, when placed on a treatment program, are able to lead a full and active life—one that will keep you chasing them!