Guild of Shepherds & Collies

When Your Dog Collapses

border collie collapse

Border Collie Collapse Syndrome

The awe-inspiring energy of the Border Collie is often described as spirited, tenacious, and even relentless.  If you are a typical Border Collie owner, your daily routine probably includes work, sleep and exercising your dog. But for dogs with Border Collie Collapse syndrome, this routine may be cut short just minutes into a workout - when your dog collapses.

What is Border Collie Collapse Syndrome?

Border Collie Collapse (BCC) is a nervous system disorder that occurs in response to exercise. Based on appearance and energy levels, dogs with BCC and healthy dogs act exactly the same—eager to run all morning and afternoon and finish with a 5-mile jaunt around the neighborhood. It is not until an incident occurs, usually immediately into intense exercise, that the syndrome reveals itself.  Herding, agility and ball-catching are three activities that usually trigger BCC.  In as little as 5 minutes, your highly attentive dog may become dazed, confused, and unfocused. Mental disorientation, very uncommon in a dog many consider to be “the smartest dog on earth,” may either be very obvious to the owner or so slight that it goes unnoticed.

As the episode gains headway, the normally fluid movements of the dog devolve into an uncoordinated, staggering gait. For this reason, this disorder is sometimes labeled, “the wobbles.” The Border Collie’s fiercely focused and tireless reputation is so ingrained that the average owner will naturally become alarmed as they watch their four-legged athlete steadily lose coordination. Typical symptoms include:  swaying, ungainly lifting and crossing of the legs while turning, and stiff legs to the point of shuffling. It’s not uncommon for a dog to display symptoms after exercise.

In a severe episode, the dog is rendered unable to walk and may collapse, but here’s the kicker: despite the frightening nature of such an incident, the episode lasts only 5 to 30 minutes before the dog almost heroically “comes back to life.”  Even more perplexing, the dog generally exhibits no signs of muscle soreness, lameness or other adverse effects.  You can imagine why BCC has owners and experts alike shaking their heads in bewilderment.

BCC is Often Confused with Other Medical Conditions

Because of certain similarities to other disorders, BCC is sometimes referred to as exercise-induced collapse (EIC), exercise-induced hyperthermia, or stress seizures. BCC is often mistaken for heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Differentiating BCC from heat intolerance is not difficult. Animals that collapse due to heat stroke are unable to recover quickly. Heat stroke and exhaustion are very dangerous, difficult to overcome unless treated, and in the event of collapse, often fatal.  Additionally, laboratory work on dogs with heat-related illness show low platelet numbers, indicators of organ and blood vessel damage, and signs of internal bleeding.

What Causes BCC?

The cause of BCC remains elusive. According to studies with healthy dogs and those with BCC, there is little to go on. Body temperature during heavy exercise increases with all dogs—those with BCC display the same pattern of temperature increase with exercise and subsequent decrease at rest. Physiologically, dogs with BCC show no indications of trouble—blood sugar, cortisol and electrolyte levels, as well as cardiac function, all appear within the range of normal before and after exercise. To date, DNA evidence is inconclusive.

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of San Diego are currently involved in a large-scale study in an effort to better understand the disease. Through the use of owner questionnaires, video, and DNA samples, they hope to pin down the genetic cause of BCC and create parameters for diagnosis.

It’s NOT Limited to Border Collies

It is also important to note that a number of other breeds may be affected by BCC. These include: Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Kelpies, Australian Shepherds, Bearded Collies, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervurens and Whippets. Until a genetic or other cause is determined, an exact diagnosis is not possible.

What Should I Do When Symptoms are Present?

If your dog shows symptoms of BCC, it is best to restrict activity, especially in warm or hot weather. Stick with a relaxed, calm pace to minimize the chance of an episode occurring. Because some evidence shows a link between warm weather and intense exercise, experts suggest attempting to lower the dog’s body temperature in an effort to hasten recovery.  Experts have noted that some symptoms mimic that of a seizure and have considered anticonvulsants in an effort to treat BCC. Unfortunately, medication has not shown a decrease in BCC episodes thus far.

Article By:
Andrea Peck


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