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2012 Update

The general health status of the breed is largely unchanged with the focus primarily being on the incidence of neurological conditions although this remains a relatively low figure on the survey. This category includes both so- called 'classic' epilepsy and Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS - previously termed Spikes disease). It has always been my view that this is a form of seizure and readers will be interested to hear that two UK based neurologists have taken an interest in the condition. More of this later.

Health reports are sent to me each year although the numbers are best described as a trickle. The forms can be found on club websites and I would ask you all to draw attention to the health survey when you sell puppies and in particular ask new owners to tell us about their dogs health at any time, but certainly somewhere between 3-5 years when most of the conditions we would be interested in will have arisen.

The Kennel Club maintains its forward momentum on canine health and has introduced the Health Test Finder and Mate Select on the KC website. The former is of low value to our breed as we have no recognised health tests to report to the KC. Hip Dysplasia is rare in small dogs although most of their hips will score above zero simply because this would be expected of small breeds. However the consequences of HD are mostly anticipated in large breeds as the weight carried by the hips becomes significant in the formation of secondary arthritis. For this reason BTs are not generally recommended for hip scoring in the UK.

Mate select however is a useful resource especially for those planning to breed a first litter. Most people will have a small selection of sires they might wish to use and Mate Select allows the proposed mating to be entered on-line to produce a predictive co-efficient of inbreeding. The general advice is to breed litters with lower coefficients than the breed average (which is also shown on-line) and by doing so you will help maintain the breed's genetic diversity and thus reduce the likelihood for propagating inherited disease.

Returning now to the subject of CECS. We have been plagued with this issue for at least two decades and with little real progress. The biggest weakness has always been, in my opinion, the lack of an accurate diagnosis. As a result a miasma of conditions has been labeled as CECS and often by non veterinary surgeons. This is compounded by a website which is, I accept, an attempt to be helpful but actually only adds further confusion to the picture. A brief reading of the details on the website shows there are few hard facts and the list of symptoms could fit many different illnesses.

This is in fact what has sparked the interest of the UK neurologists. They are asked to examine border terriers and owners understandably come armed with the diagnosis of CECS along with information from the website. Some veterinary surgeons may go along with the diagnosis but neurologists are far more likely to want to understand the basis for the condition. The answer is there is no real established basis and nearly everything is perception and assumption. This encompasses diagnosis, treatment and the ongoing research.

As the website has been put together by lay people (largely) it does not really stand up to the appraisal by a neurologist searching for an answer. As a result the Border Terrier Club has been approached with the view to conducting a survey of dogs assumed to have CECS to try and establish the characteristics of the condition and thus provide a more stable basis for further investigation. As the breed health representative I have made contact with the two veterinary neurologists and a questionnaire is planned during 2012.

On the same subject I hear of social networks suggesting vaccination and diet as potential causes of the neurological symptoms suffered by some dogs. It is well known that both can be associated with increased frequency of epileptic seizures in an already affected dog. I will make a prediction that CECS is likely to be a form of seizure, but that apart, although diet and vaccination may affect the frequency of seizure episodes they are both unlikely as originating causes.

On the diet front the finger is mainly pointed at the commercial (cereal based) diets. The suggestion is that dogs cannot digest cereal proteins. This is an oversimplification and too complex to be discussed here, however thinking logically if the diets were the cause there would be many more dogs affected than those reported today and across all breeds surely. The same argument can be applied to vaccination. However having said this there is no doubt in my mind that we generally feed too much protein to adult BTs and I always recommend the level is kept below 25% when feeding dry foods.

More generally some good work is going on to try and find the genes that are involved in specific forms of epilepsy (classic epilepsy really does not exist) and if these bear fruit over the next few years we may find the BT can piggy back on the results and look for some solutions to reduce so called idiopathic (assumed inherited) epilepsy. The current incidence is around 4-5% in our breed which is not as high as some breeds but higher than the average level in all dogs. Clinical research is also suggesting that epilepsy is not always inherited. Late onset seizures may well be because of acquired injury or other neurological disease and we should not lose sight of this.

Prof Steve Dean BVetMed MRCVS DVR
Breed Health Representative

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