Epilepsy, Early Take Off, and Late Onset Deafness in border collie studies
Before I write about a variety of border collies health issues on my mind I want to announce that Scoop has an OA now, and in a couple weeks we will compete in Excellent for the first time. I got in on one day of AKC competition Monday and we finished his 3rd leg in Open agility. We walked into the ring to try to get Scoops’s 3rd open JWW leg, but we walked out as fast as we went in after Scoop jumped the start line before I could get the release word out of my mouth. I think I was ready for it to happen as he has been pushy on his stays, sometimes moving a foot and I have had to go back to him often to do a restart.
I led out onto the course, looked over my shoulder and started to raise my arm and off he came. I stayed in my spot and he realized his error and just stopped at my leg. He looked totally horrified as I guided him by the collar out of the ring. I hardly said a word but the look on his face as I snapped on his leash was well……PRICELESS! In standard his start was perfect and so we got to do our run and finish the title.
Last night I ran Scoop in one of my classes and focused primarily on the start line. I lined him up, told him to stay, then ran to my leadout position, often 3 jumps out, then ran all the way back to him to get him a HUGE hunk of “lightly roasted wild beast”. Wow, did I have good stays all night. I need some weeks of this kind of reminder for him. He is getting faster and more driven to do this sport every day, I need to make sure my training keeps up with his desire to get out there and run. I reward my line ups, reward the stays, reward the recalls, and of course reward out there on the course while working. ROC on! Reward On Course, not just off.
Besides thinking about training and competing I have been spending hours lately discussing and thinking about border collie health issues. There is a new border collie study on late onset deafness. This is when a BC who has normal hearing begins to lose it around 2 to 3 years of age. Sadly the owners first think the dog is just being slightly disobedient or inattentive, then the realization hits that the dog’s hearing is impaired. These dogs may have tested for normal hearing as a pup. I was asked to help get border collie saliva samples for the control group of normal hearing dogs. Within a day of hearing about this study and volunteering to sample all my border collie students dogs, and send in the swabs, I was asked to participate in an ongoing study on epilepsy in border collies.
The epilepsy study started a couple years ago but I believe got sidetracked waiting for funding. It is back in full swing and I am trying to help out by finding 20 border collies that have seizures to get blood or at least saliva samples from. I unfortunately have a border collie with seizures, my ten year old Panic, Silvertips High Anxiety. (What made me choose that name I will never know.) I have a short list of friends whose BC’s also have epilepsy. We cry on each others shoulders, and try not to think too deeply of the wonderful careers in agility that we are missing out on with our dogs. Panic started having seizures three years ago while doing agility. He has had 7 seizures total, 5 of them doing agility. After the last one I said never again. Panic gets to run into some tunnels once in a while, but I am afraid to do more than that. The terrible tragedy about Panic is that I have never had a dog love “doing” agility equipment more than Panic likes to do the stuff. All my dogs would be happy doing different dog sports, or just playing with me, swimming or doing tricks. Panic was a so- so obedience and tricks kind of dog, and he can’t swim. He likes, but does not live, for toy play like the rest of my dogs. I think he lived for agility. That brings tears to my eyes.
Some of my friends’ dogs that have seizures are able to train and can sometimes return to competition. Geri Hernandez has a wonderful dog named Rake, Hob Nob Superior Attitude, that we always compare to Panic because of his jumping style as well as his enthusiasm for the sport. Rake does not have seizures during agility, he has them at rest, as do most dogs with epilepsy, and after 8 months without a seizure, Geri is able to do some training, and the hope is that he may be able to compete again. For both Geri and I though, we would be happy just to be able to train the sport the dogs love, competition is secondary.
Please write to me if you have a border collie with epilepsy and wish to participate in this important study being funded by the ABCA. Epilepsy is a hereditary disease, meaning that if we can identify the gene we can identify the dogs who could pass it on to their pups. We could also test pups, and maybe eventually this horrendous disease can find its final end in our border collies and eventually all other dog breeds. This is the study that started at UC Davis with Dr. Mark Neff and is being continued by him at another facility. I will post more contact info here soon. For now, post a response to the blog or write me at email@example.com for information on giving a blood sample for the study.
When talking with the research assistant about the epilepsy study, she told me that as soon as they get moving on this study they are diving in with both feet into a study of dogs with Early Take Off Syndrome. Unless you have been living in a vacuum you have seen the tragedy of handlers trying to cope with this hereditary vision problem. Way too many of my students dogs are afflicted with ETS, and I have known many dogs over the years, with the problem. My first experience was with a couple students’ Belgian Tervurens about 15 years ago. We tried every kind of jump training with these dogs and could never teach the dogs to jump normally. We knew it was something to do with vision, but hadn’t a clue what it really was.
