Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) in Dogs

If a Labrador Retriever falters and collapses after only a few minutes of high-intensity fun (running, chasing a ball, hunting), he might have exercise induced collapse (EIC). It’s a genetic problem that affects very fit dogs. Treatment simply means the pet must avoid activities that trigger the condition.

Overview

EIC is both a general term for what happens when animals collapse during or after extreme exercise and a disease seen in very fit Labrador Retrievers. For the purposes of this article, it’s the latter condition we’ll tackle.

EIC was first identified in the 1990s, but since then, it’s been seen increasingly in Labrador Retrievers. Because littermates and other related dogs were found to be similarly affected, veterinarians came to understand the hereditary nature of the condition. It’s since become clear that the exact source of the genetic problem involves a mutation in a gene involved in the communication between nerves of the central nervous system.

In EIC, dogs will collapse after 5 to 10 minutes of high-drive, trigger activities, such as chasing a ball or hunting. Though a large majority of these cases recover completely within a short timeframe (less than 30 minutes), some dogs have been known to die of the condition.

Signs and Identification

Dogs with EIC will display a wobbly gait after a few minutes of hard exercise. If the exercise continues, they will usually collapse. High temperatures (above 107 degrees) and weak muscles have been the historical hallmarks of this disease, though it’s now been determined that many dogs of similar breeds experience equivalent high temperatures for the same period of extreme exercise.

But not all affected dogs will collapse every time. High ambient temperatures and high excitement levels seem to factor into the symptoms and, hence, identification of the disease through a careful history-taking by a veterinarian.

The diagnosis is arrived at through a history of collapse during high-drive exercise, usually in excitable Labradors who are extremely fit and well-muscled, and ruling out other medical conditions that can cause similar episodes. The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory offers a test for dogs suspected of having this condition.

Affected Breeds

Labrador Retrievers of all colors have been found among the affected patients.

Treatment

The recommended treatment for EIC is to avoid extreme exercise, particularly activities most likely to trigger the dog into high-drive mode. Field Labs must retire to the life of a quiet house pet.

Though it’s been postulated that phenobarbital (normally used as an antiseizure medication in dogs) may be helpful, those who study the disorder have found that it merely limits excitement levels and exercise drives by sedating the dogs. It does not seem to directly treat the problem.

Prevention

Prevention of EIC is achieved primarily by identifying affected dogs through clinical signs or testing and removing them from the breeding pool. Testing of field Labs is currently recommended prior to breeding. To prevent individual events, limit behaviors that may trigger an episode.


This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.

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