Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Border Collie Collapse (BCC) Syndrome

The Collapse of the Collie
Imagine yourself outside playing with your dogs on an unseasonably pleasant mid-70's summer day. Your dogs are running off leash in your residential fenced yard, chasing each other, chasing balls and doing so with their typical excitement. Your dogs are taking drinks and resting in between bursts of moderate play. After an hour you bring the dogs inside for some rest and relaxation. After the dogs are inside, they are panting and resting. Then one of your dogs stands up, only to collapse into some strange trance of quivering muscles, curled back toes, and their back end dragging flopping from side to side on the ground like a fish out of the water as they attempt to walk. Their face is frozen in a stare of unknowing with a tight jaw, pulled in a straight line. They seem to know you, but their cognition is that of a drunk. Just moments after Chico ran, played, and "herded" Rue, he collapsed into this state.

Panicked Dustyn and I swooped to Chico, having a distressed discussion on what was going on with him, we instantly thought, heat stroke. I carried him to the shower, and hosed him with cold water from head to toe. Chico was still unable to stand, so we made the decision to rush him to Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine (ranked as one of the top 20 best Veterinary Medicine schools in the nation.) Sitting in the back of our hatchback car with Chico on my lap, I told Dustyn to drive fast and crank the air as high as it would go. The phone number to the hospital was programmed in my phone. When I was connected, I told them staff we were on our way. In my mind I didn't want to have to say it, but I did, I told the staff to have a muzzle ready, Chico is fearful of people, and I didn't know how he would react to the situation. The student told me the costs, and I agreed to pay whatever the cost was.

Chico taking a break prior to his collapse

We arrived to the clinic approximately 15 minutes after Chico's collapse. He appeared a little better, but still unable to walk. I carried him in the clinic and the student had several muzzles waiting. Chico was zoned, not concerned with the situation, and I told the student the muzzle wouldn't be needed, he wasn't his fearful self. She carried him back while Dustyn and I waited together....

After waiting what seemed to be an eternity, Dustyn and I met with the veterinarian and student. They informed us that Chico’s blood pressure, heart rate, CBC, and basic blood panel were all normal. The only abnormality was a fever. In addition
 Chico was back on his feet and enjoying being spoiled by the staff sitting on their laps and showing off. They asked, “Is this normal?” This is normal for Chico, he warms up to people very quickly, but he is fearful and reactive in some settings towards new people. I always approach the vet and other situations with extreme caution. I've never left him at the vet, so I honestly had no idea how he would react. After detailed discussion, the veterinarian informed us that it’s possible that Chico had a seizure or heat stroke. Frightened we asked every question imaginable, but the mysterious and sudden episode left the veterinarian unable to answer the questions we were desperately looking for. After 2 hours, Chico’s fever was normal, physically, Chico was checking out perfect so we paid our bill and took him home. Leaving less than two hours after Chico's collapse, he pranced out the door with joy and confidence, as if nothing had ever happened.
Border Collie, Chico, playing a half hour before his collapse

Border Collie Collapse
On the car ride home, I said to Dustyn, there is something about what happened to Chico that just sounds familiar to me. I remembered someone telling me several years prior about their border collie that would get hot then “collapse.”  I couldn't recall the details at this point, but I promised Dustyn I would look into it the next day when my head was clear and I wasn't exhausted. The next day I started on my quest for more information. It didn't take long, within a few minutes of research I found what I was looking for, a disorder called Border Collie Collapse. According to the University of Minnesota, "Border Collie collapse (BCC) is an episodic nervous system disorder that is triggered by strenuous exercise. BCC is recognized throughout North America, Europe, and Australia and is observed in dogs used for working stock, as well as dogs participating in agility or fly-ball competitions or repeatedly retrieving a ball." 

The descriptions of symptoms on the University of Minnesota’s website were strikingly similar to what happened to Chico. Take a look at the videos posted below from the U of M’s website, particularly at the 2 minute mark on both videos. (Note: the videos may be difficult for some to watch.) The collapses shown in these videos was what we witnessed in Chico. I wanted and needed answers about this bizarre disorder, so I reached out to the University of Minnesota for more information and our regular veterinarian. 

