If your active dog suddenly becomes weak, wobbly, or collapses after playing hard, it's incredibly concerning. This could be a sign of exercise-induced collapse in dogs (EIC), a serious genetic condition. exercise-induced collapse mostly affects Labrador Retrievers and Border Collies, but other energetic breeds can have it too. Exercise-induced collapse (EIC) is a condition caused by physical activity, leading to a collapse that begins in the hind legs. Understanding the signs and knowing how to respond is important for any dog owner who loves intense exercise with their dog.

What are the symptoms of exercise-induced collapse in dogs?

Imagine your dog loves to play fetch or go for runs with you. Suddenly, after a burst of intense activity, their legs start to wobble. They might stumble, lose their balance, or even collapse completely. These are all possible signs of exercise-induced collapse in dogs.

Symptoms of EIC usually appear between the ages of 5 months and 3 years, with most dogs being diagnosed before reaching 2 years old.

Here's what you might see during an EIC episode:

  • Weakness: Usually starting in the back legs, but can affect all four legs.
  • Awkward walking: A wobbly, uncoordinated, or "choppy" gait. We call this ataxia.
  • Knuckling of the paws: Affected dogs may drag the limbs, with scuffing of the toes. Knuckling suggests loss of neurological function.
  • Falling: Your dog may struggle to stand and fall to the side.
  • Other signs: Heavy panting, high body temperature, seeming dazed or less alert.

Important notes:

  • Fast recovery: Most dogs bounce back quickly within 15-30 minutes.
  • No pain: While it looks frightening, EIC episodes usually aren't painful. Your dog may even be eager to continue playing once they've rested.
  • Triggers: Intense exercise and excitement can bring on an episode, especially in warm weather.

If you notice these signs, stop your dog's activity immediately and help them cool down. We'll discuss what to do next in a later on.

What are the causes and why does EIC happen?

Think of your dog's body as a complex machine full of tiny messengers called neurotransmitters. These messengers help the brain communicate with the muscles, telling them when to move and how.

EIC is caused by a small glitch – a mutation – in the instructions for making a protein called dynamin-1. Dynamin-1's job is to help recycle the messengers during lots of activity – like when a dog plays hard. In dogs with EIC, this recycling process gets disrupted.

Here's the problem: when a dog with EIC gets excited and intensely active, their messengers get used up too quickly. With the faulty dynamin-1, the brain struggles to send the right signals to the muscles. This is why you see weakness, incoordination, and sometimes collapse.

Important to know

  • The cause of EIC is genetics: EIC is an inherited genetic disorder. Dogs are born with the mutation.
  • Most common breeds: Labrador Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Border Collies, Curly-Coated Retrievers, and certain others are most likely to have this gene issue.

What should you do if your dog has an episode?

Seeing your dog collapse is terrifying, but remember, most dogs recover quickly, within 30 minutes. Here's what to do:

  1. Stop the activity: As soon as you notice any weakness or wobbliness, stop your dog from exercising, even if they seem eager to play.
  2. Cool down: Help your dog cool down. Move them to shade, provide water, and if possible, wet their coat to lower their body temperature.
  3. Rest and observe: Keep your dog calm and let them rest. Most episodes are short, and dogs usually bounce back within 15-30 minutes.
  4. When to call your vet: Contact your veterinarian right away if:
    • The episode lasts longer than usual or seems very severe.
    • Your dog isn't fully recovered within 30 minutes.

Important notes

  • No cure: Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for EIC. The focus is on managing episodes and preventing them from happening in the first place.
  • Prevention is key: The best way to help your dog is to avoid intense, prolonged exercise, especially when combined with excitement.
  • Potential supplements: There have been some suggestions that supplements like L-carnitine and coenzyme Q10, may help in some cases. Always discuss this option with your vet first.

How is exercise-induced collapse diagnosed in dogs?

If your dog has experienced even one episode that sounds like EIC, a trip to the vet is essential. Here's what you can expect:

  • The vet visit: Your vet will ask detailed questions about your dog's episodes, what triggers them, and their overall health. They'll also perform a physical exam.
  • Ruling things out: Your vet may recommend tests like bloodwork to rule out other health issues that can have similar symptoms.
  • The EIC DNA test: The most definitive way to diagnose EIC is a DNA test. It's a simple cheek swab or blood sample. Your vet will send it to a specialized lab for testing.
  • Special note for border collies: While there's an EIC test for many breeds, there isn't one specifically for Border Collies yet. If you have a Border Collie, your vet will diagnose them based on their symptoms and by ruling out other possible causes.

Why get a diagnosis?

  • Peace of mind: Knowing for sure what's causing the episodes helps you manage your dog's health effectively.
  • Lifestyle changes: If your dog has EIC, you'll need to adjust their exercise routine.
  • Responsible breeding: A diagnosis allows you to make informed choices if you're ever considering breeding your dog.

Exercise-induced collapse (EIC) can be a scary sight for dog owners. This condition, most common in Labrador Retrievers and other active breeds, causes weakness and wobbly gait after intense exercise. While there's no cure, recognizing the signs and getting a DNA test from your veterinarian are important steps. By understanding exercise-induced collapse in dogs and working with your vet to manage your dog's exercise and lifestyle, you can help them with all their adventures, just at a gentler pace.