Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) is a troubling and still barely understood condition that affects a number of breeds including the Australian Shepherd. It can come on suddenly in a dog that may otherwise seem perfectly fit and healthy. Symptoms usually manifest after about 15 minutes of vigorous activity, such as herding work or participating in agility trials. Sometimes a bout of EIC won't occur until after the exercise session is over.
Though another condition called Exercise Induced Hyperthermia (EIH) is also known as Border Collie Collapse, the two conditions are entirely different. Whereas EIH involves an inability of the dog's body to properly cool itself when overheated, EIC directly affects the muscles. The only thing the two conditions do share is the fact that they can be brought on by strenuous exercise and are more likely to occur during warm weather.
In Exercise Induced Collapse, the nerves fail to properly send signals to the muscles. This can cause the muscles of the legs to stop responding normally. In dogs with EIC, after about 15 minutes or so of exercise you'll begin to notice a wobbly gate developing. The dog may appear to be dragging its hind legs or be unable to use its legs at all. In some cases, the affected dog may look disoriented and in very rare cases, a dog can actually expire after a bout of EIC.
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Keep an eye on your Aussie and make sure they are not over-exerting themselves.
Unfortunately, unlike the more common Exercise Induced Hyperthermia or Border Collie Collapse, there is little known about EIC. Though scientists have discovered a genetic mutation that may be a potential cause, they are still unsure about the exact cause of the condition. There are several research studies underway to find out about EIC and hopefully the information gathered in these studies will eventually lead doctors to developing a treatment for it.
What is known for sure is that Exercise Induced Collapse is more common among various breeds, particularly those like the Australian Shepherd who tend to be highly driven. These are breeds that have a natural working instinct that makes them highly prized among ranchers and farm owners for their durability and reliability. Unfortunately, these dogs also have no off switch. They function at full speed all the time and will continue to do so unless made to stop.
For this reason, owners of these breeds need to be particularly cautious about overworking. Even though your dog may seem eager to keep going, it is up to you to know when enough is enough and to make sure he slows down and gets the proper rest. Not only will this help you to avoid uncomfortable bouts of EIC, but it can also prevent the overheating that leads to exercise induced hyperthermia as well.
As owners of Australian Shepherds know, these are highly intelligent, active and enthusiastic dogs. They will give you their all at all times, but sometimes they can actually give too much. Whether you are working with your herd or running agility trials, you need to be aware of your canine companion's health and make sure he slows down from time to time and stays properly hydrated. A little extra caution can make all the difference and keep your Aussie functioning at his absolute best.