Videos of Border Collie Collapse

Currently researchers at the University of Minnesota, University of Saskatchewan, and the University of California, San Diego are involved in a large-scale project to investigate this disorder. Researchers invited me to fill out a questionnaire and work with our regular vet to have a blood sample taken and sent to them as part of the study. In addition they encouraged me to tape any "collapse" episodes Chico has and submit it to them.

Through this project the researchers hope to identify more about BCC by establishing
clinical, hematologic and biochemical parameters for normal Border Collies participating in a standardized exercise protocol. They also want to evaluate dogs with BCC participating in a standardized exercise protocol to determine clinical markers for BCC at rest, or after exercise, that will help veterinarians diagnose BCC and help researchers understand the cause of collapse. They also want to fully describe the clinical features of BCC, evaluate the heritability of BCC, determine the genetic cause of BCC. Lastly to develop a genetic test for BCC to aid diagnosis and to allow breeding decisions to be made to avoid producing affected pups.

What Research Shows Now About BCC
BCC is currently diagnosis of exclusion, if it looks like Border Collie Collapse, and veterinarians can't find anything else wrong with your dog it is presumed to be BCC. Video can be helpful at this time in diagnosis and viewed by one of the researchers. Although we don't know for sure that Chico has Border Collie Collapse, our vet has recommended that we treat Chico as if he does have the disorder. 

Chico's tongue big and red prior to his collapse 

Although the study isn't complete there was an update posted in July of 2012 from Dr. Jim Mickelson at the University of Minnesota. This link will take you to the full article, however, the main points state:

1. BCC is likely a unique episodic seizure disorder that can occur in sheep-herding or ball-chasing activity.
2. Parents, litter mates and half-siblings of dogs with BCC are often affected, which, with the apparent clustering within the breed, supports a heritable basis.
3. A genome wide association study should be conducted to map chromosomal loci contributing to BCC.

After speaking with the researchers at the University of Minnesota, they informed me that they are expecting to send samples for the genome scan at the end of September 2012. Depending on how this data looks, they may be able to move to sequencing and mutation identification fairly soon, or it could take months to more than a year, or it could require additional samples before they can make a definitive conclusion about the location of the BCC gene. (This simply means that  they will be looking to find the gene mutation causing BCC.) Results will be made available to owners of the pets that have submitted blood samples for the study only when they are confident that they have the correct information to pass along.

Managing BCC
Unfortunately, restricting participation in trigger activities, especially when your dog is very excited and/or when it is hot outside are the only sure fire way to decrease episodes of "collapse". If the dog does have an episode it may be desirable to lower their body temperature somewhat with cool water (taken internally and wetting their groin and feet). 

Right now we are managing (or in Chico's opinion restricting) his exercise. He is allowed to run in the yard for 10 minutes or 10 ball throws to Rue. (whatever happens first.) We have been doing low level exercise when it's coolest outside. We've also cut back on the distances. In the past Chico would typically would run 3-8 miles per day on leash with me. Now he run/walks 2 miles on leash per day. We are being permitted to add leash activities such as running and walking as he tolerates slowly. Since deaths with BCC have been reported we are moving forward with extreme caution. Our vet has recommend that I hold off on taking Chico herding until he is episode free.

Admittedly this presumed diagnosis has been a shock to us. Chico is my running buddy and his joy of running has kept me running daily for 3 years. Taking away one of his biggest joys in life is heartbreaking.  With a reactive, high drive dog, activities can sometimes be limited when they can't exercise. However, I refuse to feel sorry for Chico or myself.  We've found many ways to burn energy (which I'll write more about later) and it's allowed me to really focus on helping Chico feel more confident around people.  We've started a structured program to help with his fear of people, which already is helping beautifuly.  I've always found so much inspiration in my True Dog. He's wonderfully complicated.  His ability to overcome some of lifes worst circumstances and now a bizare medical twists continues to make me proud of his resilience.  Like always, we share our story to help others.  More on BCC in the coming months. 

