Saturday, July 20, 2013

Life With Border Collie Collapse Syndrome

What Is Border Collie Collapse (BCC) Syndrome?
I'd never imagine how popular my first post Border Collie Collapse (BCC) Syndrome would be, it is indeed the most popular post I've written to date. Since the warmer months have crept up on us, I've been receiving emails full of questions about how is Chico doing and what on earth do I do to exhaust my high drive Border Collie that has the presumed diagnoses of Border Collie Collapse. If you missed the original post, and like me, found yourself searching the web far and wide for answers, check out that post and come right back to this one. 

The Latest Updates on BCC Sydrome
Several months ago I had an opportunity to spend some one on one time with Dr. Jim Mickelson, from the University of Minnesota, a key researcher in the ongoing Border Collie Collapse study. Those few minutes were priceless to me, and undoubtedly would be for any dog owner that is suspect of having a dog with BCC. So what did Mckelson say? He confirmed they believe that BCC is a seizure. However, BCC is unlike a typical seizure that generally occurs when a dog is at rest. BCC is unique because the seizure occurs when the dogs are exercising (chasing balls, herding, running, etc.) Additionally, it's believed that body temperature plays a role in collapse as well. Currently researchers believe that BCC is genetic. Parents, litter mates, and half-siblings of dogs with BCC are often affected. Researchers are in the process of confirming which gene(s) are causing BCC in Border Collies. To confirm this, they look at genetic (blood) samples of dogs believed to have BCC and compare it to dogs that aren't believed to have BCC. As of Spring 2013 the University of Minnesota was still looking for blood samples of dogs that were believed to be unaffected by BCC.

When the study is complete, researchers will have video footage of dogs displaying a BCC episode along with the genetic backing. Unfortunately, this study won't find a cure for those dogs already impacted by BCC. The study will provide a genetic test for breeders to find out if their dogs carry the gene for BCC. Obviously it would be undesirable to breed dogs with the gene, furthering the spread and establishment of the potentially deadly syndrome.

Chico doing some agility training

Does It Hurt The Dog To Have a BCC Episode?
I don't know. Not surprising people have many opinions about Border Collie Collapse. Some dog owners have communicated to me that they believe that there is nothing wrong with allowing a dog to exercise to the point of exertion and collapse. (Researchers have noted BCC can be deadly to a dog.) Dog owners communicated to me that it is very unlikely that a dog would die upon collapse. The point was made by one owner that Border Collies are known for the desire work, play hard, and this is what makes their dog happy. People have told me that they would be okay if their dog died happy doing what it loves best. I appreciate the feedback, however, my opinion solely focuses on what I feel is best for my dog. If you have a dog that is believed to have BCC you can make the very difficult and personal decision to do what is best for YOUR dog.

For Dustyn and I, we've decided to take somewhat of a moderate approach with Chico's presumptive diagnoses of BCC. Because BCC is believed to be a seizure we didn't want Chico have further collapses. The brain is a tricky organ, once those seizures occur, the brains pathways remember, therefore the likelihood of a seizure occurring again increase over repetitions of seizure activity. Additionally, we love Chico and from what I can tell, he pretty much loves us too. Does he love herding and running more than us? I'm not sure. I know that his exercise life managed, is better than no life at all.

Life with BCC, Chico doesn't suffer

Is our high drive guy sequestered to indoors in the hot summer months? No. Do we let him go running off leash and playing for hours at a time in the heat. No. Many mornings I wake up with the birds to take Chico on a 2 mile run. The mornings are coolest and this is something special that we have always loved to do together. It's not the 4 or 5 mile run that we use to do, but I find we are both content a good portion of the day having that opportunity. We manage the length of time he is allowed to play off leash in our yard and many days incorporate water into the play. On 95 degree days, he may go out 5-10 times a day for 5 minutes of play. We watch for signs of him getting hot. Every dog is different, and I suggest watching what your dog does when they start to heat up. We noticed Chico gets little spit bubbles by is mouth when he is aroused from intense play. His tongue size and color are another indicator. A nice, small, pink tongue is good compared to large, flopping, reddish-purple tongue. 

Water cooling Chico down while playing

"Work Without Love Is Slavery" Mother Teresa
One of the hardest decisions I've made in regards to Chico was retiring him from sheep herding. He was a natural, full of zest, gusto, passion, drive, and talent. I absolutely loved working with the stock and training him to do what a Border Collie was born and bred to do. But the risks of collapse or death were too much for me. We don't own livestock or have working farm. Herding was his work, but only in the sense of a hobby. Late last summer we started to focus on a new type of work. Scent work. We've found that Chico loves this job and he doesn't get terribly hot doing it. Between K-9 Nose Work and Scent Tracking he has honed in on that big red nose to burn both mental and physical energy. He absolutely loves doing it and I love watching him succeed and learn a new job. We also do back yard agility for short increments of time and take classes on top of all the other little things we do to exercise his body daily.

