If you read a list of sporting breeds that could carry the Dynamin-1 EIC mutation in their genes, you get the sense that there isn’t a waterfowl or upland dog that is safe out there. This isn’t true, of course, but it is alarming.
Labrador and Chesapeake Bay retrievers make the Exercise Induced Collapse list in a big way, as do a fair amount of less-popular waterfowling breeds. This alone should be enough to interest any prospective puppy buyer, or anyone who owns a duck dog but isn’t sure if it came from an EIC tested (and guaranteed) bloodline.
What Is EIC?
In a simplified nutshell, EIC is diminished nerve transmission from the head to the hind end during strenuous exercise that results in a loss of control in the hind legs. Although it’s not believed to be painful, anyone who witnesses an episode of EIC understands pretty quickly that the condition has the potential to become serious. In most dogs, it’s only the rear running gear that is affected, but some retrievers might also lose their coordination or use of their front legs as well. For a few minutes after exercise has ended, the spells can (and often do) grow worse. While most retrievers can easily survive an episode of EIC, a small percentage won’t.
Exercise Induced Collapse is a genetic time-bomb that usually goes off and reveals itself within the first few years of a dog’s life, and can be exacerbated by specific conditions. Exercise during hot weather is a potential trigger, as is a high level of excitement. Combine either with repetitive high-intensity drills, or a hunt that calls for serious game recovery efforts, and you might be looking at the perfect storm for EIC to hit.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A decade-long study at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine is shedding a lot of light on this issue, and according to their findings, 30- to 40-percent of Labrador retrievers are carriers of the recessive gene responsible for EIC. Three to 13-percent carry two copies of the gene, and are receptacle to collapse.
This demands two separate things from us as owners and retriever lovers. The first is to acknowledge treatment realities. And today, unfortunately, there are no magic pills out there that your veterinarian can prescribe to allow your Lab to go hard in the paint, as they say. The reality is that if your dog shows signs of EIC during, or immediately following, strenuous drills or hunts, the best and only option, is to stop exercise immediately. This also means that while your dog should be able to tolerate moderate exercise, any ramp up in excitement and exercise should be eyed very cautiously.
Secondly, and far better news than that, is you can do some research and come up with a retriever puppy that isn’t a carrier of the recessive gene responsible for EIC.
One of the reasons that well-bred duck dogs cost more than farmyard litters is that they are bred to avoid issues like EIC. While we commonly focus on how many Hunt Test or Field Trial Champions can be found in recent generations, or how the litter should fare as far as hips and elbows are concerned, genetic testing is available for EIC.
At about $55 to $70, it’s not overly-expensive but is a cost that will likely be passed on from breeder to puppy buyer. Anyone who expects more than a couch potato dog should be aware of this and welcome the small added expense. Although you’re not likely to get an itemized receipt of why your new Lab or Chessie pup costs $1,400 versus a Craig’s List puppy that seems like a steal for $500, genetic testing is partially responsible for the higher price.
Not only is it absolutely worth it, but it’s also testament to the fact that you’re probably dealing with a breeder who truly cares about the long game, and not someone interested in moving some young dogs without any accountability to the health of their furred goods a few years down the road.
That alone is worth it, but so is the knowledge that this issue can be bred away from so that a potentially smaller percentage of future duck dogs will be free from the possibility of losing control of their running gear after some long distance doubles.