Chico (L) prior to his collapse, Rue (R), also a border collie does not have BCC

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  1. I've never heard of this, but I will pass it along to a friend of mine who also has a border collie. Her dog had some sort of episode this summer on a very hot day. Thank you for your time and effort into this. I'm sorry your dog has lead to this story, but Chico could very well help other dogs and their owners.

  2. GREAT article Amy! Chico I know has to be disappointed in not running like you guys were. But at least you get to take him on shorter walk/runs. So he's not out totally! I also liked the attached link for the update on BBC.. very informative!

  3. I, too, have a Border Collie with presumably BCC. After her first episode she was labeled epileptic, but that didn't sit right with me. I have been looking for an explanation on and off for over 3 years and finally the right combination of search terms led me to UMNs research earlier this year.

    It is a very sad thing to have to limit driven such dogs as Border Collies. I feel absolutely terrible when I have to cut her off from her happiness and make her rest - I just hope that answers can be found and that if it is genetic it can be bred out of the breed, so future owners don't have to experience our sadness at limiting our dogs from doing what they love most.

    I do hope you submitted some blood on Chico and a questionnaire to the study. Every little thing helps!

  4. I, too, have a Border Collie with presumably BCC. After her first episode she was labeled epileptic, but that didn't sit right with me. I have been looking for an explanation on and off for over 3 years and finally the right combination of search terms led me to UMNs research earlier this year.

    It is a very sad thing to have to limit driven such dogs as Border Collies. I feel absolutely terrible when I have to cut her off from her happiness and make her rest - I just hope that answers can be found and that if it is genetic it can be bred out of the breed, so future owners don't have to experience our sadness at limiting our dogs from doing what they love most.

    I do hope you submitted some blood on Chico and a questionnaire to the study. Every little thing helps!

  5. Hi Alicyn,
    Thanks so much for finding us! We are so glad to know more people and dogs that are going through BCC. We did submit a blood sample to the U of M in late summer. I couldn't agree more, we are very much looking forward to results of the study to help the future of this wonderful breed. Here is the most recent update I have on the study:

    As of late October 2012, the University of Minnesota has received enough blood samples of unaffected dogs for the Genome Scan. Final case selection is getting close. Lastly the DNA should be sent to scan soon.

  6. My border collie "Ginger" has BCC syndrome. She is only 3 years old and I can't see the point in "managing" her level of exercise. We live on a farm and it is evident that she is happiest when running free and playing with my other dog, Zeke. They take turns chasing each other and Ginger gets to display her superior agility to the bigger and stronger Rhodesian Ridgeback. Watching them frolic never fails to bring a smile to my face because it is obvious they are loving every minute. To deny a dog this pleasure seems wrong to me. Ginger is otherwise in perfect health. She does not seem to be in any pain during an episode, returns to normal immediately afterward, and since deaths during an attack are rare, it is my opinion that the risk is acceptable. I would never push the dog like taking it on a 10-mile run, but neither will I attempt to control how much fun she has by limiting her play time. Just my opinion, but one I thought should be put out there for others who love their pets to consider.

  7. My border was asleep for at least 60 minutes plus after being out. And that was s low level visit to the park. However reading the symtems, it was word for word what happened to him. Especially the way that the front leg was in a very strange position and the wobbles. I thought he had a stroke ( not heat ) as it was a cool, windy and wet day.

  8. My dog started having these same episodes about 2 months ago after his neuter surgery. He was also on a tranquilizer(ace) so he wouldn't open his stiches. Then about a week or so later he was given Heartguard since he was due for it. Before he was on inceptor but no longer available. We took him to the vet all the test came back normal. We thought it might be the cocktail of drugs or that he had a mutated gene (MDR1) so I sent for that kit and had him tested. He came back normal on that too. Now seeing this site and the videos I've watched I believe this might be what he has. Well the last month or so no episodes so I did start to think it was the drugs in his system. Then he was due for heartguard again...I refused to give it to him. So my vet recommended Sentinel. I gave him one last night with his dinner. This morning we played a short 5-10 min game of fetch and he had another one. Now I don't know what to think.

