Border Collie Collapse

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Border collie collapse is a general term that can cover a multitude of problems.  It has also been called exercise induced hyperthermia EIH, or exercise induced collapse.  What seems to be common is that during exercise the dog starts to become uncoordinated and disorientated and can no longer continue with the training or exercise.  It's really frightening if it happens to your dog.  One minute they're excitedly playing or running over jumps and the next they're wobbling and uncoordinated and can barely stand.  This is something that has happened to Sasha and because it's so worrying and so little seems to be known about it I want to publish the things that we have found helps Sasha with this condition. 

Sasha was worst affected one Saturday morning at training classes.  The trainer had had a dog with similar problems and had spent a lot of time and money and had worked closely with the vet to try and find some answers.  In Sasha's case she suffered a complete collapse after becoming uncoordinated and wobbly.  She was about 20 minutes into the class.  This was the worst we had seen her.  She was on her side on the ground and unable to stand.  She looked barely conscious. We picked her up and rushed her straight to the vet.  By the time she got into the surgery however, she was back to normal. 

The vet did a thorough check up including bloods but she could only say that there was a list as long as her arm of possible causes.  One thing that she did think was possible was that it might be early onset epilepsy and she asked us to keep a diary of any further incidences and to write down exactly what happened.  This is important if you have a dog that suffers from this condition or from any other recurring condition.  The more you can tell the vet the easier it is for them to try and diagnose.  Our vet said, "You won't remember the exact details in a few days or even a few hours so write it down!"

The other most likely cause, however, was that Sasha was getting over excited at the classes and hyperventilating.  The vet said that if there was a major underlying cause then it would eventually show itself.  She advised that we should do everything possible to keep Sasha quiet in training and at shows and one hefty bill later we were on our way home and still puzzled as to the causes of the condition.

Of course we read everything we could on the internet and looked at videos on Youtube.  I won't reproduce everything that has been written here as it may or may not be relevant.  I can only say what we have done with Sasha since her major collapse and how we've prevented it from happening again.  I'm not a vet or a medical person so this is entirely anecdotal.  I hope it might help someone whose vet can offer no specific treatment for a dog that suffers similar episodes.

First of all it has been important to prevent Sasha from becoming over excited and hysterical.  This means that she needs to wait her turn at training classes away from the other dogs.  If she pulls and barks excitedly then she is taken further away until she stops.  I also keep her in the shade on warm days.  The condition is more likely to occur during hot weather and therefore it's important to keep a dog as cool as possible.

I keep a very close eye on her when we're running.  The second she starts to fade she goes back to the car for a rest.  This is a very subtle thing.  It can be a very slight slowing down that only I would notice, or it can be more obvious in that Sasha will throw herself down and pant, even though she isn't showing any signs of collapse she goes back to the car for five or ten minutes break.  Because she's our dog I can tell the difference between normal lying down and panting on a hot day and the possible run up to the collywobbles.

At shows we park in the quietest place possible and Sasha isn't allowed in the queue (vet's orders).  If you have an excitable collie it's often far better to get someone to queue for you anyway.  In fact I think this applies to all dogs in hot weather.  In the photo above we're in a nice quiet spot at a show, the weather is sunny but cool and both dogs and Bernie look nice and relaxed. 

By being extra vigilant I managed to stop the collapsing but I still wasn't convinced I'd found the answer.  Then someone at the training class suggested I use a harness instead of a collar.  I was a bit hesitant as an ordinary harness allows a dog to pull harder and I didn't want that, however, I bought a Trixie harness for Sasha and the improvement has been astonishing.  Now that Sasha isn't pulling into her collar all the  time she is able to complete the whole of the training class without any problems and in the same way as all the other dogs. 

Below: The end of a long class and Sasha's still full of running.

Recently I took her to an indoor training class where she had previously collapsed after half an hour.  In the riding school they have a wooden barrier all the way along one side.  It allows people to watch what's going on without being inside the menage and it's ideal for noisy or disruptive dogs.  You can do your bit and then stand behind the barrier whilst waiting for the others in the class.  In this way we managed an hour and a half of training and Sasha was still spinning and barking at the end when the other dogs were tired and ready to go home. 

 I believe that pulling on an ordinary flat collar contributed to the episodes of collapse in Sasha's case.  She gets so excited when she's anywhere near anything to do with agility that it's impossible to keep her calm and she pulls for England when it's her turn to do anything.  The flat collar must have restricted her breathing and if she holds her breath while she's running it's hardly surprising that she collapses.

The harness we bought wasn't a non pull type it was just and ordinary harness that is designed to make a dog feel more comfortable and stop the pressure on the neck.  It uses a strong webbing lined with soft fleece and the lead attaches to a ring halfway down the dog's back.
 

The simple measures we've employed have helped Sasha enormously.  We still don't know what causes the collapse and one dog may be different to another.  In the case of our trainer's dog she was advised to get the dogs feet into cold water and to cover the dog with a wet towel.  The dog was extra sensitive to heat and these are first aid measures for heat exhaustion.  If your dog has similar episodes to Sasha remember that our vet said there was a list of possible causes as long as her arm.  This is why it's so important to get your dog checked up properly.  Don't just leave it.  If there's a different underlying cause it needs to be treated as soon as possible. 


Update:

In the last few years Sasha hasn't had a collapse at all but I continue to monitor her carefully.  She can become a bit wobbly after a fast run at a show on a hot day so I still have to be very vigilant, especially in hot weather.  At the training class she does what she can but now she has Jilly to help her out.  When she's had ten to twenty minutes she rests in the car and Jilly has a go.  Each dog has two shorter sessions in the class.  There are very few trainers who will accommodate this swapping around so we are very lucky to be in this class. 

 

photo:  Jilly helping out at home. 

 

 

If you think a harness may help your dog you can buy one from a local pet shop or any of the online stores such as petplanet.  You find lots of ideas in the Doggie Shop.
 
Or you may be able to find a harness on ebay. Be sure to check the sizes. Loads of people use these at shows and you may be able to ask a friend to let you try theirs on your dog to check the size before you buy.

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