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The scene: Exercise Induced Collapse

6/1/2005

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series. For part two, click here.

There is a new problem facing retrievers — especially Labrador retrievers — called Exercise Induced Collapse. Here is the situation:

It is not an especially hot day, certainly not the sweltering kind of heat the middle of summer brings, so you think it a good day to work your retriever. He has been performing well in trials so far, but last time out you noticed an area that concerns you. You set up a few retrieves that he had been having problems with and go to the kennels fetch your future champion.

As you near the kennels they erupt with joyous barking, knowing that some lucky soul is about to get to run. How do they know? For one thing they can see the check cord and e-collar in your hand. Each dog bounds with excitement as you walk down the row of kennels to your pupil for the afternoon. It is hard to get the check cord latched with him jumping all over the place, but you finally strap on the collar and set to work.

Not long into the exercises you can see that your retriever is working hard. He runs with abandon and has a hard time not breaking as you prepare each retrieve. About fifteen minutes into the workout his tongue lolls out farther and he pants harder with each retrieve. But this is not unusual for your dogs as you work them hard and expect the best from them. The past several retrieves have been a challenge for the young retriever and you've had to make several corrections, stops, and re-starts.

As you prepare to send him once again you notice something a little odd. You thought you saw it on the return. A change in his gait; not the smooth stride you are used to — more of a rocking appearance — mainly in the rear. In fact you thought you saw a stumble. Now, you are sure there is a problem. His stance in the rear has widened and he appears a bit uncoordinated as his stride lengthens.

All of a sudden just as you about to re-send him his front limbs gives way. He is totally down now. You call his name and he looks at you. His tail wags as if he can hear you, but doesn't seem to be able to get up. He seems a little disoriented.

This continues for what seems like thirty minutes, but when you check your watch it has only been about five. Then, almost as quickly as it began, you see signs of improvement. First he is able to sit upright. Next as you give the "sit" command he is able to right himself into a sitting position. Finally after about 10-15 minutes he is trotting around as if nothing had ever happened.

Of course, you are now on your way to the vet's office. You call ahead on your cell phone to inform them of the emergency and are quickly admitted. Just last summer you almost lost one to heat stroke, but your veterinarian was able to pull her out of the critical situation. By now your dog is acting 100% normal — "typical", you think. Your veterinarian performs a complete examination checking joints, muscles, reflexes, and coordination. Examination for signs of seizure activity is negative, and the palpation of the back does not reveal any pain. He is not the least bit lame. Ultimately, all findings are now normal.

Such is a typical description of what might happen with a case of Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC). This example seems to suggest the EIC is pretty straightforward, but actually the problem is not a simple "slam dunk" issue. There are many variations seen and because the problem is in some way caused by exercise, or the anticipation of exercise, it is difficult for veterinarians to have the opportunity to examine affected dogs during an episode.

In our next column we'll look in more depth at Exercise Induced Collapse and what researchers are finding as they study this emerging problem.