  9. Thank you for writing this and doing the update. We have a 6 yr old Border that I run agility with that just started having episodes like this. I thought he was having a heat stroke, but the symptoms subsided about 15 to 20 min. after we wet him down with a hose and made him drink water. Was very scary at first, but now I am sure after reading and watching the videos of BCC syndrome, that is what he has.
    Thanks again for the info.
    Cheryl Phillips Columbus OH.

  10. Michael and Vicki in Santa Cruz, CAFebruary 4, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    Thank you for publishing this. We have a border collie, Sam, who is about 3 years old and was adopted from another owner who could no longer keep him. We first noticed these exact symptoms in him after letting him run on the beach and a couple of episodes of vigorously chasing the ball. His symptoms match, exactly, with what is on the video of your dogs. We took him to the vet and went through the same process of elimination with the heartworm drugs, etc. All of his labs were normal, as were his physical findings. Amazingly, none of the vets have mentioned or even appear to have knowledge of this syndrome. At least now we have a provisional diagnosis and we can manage his exercise, although he loves chasing the ball and frisbee. We love him very much and it breaks our hearts that he lives with this, but we will do our best to give him a full life.

  11. Hi! We are thinking that this is what's happening to our border collie. However, she's 14 and when she gets excited this happens, and sometimes no real excitement. The whole episode lasts 5 minutes. Again, tests didn't reveal anything. I was wondering if I should give her an aspirin to prevent a clot, since her heart rate goes up to 200 (I have Afib, and I need to take an aspirin a day).

    1. Hello. I'm not familiar with giving aspirin to a dog showing symptoms of BCC. You might check with the folks at the U of M for more details on the specifics of your dogs collapse episodes.

      To my knowledge they are working on a genetic test that would identify if the dog is carrying the genetic marker for BCC.


      All the best,

  12. our border collie Skye collapsed today after going for a walk. We took her straight to the vets where everything checked out fine, heart, temperature and other things and nothing was found. Skye is 5 years old, when she was 8 weeks old we were playing with her where were playing fetch when she suddenly collapsed and was in this state for at least 30 minuets, again we went straight to vets, where they kept her in and said we may not get her back as she was very poorly. They rang us hours later to say they may have to put her down as she was unresponsive and brain dead. 20hrs later they rang could we pick her up as she was running around her kennel and barking. They had given her strong drugs which would have knocked a horse out. I wonder if she has BCC and that was her first time, we will be watching her closely now.

  13. Judy October 29, 2015
    Adopted "Gretchen" my Australian Shepherd from local animal Services - she was seven months old. I have two Border Collie's at home that are older. We have morning and evening playtime with frisbee or ball in pasture. First noticed that Gretchen would head for the horse water tub when she got warm and climb in. This was almost everyday....then in April of 2015 she was at morning playtime when the dog next dog started running the fence...she became distracted and started running up and down with him......As I watched ...she stopped, staggered and collasped....I ran to her....her eyes were jumping, hind end weak, I thought she was overheated so I rushed her to water....she remained lethargic the rest of day. I took her to the vet...he did blood work. All was normal....then he suggested we do a EIC test. I was not familliar at that time with this disease....declined due to finances. I kept a very close eye on her activities after that...limiting time of exercise. I live in Florida and have a pool..so afternoons became playtime with ball in pool. She loves the water...as does my other BC's and so we do everyafternoon pooltime. She stayed cool and still get exercise. I am always present. Then last thursday October 15th, 2015 it got to late for the pool.....was our first cool snap of the season....windy and cool so we took the frisbee's and went up to pasture. After just a few minutes....she had ran after the frisbee, jumping with very high energy.....she collasped. Off to vet - had to wait until after weekend to see him. Then she appeared fine......he was not familliar with EIC or BCC and became very involved. Called the Univ. of Mi. and they ask that we send blood.....no cure, but, participate in study. So we did. I will be very careful now to limit Gretchen's activities.

  14. Hi Judy,
    Thanks for the note. We will be wishing you all the best Gretchen. It is a troubling disorder, and very scary for owners. Hugs.

