Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What is Exercise Induced Collapse?

By Langley Cornwell

My one-time canine companion was a black Labrador. She was the sweetest, most willing-to-please pet I’ve probably ever had. This good gal would look at me for assurance or confirmation before doing almost anything; we were completely bonded and inseparable for 17 years.

This dog had an incredibly high energy level and was excellent at the job she was bred to do, which was interesting because I rescued her from a horrible situation when she was just a few weeks old. It took drastic medical help and a great deal of veterinarian attention to nurse her back to health, but with love, care and good nutrition like CANIDAE, she grew up to be an awesome dog. I say all this to let you know that she was never officially trained on how to retrieve. I certainly never trained her to do it and she had no previous owners. Still, her desire to please me made her so easy to work with. She was a champion.

At the time, I hadn’t heard of Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) but I did know that Labrador Retrievers (and quite a few other breeds) were tireless when they were playing fetch or seriously retrieving, and they didn’t have a good monitoring system that alerted them when it was time to slow down. Since we live in the very hot and humid south, I had to be especially careful with my Lab during the summer. The newspapers and local pet bloggers did an excellent job issuing warnings to dog owners about the dangers of the extreme heat. Still, I heard too many stories about dogs collapsing and/or suffering from a heat stroke.

Since that time, a friend of mine has adopted a Golden Retriever. The shelter where she got her pet said the dog was an ‘owner surrender.’ Apparently, the dog had a good pedigree and was field trial trained but tested positive for Exercise Induced Collapse. She dug into the condition and wanted me to research it too.

For years, a veterinarian thought when a dog collapsed it was due to heat intolerance, a heart issue or low blood sugar. Exercise Induced Collapse wasn’t on the radar.  Understanding the condition seems to be a fairly new discovery. The gene responsible for Exercise Induced Collapse was recently identified at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinarian Diagnosis Laboratory. It’s now been accepted and validated; the scientific basis for the DNA test to detect the EIC gene was peer-reviewed and has been published in scientific journals including Nature Genetics.

What is Exercise Induced Collapse?

According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Exercise Induced Collapse is a genetic condition that is most commonly found in Labrador Retrievers. As the name indicates, if a dog has this affliction they can endure moderate levels of light exercise but after just a few minutes of serious activity or high levels of excitement or stress, they experience weakness or even serious collapse.

What should I look for?

Any signs of muscle weakness can indicate an upcoming EIC episode. Take notice if your dog seems to lose his coordination, if he starts to drag his hind legs or if you hear his toenails scrape when he’s walking on concrete. His eyes may take on a dazed, confused look and he may start to stagger. These behaviors signal an upcoming collapse. 

What breeds are most susceptible?

Sadly, most dogs that suffer from Exercise Induced Collapse have been from dogs bred for field trials, especially black, yellow and chocolate Labradors (black males most commonly carry the gene). Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Curly Coated Retrievers can also carry the EIC gene.

What activities should I avoid if the EIC gene is present in my dog?

Extreme heat: the actual temperature may not matter but if it is hotter and more humid than the dog is accustomed to, it may bring on a collapse.

High levels of excitement: a dog's excitement level can play a role in bringing on a collapse. There are some EIC affected dogs that, if very excited, can collapse with even the lightest form of exercise. If a dog finds any activity exciting or stressful, an episode may occur. 

Type of exercise: routine exercise you and the dog engage in together such as jogging or hiking are not likely to induce a collapse. It’s the activities that require continuous intense exercise that most commonly causes a collapse, particularly if the activity causes a high level of excitement or anxiety in the dog.

How should I treat my dog with EIC?

Dogs that carry the EIC gene must find a life with less anxiety and stress. If they’ve been trained as a hunting dog or for field trials, they must retire from those activities – which were likely the cause of their collapses. As with my friend’s Golden, numerous affected field trial dogs have been adopted out as wonderful household pets. When the trigger activities of intense exercise, and the excitement and training stressors are eliminated, a dog with EIC typically never experiences another collapse and can live a long, happy, normal life.

Photo by Sini Merikallio

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. That is some great information. I did not know about EIC. I always thought the labs were fairly quiet but I have seen them play fetch without slowing down. Thanks. Take care.

  2. Thanks for running this article. My girl Elly has EIC and we watch her like a hawk. She is doing quite well competing in Flyball and Dockdiving. In Elly, the humidity seems to trigger it more than anything.

  3. Wow, we never knew about EIC before. Thank you for such a good article, Langley. We know quite a few labs, and they will go, go, go without ceasing. We will share this information with their humans!

  4. I didn't know about EIC before. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. We didn't know about EIC either. I know Mom Julie and Trapper would go out to the nearby fields and he would just run and run and never wanted to stop. Even if she wanted to get him back to the car, there were always other dogs that encouraged him to play.

    We know someday we'll get another dog. We'll have him or her tested, too. Thanks so much for the information.

    Julie says: We appreciate your kind words, too, at Trapper's passing. The kitties pretty much come and go, but he never left my side, ever. I still want to reach down and pat him, let him know I'm thinking of him.

    Julie, Tinker, Mitty, Tom & Anastasia xx

  6. Good article - labs just don't know when to stop so people should know what to look for in EIC!

  7. Thanks for the article, I have a Pembroke Welsh Corgi with EIC and the more information out there, the better people can deal with the condition.

  8. thank you for this article unfortunately I think I found my young boxer has it as well.


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