Epiletoid cramping syndrome, Border Terrier Cramping Syndrome and Spikes Disease. These names are given to a relatively newly recognized health problem exhibited by some Border Terrier dogs. This includes my Border, Eddie, who will be fourteen in July. In all other respects, Eddie is in robust health.
I should make it clear that this diagnosis is unofficial – mine. For most of his life, Eddies’ symptoms were thought to be epilepsy. I have learned that this is often a common confusion.
The first symptoms manifested themselves very early in Eddie’s life. He was less than a year old when I witnessed stumbling behaviour, so subtle that I thought I had imagined it. Then, Eddie lost his footing while walking off the last two steps of the stairs and appeared stiff and trembling. It was over in seconds. I remember feeling it was strange but Eddie is my first dog and I was unsure of canine behaviour.
He recovered very quickly. But, one day. when we were all watching TV, Eddie was suddenly unable to stand and was shaking. Any attempt to get up on his legs was impossible as his body had become rigid. The episode was distressing to watch and lasted about five minutes. Eddie was conscious throughout. I tried not to panic, consoled the dog and the children who were very distressed. At the end of the attack, Eddie chased his tail for some more minutes and then returned to normal behaviour.
Over the next few years, the attacks were sporadic, happening approximately every six to nine months. Other milder symptoms I observed were episodes of shaking without the rigidity and times when he would be absent, sitting and staring into space.
The vet, from my verbal descriptions, thought epilepsy was the most possible explanation. We made the decision not to medicate as the episodes were infrequent. We agreed to re-consider if their frequency increased.
I had knowledge of epilepsy in humans and had the nagging feeling that, despite the vet’s conclusions, Eddie was not epileptic. He was conscious all through his attacks and the one thing that seemed to give him comfort was human contact. We would quietly talk to him and stroke him.
The attacks have now settled into a pattern, occurring roughly twice a year and lasting longer – ten to fifteen minutes. It is always distressing to see Eddie struggling to get to his feet and to watch the spasms and rigidity in his body. The tail-chasing behaviour is accompanied by much sniffing and licking of lips, before a return to normality.
Following an episode in his eleventh year, and not altogether convinced of the epilepsy theory, I went on to the Internet and trawled for information. I found videos of Borders in mid attack displaying the same behaviour as Eddie. The cause was identified as a Cramping Syndrome, probably an inherited condition in Border Terriers. There is much discussion regarding the role of diet in controlling the complaint. Eddie is currently on a low-protein based diet and has gone longer between attacks than previously.
So, fingers crossed…
My top tips to other owners with the same experience would be:
* Search the Internet for further information. Several American-based research projects are studying the condition.
* Try the low protein diet.
* If you can bear to, film your dog while cramping occurs, as evidence for the vet.
Lynne Rees lives in South Wales and works for Barafundle CDs, a company producing personalised story CDs. She has two children and Eddie the dog.