  15. Amy,

    I came across this while researching BCC after my almost six year old Australian Shepherd/Cattle Dog had two episodes almost identical to those in the videos above. We immediately thought heart problems, and I'm sure we will need to rule them out (our vet did a physical and everything looked good, so he's taking a couple days to research and call around before making decisions on tests) but it is seriously identical to those videos. Plus, within 30 minutes he's back up and ready to play again, not fatigued in the least.

    Do you know anything about the average age of onset? Our vet agreed that Max's situation matched BCC but thought it typically happened in younger dogs.



  16. Hi Christina,
    I'm sorry to hear about the collapse episodes your dog has experienced. I'm not sure about the average onset of age for a dog to present with BCC, I can say that my dog was approximately 4-5 years of age. If you haven't I highly recommend reaching out to the University of Minnesota. They are wonderful to work with and may be able to provide you with more information.

  17. This site has been so useful. We have just lost our BC (11 months) following a collapse after playing outside. We had no idea of the condition. It's very important to promote awareness of BCC. Thank you for doing so.

  18. I have a 14 year old Border Collie Lucy who has started to collapse with the mildest amount of stress or activity while at other times she is quite playful. She does have some issues with her right leg and lumbar spine but these episodes start with a glazed look in her eyes, a collapse of back and sometimes front right leg and a loss of continence. Within in a minute or 2 she is back up wagging her tail and even eating. It seems to happen when she either exerts herself or doesn't want to do something. BCC seems to fit to some degree as she still has a great appetite and doesn't seem to be in pain with the condition. Thank you for the information. Alison

  19. My 3 year old Australian Shepherd was just diagnosed with this. It is absolutely heart breaking and I cried reading your post. I wish there were more information and cure about it. My vet (practicing for 30 years) had not even heard of this happening in Border Collies or Aussies, only in Labradors. Breeders need to be aware that this could be an issue and hopefully more research can provide a test to eliminate this. It is horrifying to watch.

  20. http://www.vdl.umn.edu/services-fees/canine-neuromuscular-eic/discovery-gene

    My Aussie was just diagnosed with this. Here is a helpful link.

  21. Hi,

    My 4 year old Border Collie male was diagnosed with this condition about 6 months ago. He has exactly the same issue, when any fast twitch movements for roughly 5-6 repetitive motions his eyes start to fall back in his face, he appears like he can't get enough air into his lungs so his mouth is wide open with tongue hanging down very far, then his front legs give out.
    Lately, this condition has been getting worse. He has been collapsing without exercise or very little exercise and sleeping most of the day on his bed. I am concerned that this condition cannot be stabilised and that it will only get worse.
    The last two episodes he has completely blacked out, I have sat by side side letting him and talking softly to him while he recovers.
    I am taking him to the vet tomorrow to arrange a series of tests, in my heart I don't believe this is going to end well.

  22. I live in New Zealand and have a 2 year old beardie collie with bbc. She loves exercise and playing with other dogs but if its too much fun or a warm day she will collapse. I too wish there was more known about this condition. Annette

  23. Check out Abby and Pippa's story


  24. Check out Abby and Pippa's story


  25. Thanks for the article, my border collie has the same. I have some success lowering the frequency of my dogs collapses by limiting food on hot days. Together with avoiding exercise during hot days it seems to have a big impact. In addition I cut her hair throughout the hot months every couple of weeks and keep her nice and cool this way. During a collapse I put her in a large tub of water (always ready for the purpose) to cool her down. Have to hold her though and make sure the head stays above water. The cool water helps ease the seizures faster. When having seizures they usually come in sets of 2 or 3.