If you would have asked me a year ago, would Chico be happy with a restricted exercise agenda, I would have not known the answer. Today, I know that he is truly happy, healthy, and fulfilled living life a little less intense.
Border Collie Chico alerting to the Birch Scent in a pot
Like True Dog on Facebook!


  1. Thank you very much for both of your postings. I too have a BC with BCC. I too limit her time to serious playtime and it's very sad that I need to stop her from workout but it's worse to watch her collapse after play. My BC, Skid is now 5yrs old, and we noticed this problem when she was 3. I too had no idea what to do but it was not a severe episode so she recovered within 1/2 hour. I find the worse the episode, the longer time to recover, and it can happen at cooler temperature and in the shade as well heat/sun.
    I also agreed to your reasoning of keeping my dog safe and reasonably satisfied, instead of playing to near death. Thanks again for sharing, Benny from Pasadena, Ca.

  2. I have an 18 month old Blue Healer who was diagnosed with BCC this week. Thank you for your heart felt post. By virtue of love we stopped playing hard for long periods of time because of this unusual seizure behavior. We were able to control the episodes by frequent play but less length. Our vet sent video to our state vet school and they referred us to the University of Minn. site. Your suggestion of scent work was a great one and thank you for that. We have been trying to think of things to help him "work" so he does not become bored and destructive. Tracking would be wonderful. Again thank you and I hope we can begin to weed out this disease with knowledge and education. I am sure the folks we bought him from had no idea of BCC and I hope they do the right thing and stop breeding Shadow's sire and dam.

  3. Thanks for these articles. We have a border collie/Aussie that suffers from this as well and now I at least have a name to call it and some information. We are able to manage it just fine, the biggest problem is being careful when neighbor kids or others who aren't familiar with her are playing fetch with her, as they don't know when to stop. Otherwise, it hasn't really impacted her life much, just VERY scary when it happens.

  4. Hi , wished that I had seen this post earlier, My beautiful border collie was chasing a ball, then went into some sort of body failure , managed to get him home . Took him to the vets , they don't know what is wrong with him , they talk about internal bleeding , but there is no sign of blood anywhere. He died 24 hours after the incident 12/05/ 2014. He was only 4 years old. The children are devastated . I did some research and came across your web page, mentioned to the vets what you have been saying , and they look at me as if I'm crazy. He will be truly missed. He was so intelligent. It was like having another child in the house. His name was Smudge. A real peoples dog. Truly proud to have been his owner, xx Francis Gomollon. R.I.P

  5. Thanks for your article on this subject. I too have a Border Collie that I believe has BCC. We rescued him from a high rise apartment in Chicago at 8mos old. He loves playing ball and frisbee and could go all day. We had him neutered at a year old. Shortly after this he started showing signs of BCC. Never before did he have an episode. I had no idea and rushed him to the vet. All vitals were fine. The vet thought maybe it was all the drugs in his system from his surgery etc. I did some research and came across lots of videos and descriptions of what he was going through but also found other info on the MDR1 gene known in herding breeds. I sent a sample to the college to be tested and that came back negative as well. So I've realized he must have BCC. I was careful the rest of that summer and gave him short burst of exercise and watched him closely. He only had one or two more all year but our outdoor playing was at a minimum with the terrible winter this year. Now we are outside once again and he's had 2 in the last month. I really thought he might have recovered by some miracle since it's been months since his last one, but am now seeing it definitely has to do with his excursion and heat. So we now play for short spurts with rest and water in between our frisbee/ball play. He's so smart that he now takes it upon himself to rest when he's feeling too exhausted as well. He's now 2 years old and we love him so much. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  6. I to have a bc with BCC, we restrict his exercise and know the signs of when he is pushing himself to far. It's difficult when he is being looked after by other people as I'm frightened they may push him to far without knowing the warning signs.
    Again the vets didn't know what was wrong with him and did all types of tests, scanned his heart, urine tests you name it. We picked it up very young a 1years old. He is now a happy fit 2year old.
    Thank you for your post

  7. Never heard of this until I stumbled across an article. I have a Border with BCC- have only witnessed it a few times, thought he had a mild seizure, the episodes were spaced years apart. He is now over 14- still active & happy. We play for a short while in the cool evenings to keep him moving & likin' life.

  8. Thank you for your article, i had a BC born in 2001 that had BCC before it became commonly diagnosed. We saw so many vets with no answer, at age 5 she also developed epilepsy too. She died at age 10 from epilepsy related complications. Interesting your blog in relation to neural pathways and BCC being seizures just a different kind. I will never forget her...

  9. Our 14 yo BC just had her first event two days ago- scary! Ran her to vet & found nothing wrong. Husband found this on his search of the web. Wow, makes me wonder if the Rabies vaccine & others affect the collies as I have read in the past that Ivermectin can be deadly to collie breeds. hmmm. However, since we use many homeopathic remedies it makes me wonder how many might benefit from the remedy Belladonna? Might be worth looking into. Best to all & keep loving these wonderful, smart dogs.