I made a mistake!
This morning we decided to go for a longer walk across the fields from our house with the boys. The warm weather took me by surprise, partly because I’m inside so much more than usual at the moment and it’s spring so I’m not in hot weather mode yet. Part way through the walk Dave became ‘wobbly’ and THEN I realised my mistake. We quickly found a shady spot for him to rest, thankfully my girls had packed themselves a drink so we made a makeshift bowl from a poo bag (another handy use for them)... Dave was having an Exercise Induced Collapse episode!
Until a couple of years ago I had never heard of Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) and it’s still something that’s not necessarily common knowledge among dog owners.
EIC is a genetic disorder that causes loss of muscle control. It is common in Labradors and some other breeds. As it is a recessive disorder many dogs are carriers but never have symptoms and therefore are mated. If two carriers are bred and both pass on the mutated gene the puppies can be affected and develop symptoms.
Dave was around 13months old when he had his first episode. Sam and I planned a day’s hike around 9miles, Dave was now over a year so ok to walk for longer periods, it was his first really long walk. It was an overcast day, not really that sunny, we packed everything we needed for lunch and lots of spare water. After our long lunch stop it became sunnier and a little warmer, around the 6mile mark we noticed Dave wasn’t quite right. He wasn’t walking normally on his back legs, at first we thought he had stepped on something or pulled a muscle but that wasn’t it. His legs became like jelly, he couldn’t walk in a straight line, he moved himself to a bush and laid under it puffing and panting. Every time he tried to get up it was like his legs couldn’t hold his weight and he flopped back down again. We were in the middle of nowhere and worried! We stopped and waited, poured him water he drank and drank, we sat together for about 20minutes. During that time, we came up with a plan, we couldn’t make him walk the last 3miles, it wasn’t fair. We worked out the nearest road access on our OS map, phoned my Mum for a lift and directed her to where we would be. We had to walk around ½ a mile to the nearest road. After the rest Dave was fine and walked as if there was nothing wrong.
We didn’t think any more of it and assumed he had just overheated. The following month he enjoyed a week of walking in the Lake District and was fine, it must’ve been a one-off.
Fast forward a few months, it was February, a cool day and Dave & I were in the woods enjoying a walk. He met another dog and played with it for a while, being a young male, he got a little overexcited. We said our goodbyes and went on a different path, a few minutes later… it happened again! Jelly legs, not being able to support his weight, disoriented. I was alone, in the woods with no phone signal! We sat and waited together, I had no water (it was winter) and we’d only been walking for 30minutes. He recovered and we walked the quickest route back to the car.
After this I started investigating as the situations were so different, what had caused it? I found out some of Dave’s littermates also had similar episodes and I came across information online that all pointed to EIC. One of his parents must’ve been a carrier.
EIC episodes are caused by excessive or extreme exercise. Symptoms are usually rocking or weakness in limbs, being unable to support body weight, dragging hind legs and being disoriented. Episodes can last 5 -25minutes but in some cases dogs can die following an episode.
Generally, we don’t partake in over exertion activities, we don’t play fetch, don’t encourage too much running around and focus on calmer activities such as walking, sniffing, hunting and tricks (this hasn’t changed since knowing he has EIC, it’s what we do anyway).
Today was his first episode since February 2019, purely because I didn’t realise how warm it was and we were walking in full sun. After a short rest he was fine, he had a couple of dips in the stream and enjoyed the rest of our walk as if nothing had happened.Having seen it before and much worse I wasn't worried, I noticed it early and gave him the rest in the shade he needed. It was however the first time I've had my girls with me, they were a little more concerned.
The most important thing with EIC is to ensure your dog doesn't over exert themselves, not always easy especially if you have a Lab who is more physical. In general Dave seems to know his limitations, he doesn't chase about or play much with other dogs, he gets bored of fetch after 2 or 3 goes and much preferes to pootle about sniffing. He loves to swim and paddle in water, it seems he knows this will lower his body temperature and help prevent episodes. We are generally able to manage his EIC well.
Mental stimulation is a good alternative to the physical activities to ensure our EIC dog enjoys life to the full. Hopefully today will be my reminder that it is often warmer out than you think.... we'll stick to rainy day walks and woodland for the rest of the summer!
You can find out more about EIC here