  26. I have been tirelessly searching for answers in regards to my 4 1/2 year old female border collie's unexpected death. She was the love of my life and the perfect companion and I am in absolute shambles without her. I saw your article in regards to border collie collapse syndrome and I would like to contribute Sayde's story in any way I can in hopes to promote insight into the problem. Sayde never suffered from any type of illness or disability. She was full of energy and always eager to please. As a runner, Sayde and I would run up to 4-5 miles on a daily basis and if we weren't running she was bringing me the first toy she could find hoping I would throw it. She was spayed, on heart guard, free of ticks and fleas, up to date on her shots, ate blue buffalo dog food, and never missed a check up with our vet. She slept with me every night and followed me nonstop. She did have a tendency to chase shadows and bite at water, despite the amount of exercise she was given on a daily basis. The vet informed me it was an obsessive compulsive trait which can be common in herding dogs, especially border collies.This past weekend 06-16-2017 my boyfriend and I loaded Sayde and our 7 month old Siberian Husky "Sunny" into the car and headed to a friend's lake house. Sayde loves swimming and the lake house was a great place for her to run and play freely outside. We spent Friday night inside catching up with friends. As usual Sayde was her happy self, excited to share her love with everyone. She showed zero signs of anything being out of the ordinary. The next morning she ate and drank as usual and we went outside around 10:45 AM. Sayde ran around like a goofball for awhile, then jumped in the lake. Biting at the water and barking as she splashed in the shallow fresh water (she could stand and be above water). Being the anxious person I am I kept an eye on her and my other dog as they played in the water. After playing Sayde would return to dry ground and pace back and forth, almost nervously, which is not out of the ordinary for her. I could tell she was very tired and made her lay down next to me. Sayde never seemed to have a stop button so I'm used to making her take breaks during play sessions. During breaks I literally would have to put a leash on her or hold onto her collar until she would calm down enough to steady her breathing. Today was particularly hard to keep her still and I had to ask my boyfriend to keep ahold of her as I went up to the house to get her leash. It was around 75 degrees and cloudy, plus she access to plenty of water. When I came back her breathing had slowed and she seemed calmer so we let her continue to play. She walked over to the water to splash around for awhile and as she was climbing out I noticed that she was having a hard time keeping her balance. She managed to stumble on shore and my boyfriend and I walked over to her. Just thinking she had exhausted herself again. But this time she was different. She wasn't breathing hard, her pupils were dilated, and she had a far away look in her eyes. I looked at her and said her name but she seemed to look right through me and couldn't focus. I quickly picked her up and yelled to my boyfriend that we needed to get to a vet. When I picked her up she vomited a large amount of water and went limp. In the car my boyfriend and I monitored her heartbeat and breathing, but she was still unresponsive. I noticed her tongue hanging out and pale gums so I began rescue breathing to ensure she was getting enough oxygen. From the time of her collapse to --

  27. the vet about 20 minutes had passed. They quickly transported her to the back and put her on oxygen and took blood samples. After about 30 of the longest minutes of my life the vet came to me and stated that she believed Sayde was suffering from water toxicosis and her brain had swelled due to neurons being pumped with water and her body not being able to eliminate the water as quickly as it was coming in. Sayde was stable, but she was not waking up. She was also not responding to basic reflexes such as pain or eye stimulation. The vet explained that the situation didn't look good but I was willing to do whatever it took to save my dog. The current vet contacted the NC State Veterinary Hospital and connected us with an experienced doctor who was determined to save her. At this point Sayde wasn't breathing well on her own; therefore, my best friend and boyfriend had to take turns breathing into a tube for her as we transported her to Raleigh (one and a half hour drive). Sayde, still unconscious, made it to the hospital. The staff quickly hooked her up to a ventilator and surprisingly her blood pressure was stable. The vet took her blood and noticed, although Sayde's sodium levels were low, they didn't seem low enough to induce coma or lead to the water toxicosis diagnosis. The vet corrected her sodium levels, her blood work was normal, and there was no detection of internal bleeding. But she still wouldn't wake up and couldn't breath on her own. Due to the lack of brain/brain stem activity the vet informed us the worse news. My precious girl wasn't going to make it. She was completely unresponsive to stimuli and the damage to her brain was irreversible. We had no choice but to euthanize. My companion, my best friend, the one who was always by my side and snuggled with me all morning...was gone. The agony is unexplainable. Sayde was a light to everyone she met and I refuse to let her death go without answers or the opportunity to share her light with others. I chose to allow the University to do an autopsy on my angel in hopes that they can determine a cause of death and contribute their findings through research that may save other pets, border collies in specific, and hopefully bring closure to pet parents who have experienced the same thing. I should receive some answers and her ashes sometime this week. Ericka