CECS in Border Terriers

Regulars of this blog will know that I breed border terriers, and I am excited to share with you some new and ground breaking research within the breed.

In December, the Journal of Small Animal Practice published an article on canine epileptoid cramping syndrome (or CECS) in border terriers. This is exciting because it is the first academic article to consider this condition in border terriers, and it therefore documents and legitimises the condition.


This is Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). He does not have CECS but he is a border terrier.

This is Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). He does not have CECS but he is a border terrier.

Research Design

  • A small study of 29 border terriers.
  • There were 33 respondents in all, but 4 dogs were excluded for not meeting the criteria.
  • Recruitment took place through veterinarians, using dogs that had diagnosed and treated for CECS.
  • In 14 of the cases, owners were questioned about their dog’s episodes. In 15 cases, videographic evidence was used.
  • In order to be included in the study, dogs had to:
    • Have a one year history of episodes (i.e. abnormal involuntary hyperkinetic movement)
    • These episodes did not include epilepsy-like symptoms (like loss of bladder or bowel control, hyper salivation, or loss of consciousness)
    • Have other medical conditions ruled out (if possible)


What happens before a CECS episode?

  • 18 out of the 29 owners felt they could predict the onset of an episode.
  • 11 out of the 29 dogs became ‘quieter’ before an episode.
  • 6 out of the 29 dogs sought comfort in their owners before an episode.
  • 4 out of the 29 dogs would vomit bile or eat grass before an episode.
  • While most episodes were unpredictable, some owners felt that excitement, waking from sleep, and stress were all triggers.


So what does a CECS episode look like?

  • Generally, an episode lasts from 2-30 minutes.
  • All owners felt their dog was uncomfortable during the episode.
  • Most dogs had difficulty walking (27 of the 29 participants).
  • Most of the time all four limbs are affected (25 of the 29 participants).
  • Most dogs had at least some time that they were unable to stand (22 of the 29 participants).
  • Most had a mild tremor (21 of the 29 participants).
  • Most had the head or neck affected (21 of 29 participants).
  • Most had dystonia (muscle tremors) (22 of the 29 participants).
  • Many had the back and abdomon affected (16 of the 29 participants).
  • Some licked the air (14 of 29 participants).
  • Some excessively stretched (14 of 29 participants).
  • Some had all four limbs go rigid (14 of 29 pariticpants).
  • Some had the tail affected (11 of 29 participants).
  • Some dogs got a rumbly tummy (11 of the 29 participants).


What happens after an episode?

  • Most owners (18 of the 29) described their dogs as acting similar after an episode as before.
  • 11 of 29 respondents were quieter after an episode.
  • 4 of the 29 participants sought human company after an episode.
  • 2 of the 29 participants were hungry after an episode.


What helps reduce symptoms?

  • Most owners found the condition could be managed by diet. 19 of the respodents changed their dog’s diet as a result of their condition, and over 50% thought that this helped.
  • Drugs did not help the condition (including phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and buscopan).
  • Once an episode had started, none of the owners in this study thought they could change the course of the episode.


What is CECS correlated with?

  • In short: Not much!
  • Dogs appeared normal despite: blood tests, magnetic resonance imaging, cerbospinal fluid collection and analysis, and neurological examinations.
  • “No significant underlying metabolic, cardiovascular, respiratory, orthopaedic or other neurological conditions were identified in any respondent.”
  • 15 of the 29 borders also had skin disease.
  • There is “an apparent association” between CECS and digestive or food intolerance issues.
  • CECS is not epilepsy. Dogs who have CECS differs from epilepsy as affected dogs remain conscious during an episode, have longer episodes, and do not respond to medication.


Implications for Breeders

  • Most dogs had their first episode before 3 years. This may mean that only breeding borders 3 years and older, who are asymptomatic, is a way forward. (But some dogs started cramping at 0.2 years, and some at 7 years, so there’s no guarantees.)
  • 10 of the 29 owners (34%) felt that CECS had a negative impact on the dog’s quality of life. While this is a significant number, it is reassuring to think that most owners (66%) therefore did not think that CECS negatively impacted on their dogs life. This is not a way to justify breeding CECS affected dogs, but it is reassuring to know that the condition does not seem to be incredibly debilitating in many situations.
  • Skin disease is correlated with CECS. Any dogs affected by skin disease should not be considered for a breeding program.
  • For those trying to determine the inheritance of CECS, it is important to note that CECS is not epilepsy. A condition that can be controlled by medication is almost certainly not CECS, and it would be hazardous to lump the two conditions together.


Congratulations and thank-you to those border terrier people who have been campaigning and working behind the scenes for research like this for many years.

I hope this is the first of much research to come.

This is Clover (Ch Burrowa Blue Flame ME TD DWDF.S) and Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). Neither of them are CECS affected, but they're pretty cute.

This is Clover (Ch Burrowa Blue Flame ME TD DWDF.S) and Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). Neither of them are CECS affected, but they’re pretty cute.



Black V, Garosi L, Lowrie M, Harvey RJ, & Gale J (2013). Phenotypic characterisation of canine epileptoid cramping syndrome in the Border terrier. The Journal of small animal practice PMID: 24372194

17 thoughts on “CECS in Border Terriers

  1. This is groundbreaking news. I have never had a border terrier affected with CECS but as a breeder I’ve found your article interesting and informative. It is comforting to know that this condition has at last been recognized and is not classed as epilepsy.

  2. Hello I am impressed that this is now a recognised condition. I have a Border Terrier who started life with Shaking puppy syndrome and then went on to suffer CECS symptoms and has fits on a daily basis now almost 2 every day.
    I feel her condition is deteriorating and she is coming up for 6 years old now. All research can only be a good thing

  3. My BT is 10 months old and has CECS, it started as a one-off when she was 7months old and now happens 4 or 5 times per week for a few minutes at a time. I would really like to know which foods the people in the study found beneficial (names of foods please)….we’re onto our 5th type and none so far have helped.
    Thank you

    • Hi Ashley,

      Here’s what is says straight from Wikipedia:

      “Some owners have had varying levels of success with dietary changes. In most cases, a gluten-free and/or raw diet is recommended, while some recommend avoiding dairy, eggs, soy, beef, corn, rice, and artificial flavours and colours. Other owners report success with commercial hypoallergenic formula feeds.”

      I have also heard that rawhide can be a trigger.

      I hope you might be able to find a solution for your dog.

  4. My eleven year old Border Terrier began displaying serious symptoms six months ago. Over the years he had had several seizures, the first one when he was about 3 years old. But he went years in between the seizures. I have just now, after many thousands of dollars at the vet (to no avail) discovered through my own research that my dog has CECS. In addition to the described symptoms my dog also seems to go momentarily blind and / or deaf. If I am calling him from several yards away he will invariably run frantically in the wrong direction and go in circles trying to find me. He also is now bumping into furniture and walls. He is having many episodes a day now. Has anyone else had their dog have these additional symptoms? Is there anything to be done? Is my poor dog now just going to decline into a certain death? Any info is welcome. Thanks.

    • Yes – one of our Border Terriers did have symptoms similar to those you describe – it would usually start with a tense, hard abdomen; then he would vomit bile & sometimes have tremors as well as loss of coordination and circling; then blindness. He also had bad skin that progressively got worse (extremely oily skin with patches of itching, inflamed skin.). We finally traced the symptoms to his liver. He may have had a condition similar to portal cavel shunt (where blood vessels go around the liver, compromising the filtering ability of the liver.) In small breeds the same problem often occurs when the blood filtering vessels go through the liver, but are too small to filter all the toxins. The resulting build up of ammonia in the blood can cause seizure-like symptoms, skin inflammation and sores, temporary blindness and confusion, and intolerance of certain foods. Our dog improved on Science Diet Sensitive Stomach & Sensitive skin. He had an episode at 12 years that our Vet felt was total liver failure, and our dear sweet Border was then humanely euthanized.

  5. Hi, my chihuahua cross Yorkshire terrier has CECS. He has had two minute-long episodes, plus an awful 3 hour one on Monday 9 Feb 2015. My vet did not know what it was but gave him a Valium infection and he came out of it, and showed no ill effects. I now keep a Valium suppository for emergencies. On Monday he had bad shakes, with cramps in muscles, and was frightened and in pain. I am cutting his protein levels. He is on Burns Alert, but I will cut out high protein treats like bacon. I would like to know of any support group, especially in England. I am trying to trace his breeder in Sussex. Stress seems to be his trigger, especially me telling him off. He is a nervous rescue dog.
    I have seen identical symptoms in both chihuahuas and Yorkies on YouTube. Let’s hope we can get the Valium into him more quickly next time.

  6. My dog has CECS verified by my vet. I have taken to feeding raw food. His seizures now are rare maybe 3-4 per year and not more than a rumbly tummy and the weird stretching, at which time I give 2.5 mg or diazapam and he is settled. I feed hi. Lamb and chicken ground with bone in, and vegetables and fruits. The important thing is the meat I feed is GRAIN FED no corn or soy. I think the no SOY is very important as I did the same thing with feedlot lamb, and cheaper chicken, and he was somewhat relieved, but the seizures did not subside until I went to this “purer” type of meat. For my dogs size he gets 3.2oz of meat twice a day, plus veggies and fruits. My BT is 11 years old and did quite well on a commercial raw formula until they changes the source of their minerals two years ago, since then I have been grinding my own.

    • Laura,
      Thanks for your comments. I believe my 5 year old lab experienced this last night. At first I thought she had hurt herself, but wasn’t sure how it would have happened. She still seems kinda of rigid today but her back not arched and tail not tucked like last night. She certainly seems spooked by it.

      I am wondering…. Did your pup feel sore after such spasms because I feel like this is what she feeling today.

      Thank you Laura,

  7. I researched these symptoms that affected my Jack Russell 4 years ago. While researching I discovered that Vets do not report irregularities as they should to a collective data base. My discovery of the possible cause of symptoms came from thinking it was a neurological poisoning. I had never used Frontline Flea Tic control in the Jack’s first 6-7 years, but purchased the proper packaged dose at Costco and within that month the symptoms developed.

    Further research on the web I found that the Chinese were making black market Frontline and it had found it’s way into the US distribution system undetected as the product packaging was first rate. The dosing was the issue as it did not meet or pair up with the dogs weight. There were as many as 50-75,000 seizure like episodes being reported online in chat groups looking for answers. Symptoms varied from mild to wild including death by seizure.

    The study above does not list if the dogs in the group test were treated with Frontline, but that could be an important variable for events.

    I spent the next years with a raw diet, omega 3′s and a detox protocol that brought the dog from the grave to living out to be 15 yrs of age at his passing and the symptoms were cleared after approximately 2 years. Just my observation as your mileage may vary.

  8. My BT has CECS. What do you mean by a raw diet? Raw fresh meat? I have read that some say cut the protein intake down. What do you folks suggest I feed my dog?

  9. I found this research really helpful. Thank you to those involved.

    Our male BT started having episodes after he was 3 years old. Now he is 6 and his episodes are more frequent, sometimes twice a day.
    He has also had, since April, two periods of intense discomfort when he yelps in pain if I touch his sides. At it’s worst he can’t walk much and do normal things like jump small stiles etc on our walks. He couldn’t stretch his neck down to eat for a couple of days. he can tremble a lot during these times too.
    I have found comfort, massage, and homeopathy (arnica and aconite) helps a lot.

    Has anyone else had anything like this?

    I have also read to cut protein so am curious about the raw food.

    With many thanks

  10. My 2 year old border terrier max first displayed symptoms while we was on holiday and he was staying with a dog sitter ,she kindly took him to our vets who believed he had epilepsy and put him straight on drugs to control epilepsy,I agreed as max had clusters a few fits,but while on holiday I began research and took him off the epilepsy medication as it was not epilepsy,as soon as he was off the medication he perked up,we know when he will have a fit as it begins with his stomach making very loud noises and he seeks us out to comfort him,it’s mostly at night we let him out he opens his bowels all is fine no diorea,he will then or may eat some grass he will continue to have a noisy stomach for some time,then he will sit down shake mostly the back legs like tremors,if you look at his back the muscles along his back expand and contact,after this he will usually be off his food and spear generally down,today I went to the vets she is keen to check him for a liver shunt,but to me he is not showing symptoms of liver shunt,does this seem a sensiblecstep to take,would really appreciate any and all advice, red craig

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