Involuntary Movement Disorder (Bichon Dyskinesia)

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE
Updated by Nancy McDonald RN, BSN

A veterinary report has been published that describes a condition in a Bichon that causes concern for all breeders. While this condition does not appear to be fatal, it does cause the dog to suffer episodes that must be frightening to both dog and owner. The Bichon Frise Club of America is interested in hearing from you if your dog has ever had any episodes such as described below. While we only know of about a dozen Bichons with confirmed veterinary diagnosis at this time, we hope to prevent this disorder from becoming more prevalent. Bichon dyskinesia seems to be very rare. Let’s keep it that way!

Bichon Dyskinesia Disorder involves the following characteristic behaviors:

  • onset characterized by continued hyperflexion (bending) of one limb and the thoracic spine and has a “hunchbacked” appearance;
  • limbs hyperflexed or rapidly flexed and extended;
  • sometimes a one-sided facial grimace;
  • sometimes only one limb affected and other times progressing to different limbs even as the first limb affected is improving;
  • if the dog tries to walk, it appears uncoordinated and unstable;
  • there is no loss of consciousness and the dog may respond to loud noises as it usually does;
  • rapid recovery and no apparent lasting side effects;
  • may have no episodes, one episode or even 10 episodes a day (no usual pattern of occurrence);
  • usually occurs when the dog is relaxed but may also occur when excited or during exercise.

It is easy to see why the dog appears to be having some sort of seizure but the current diagnosis is that the dog is having not a seizure but another type of neurological episode. The usual treatment for seizures does not work for this condition. While this condition seems not to be life threatening, it is disturbing both to the dog and to his owner. Physical examination and blood work have not revealed any serious abnormal results in the known affected dogs.

It is unknown if this can be inherited and owners are seriously urged to have affected Bichons spayed or neutered and to report the disorder to the breeder of your pet.
Since we first reported this condition on our web site, we have heard from about 15-20 pet owners each year with questions about their dogs. The majority of these dogs, when examined by their veterinarians, have been proven to have some other health problem. Your veterinarian needs to rule out other causes, starting with diseases that cause the dog to have seizures. If all tests are negative, the next step is to videotape the episodes and to consult a veterinary neurologist. He can view the tape and give his opinion in regard to Bichon dyskinesia disorder.

Please feel free to copy this article for your veterinarian to read. Because of the limited knowledge of Bichon dyskinesia (it is not a commonly known canine condition), he may not have read about it in his veterinary literature. The original article was published in the “Journal of Small Animal Practice”, January 2001 issue, if you and your veterinarian would like to research it. If your veterinarian feels that dyskinesia is the likely diagnosis, we can direct that veterinarian to a research center where more information can be obtained.
BFCA encourages you to report the history of your affected dog to us. Your cooperation adds to our data and we thank you. You may contact Vickie Halstead RN, BFCA Health Committee, directly if you have any questions.

Please note that a dog that extends a rear leg and holds it there for a few seconds is more likely to have Patellar Luxation, a malformation of the knee that your veterinarian can diagnose upon examination. This would not be related to the above disorder. Another condition that exists in some Bichons is painful and involves a ruptured spinal disc. These dogs are usually longer in body, shorter of leg and often overweight. Again rely on your veterinarian for diagnosis and to advise treatment.

For more insight into dyskinesia, it would help your understanding to read the article found at This article is in reference to a study of Chinook dogs that have paroxysmal dyskinesia and has a video of a Chinook during an episode. In Bichons, the dogs have been reported to remain standing as if frozen in position with limbs flexed but the issues are the same. The article refers to research that was underway at that time – a study that did not involve Bichons. The examination by a neurologist or the submission of a video and the tests suggested do apply to any dog with this kind of disorder. Ruling out seizure is critical because of the seriousness of any underlying disease that may cause seizures. Dr. O’Brien has been helpful in the past in guiding this committee toward helping Bichon owners and is familiar with the condition in Bichons. It is suggested that you read the article and that you direct your own veterinarian to read it as well.

Although this article was written several years ago, it is still very accurate. In the interim, many articles have appeared on the internet. The following articles may interest you: