Sudden Death of a Collie
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Sadye's Story

Since her four year old collie's sudden and unexpected death, American Ericka Skinner has been tirelessly searching for answers. Her dog Sadye was the love of her life and the perfect companion. When Ericka saw an article on Agilitynet about Border Collie Collapse Syndrome, she decided that she wanted to share Sadye's story in the hope of providing an insight for others into this devastating problem.

I remember crying after seeing Sayde's picture for the first time. I was instantly in love.

She was an absolute monster of a puppy. We would play all day long but she still managed to chew up anything and everything. Despite being a typical puppy she was unbelievably smart and the bond we had was un-explainable. When I looked into Sayde's eyes I truly felt that she understood and loved me more than anything in the world. And I felt the same way about her.

Regardless of whether we were making the 500 mile road trip to visit family for the holidays, taking a day trip to see friends, going for a run in the rain/snow, enjoying the beach, running errands, napping on weekends, or grabbing a bite to eat at a local restaurant, I took Sayde everywhere. When I felt down I could always count on Sayde to lay her head on me and stare up with her kind brown eyes. Then she would clumsily climb onto me like she was a lap dog to comfort me.

Sayde had never suffered from any type of illness or disability.
She was full of energy and always eager to please. As a runner, Sayde and I would run up to 4-5 miles every day and, if we weren't running she was bringing me the first toy she could find, hoping I would throw it. She was spayed, on Heart Guard, free of ticks and fleas, up to date on her shots, ate blue buffalo dog food, and never missed a check up with our vet. She slept with me every night and followed me non-stop.

Yes, she did have a tendency to chase shadows and bite at water regardless of how much exercise she was given on a daily basis. The vet informed me it was an obsessive compulsive trait which can be common in herding dogs, especially Border Collies, but she other than that, showed zero signs of anything being out of the ordinary.

Then one weekend in June 2017 my boyfriend and I loaded Sayde and our 7 month old Siberian Husky Sunny into the car and headed to a friend's lake house. Now Sayde loved swimming and the lake house was a great place for her to run and play freely outside. We spent Friday night inside catching up with friends. As usual Sayde was her happy self, excited to share her love with everyone.

The next morning she ate and drank as usual and we went outside around 10:45am. Sayde ran around like a goofball for a while. Then jumped into the lake and began biting at the water and barking as she splashed in the shallow fresh water. Being the anxious sort of a person, I kept an eye on her and my other dog as they played. After a while, Sayde would return to dry ground and pace back and forth, almost nervously, which is not out of the ordinary for her.

I could tell she was very tired and made her lay down next to me. Sayde never seemed to have a stop button so I'm used to making her take breaks during play sessions. During breaks I literally would have to put a leash on her or hold onto her collar until she would calm down enough to steady her breathing. Today was particularly hard to keep her still and I had to ask my boyfriend to keep a hold of her as I went up to the house to get her leash. It was around 75 degrees and cloudy, plus she access to plenty of water.

When I came back her breathing had slowed, and she seemed calmer so we let her continue to play. She walked over to the water to splash around for awhile and as she was climbing out I noticed that she was having a hard time keeping her balance. She managed to stumble on shore and my boyfriend and I walked over to her. Just thinking she had exhausted herself again.

But this time she was different
She wasn't breathing hard. Her pupils were dilated and she had a far away look in her eyes. I looked at her and said her name, but she seemed to look right through me and couldn't focus. I quickly picked her up and yelled to my boyfriend that we needed to get to a vet. When I picked her up she vomited a large amount of water and went limp. In the car, we monitored her heartbeat and breathing, but she was still unresponsive. I noticed her tongue hanging out and pale gums so I began rescue breathing to ensure she was getting enough oxygen. About 20 minutes passed from the time of her collapse to the time we got her to the vet. They quickly transported her to the back and put her on oxygen and took blood samples.

After about 30 of the longest minutes of my life, the vet came to me and stated that she believed Sayde was suffering from Water Toxicosis, meaning that her brain had swelled due to neurons being pumped with water while her body not being able to eliminate the water as quickly as it was coming in.

Sayde was stable, but she was not waking up. She was also not responding to basic reflexes such as pain or eye stimulation. The vet explained that the situation didn't look good, but I was willing to do whatever it took to save my dog. The current vet contacted the North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital and connected us with an experienced doctor who was determined to save her.

At this point Sayde wasn't breathing well on her own. My best friend and boyfriend had to take turns breathing into a tube for her as we transported her to Raleigh, about an hour and a half drive away. Sayde, still unconscious, made it to the hospital. The staff quickly hooked her up to a ventilator and surprisingly her blood pressure was stable. The vet took her blood and noticed, although Sayde's sodium levels were low, they didn't seem low enough to induce coma or lead to the Water Toxicosis diagnosis. The vet corrected her sodium levels, her blood work was normal, and there was no detection of internal bleeding. But she still wouldn't wake up and couldn't breath on her own.

Due to the lack of brain/brain stem activity, the vet informed us that my precious girl wasn't going to make it. She was completely unresponsive to stimuli and the damage to her brain was irreversible. We had no choice but to euthanise her. My companion and best friend - the one who was always by my side and snuggled with me all morning - was gone. The agony is un-explainable.

Sayde was a light to everyone she met and I refuse to let her death go without answers or the opportunity to share her light with others. I chose to allow the University to do an autopsy on my angel in hopes that they could determine a cause of death and contribute their findings through research that might save other pets, Border Collies specifically and other grieving puppy parents. I should receive some answers and her ashes sometime this week.

I apologise for the long story and I'm not sure if anyone can utilise this information within their research but I'm trying my best to contribute my experience and hopefully help someone else find answers. I will never understand why she had to go to the Rainbow Bridge so soon, but what I do know is I loved my precious girl with all my heart and I will never forget the joy she brought into my life.

Update (17 July 2017): The vet called us on Friday to inform us that Sayde did pass away from Water Toxicosis. It's a rare occurrence but from what the vet said it can happen to any dog especially working and hunting dogs because they want to play all day long. Despite dogs who like to swim and participate in water sports, water toxicosis can also occur amongst dogs who like to play with water hoses and sprinkler systems. 

Beware of excessive water intake by your dog while playing in the water this summer! Ingesting too much water may lead to 'water intoxication,' a condition that can cause serious brain damage and even death in extreme cases. To find out more, go to http://www.natural-dog-health-remedies.com/water-intoxication.html

About the author...
Ericka Skinner is a mental health counsellor in Raleigh, North Carolina (USA).

Her family has always been fond of Border Collies, but she had to wait until she got out of her university dorm to have one of her own.

First published 3 July 2017