Then I had my first border collie ETS experience. I rescued three 8 week old border collie pups from the pound and we kept one ourselves. Her name is Fly, and my husband Jim put a MAD title on her before we placed her with her current owner, Laura Manchester Derrett. Like all typical ETS dogs, the problems were not apparent in the beginning. We thought we could “fix” her funny jumping which actually did not look funny at all until she was about 2 years old. Her siblings had similar jumping issues. This was my first clue 10 years ago that this disease is hereditary and not ever fixable. Siblings with a similar jumping issue means that the dogs were born with the problem, there was nothing we did, and nothing we could do to fix the problem.
Laura had a great but short career with Fly because her jumping deteriorated each year. She is an older retired dog now, living in England, and her vision problems have increased dramatically over the years. As do all ETS dogs. None of them ever get better. Some seem to jump better on certain surfaces, in certain light, or in different situations. Some only show the dramatic head dropping, stutter stepping when presented with a spread jump or tire, others “measure” slightly at each jump. We call it” measuring” when a dog slows a bit before jump and drops his head as if searching for the jump location. If you are not familiar with the symptom it can look like a dog is just struggling to get enough power underneath them before they jump. The dog may look injured but most of these dogs are found to be physically sound and no physical remedy can alter how they jump. I have seen some heavy bodied dogs who are asked to jump beyond than their comfort zone, and may have some physical limitations in their rear, seem to throw themselves over the jump in a way that looks like ETS. It may or may not be.
When you watch carefully you see that these dogs though almost always take off for a jump earlier than they should, putting more of the jump distance before the jump, rather than jumping in an arc that puts the highest part of the jump right over the bar. Most handlers and lots of instructors do not notice these very subtle beginning signs of ETS. Many dogs are checked and found to have normal retinoscopies by Veterinarian Eye Doctors. There is no vision test for depth perception or lack of it. The perception problems can be minimal or extremely severe, usually starting at a couple years of age. The tragedy of this disease is the progression and for many dogs the total end of their careers. The dogs cannot actually see exactly where the jump bar is and this leads to them taking off very early and over jumping to compensate for their inability to really know where the jump is. When they guess wrong, they land on the jump. Every time they land on a bar, they lose more of their confidence to jump and so the condition deteriorates.
I have a BC named Wicked that probably has ETS. She had a wonderful starting career. She won the 26 inch USDAA National Championships at 3 years old. She continued to compete until she was 11 years old, first at 26 then 22, then at 16 inch performance. It became obvious over the years that she just could not jump the higher jumps safely. Wicked took off early for spreads and tires. She rarely took down bars but she did totally crash into jumps at times when she could not judge the distances. Her jumping looked like she just did a little “pop up”. She had a sibling in England that totally measured all the jumps, and had devastating crashes. Another example of hereditary ETS. Wicked was only minimally affected by ETS, and I did not recognize it as such because she has a variety of other health issues that I blamed the problem on. She is 14 now, and her vision still continues to deteriorate, pretty normal for an older dog, but it is a lack of depth perception that we see, not just a general old age vision change. As I look back at her videos now I can see the subtle signs, the minimal head drop, the early jump on spreads, the “pop up” rather than nice running jump style on all the jumps.
If you have a dog that takes off early it may or may not be ETS. Your dog could have a detectable vision problem, and believe it or not, some of these dogs can be fitted with contacts to help correct the difference in vision between the eyes. Dogs can have long or short vision just like people. If your dog has a disparity from one eye to the other, a contact could help. Any dog with a jumping problem should have their eyes checked. Recently a dog that was thought to have ETS was found to have a form of vitreol degeneration, a totally different kind of vision issue that of course complicated the dogs’ ability to see where the jump was and the result was taking off early.
If you have a dog that takes off early, please write and let me know. I am going to be helping the researchers get blood or saliva samples of these dogs so that they can begin looking for the DNA marker that will help identify the hereditary nature of this disease. If we all are honest about our dogs’ health problems, we will all benefit from having healthier dogs with longer lives and careers. We put too much into our dogs and into our sport to hide our heads in the sand about these devastating diseases.
We need to help all the great breeders of our wonderful pets to identify which dogs may have the disease, and so make good decisions about which dogs to use in their breeding programs. No breeder ever wants to make a pup that isn’t perfect. We can’t just blame breeders for these diseases. We need to get out there and protect our dogs by being informed buyers, readily discussing problems honestly and publicly without placing blame and also do our best to participate if possible in studies on the health issues that every one of us will deal with sooner or later if we stay involved in dog sports long enough.
I hope you are lucky and have a dog who seems totally healthy like my Scoop, any day those issues can change though and I hope if you have a border collie and can help on the studies that you would be willing to do so.