Neurological Disorder in Dogs: A Guide

Neurological disorders can be scary and dangerous for both humans and dogs. While you may be familiar with some of the most common neurological disorders that can affect people, many pet owners are unfamiliar with neurological conditions in dogs and how to recognize the symptoms. The onset of symptoms can be swift and worrisome, which makes it vital to recognize the issue early and get help quickly. To make sure you have the information you need to get your dog medical care, it can be helpful to know some of the neurological disorders that dogs can develop and what behaviors to look for. The below guide will provide you with introductory knowledge about neurological disorder in dogs, the symptoms to keep an eye out for, and how neurological disorders in dogs are diagnosed.

An Introduction to Neurological Conditions in Dogs

Just as with human beings, neurological disorders in dogs can stem from a variety of different disorders and begin with age, but what exactly is a neurological disorder? Neurological disorders in canines are a category of illnesses that affect your dog’s peripheral or central nervous system, which can cause a variety of dangerous and uncomfortable symptoms. Some of the areas most affected by neurological disorders in dogs are the nerves, brain, and spinal cord. Neurological disorders can be frightening for both dog and owner alike, but by knowing what to look for and some of the different types of neurological disorders in dogs, you’ll be able to provide your dog with the help he needs as soon as issues arise.

Symptoms of Neurological Disorders in Dogs

The best way to recognize whether or not your dog may be suffering from a neurological disorder is to know the most common symptoms. As a pet owner, it can be a challenge to help your dog when he has an issue or isn’t feeling well because he can’t communicate with you. Instead, you have to use the knowledge you have and assess his  behavior and any deviations from his normal attitude, habits, and actions. It’s also vital to be mindful of when certain symptoms start occurring and whether or not they are worsening in severity, particularly for neurological disorders since the onset of symptoms can be sudden and can sometimes progress rapidly. Below is a collection of different symptoms that can indicate a neurological disorder in a dog, symptoms can vary depending on what type of neurological disorder is causing them.

 

If you see your dog exhibiting any of the symptoms above, it is important to make sure he is seen by a veterinarian to get a full assessment and diagnosis. Some pet owners can attribute some of these symptoms to the process of aging when in fact an undiagnosed neurological disorder could be to blame. There are many different types of neurological disorders that can affect dogs and each presents unique symptoms and requires a catered treatment plan to resolve the symptoms. Providing your veterinarian with the information they need to make an accurate diagnosis can make a world of difference for your dog.

Types of Neurological Disorders in Dogs

Because of how complex the nervous system is and the many different ways it affects the body, canine neurological disorders can vary significantly depending on the type of neurological disease. Below are a handful of different neurological conditions that can affect dogs, though there are many more than those outlined below.

Epilepsy

One of the most recognized and well-known neurological disorders in both human beings and dogs is epilepsy. Canine epilepsy is a neurological condition that presents with recurring seizures. Epilepsy can stem from a number of different factors, such as an underlying metabolic issue, a head injury, trauma, or an unknown cause. If your dog is suffering from epilepsy, a veterinarian will work to control the frequency and duration of the seizures so that your dog can maintain a high quality of life and avoid the discomfort and fear that often accompany a seizure. Epilepsy can usually be controlled and managed with veterinary intervention to allow you and your dog to go back to enjoying your time together.

Tick Paralysis

Tick paralysis develops when a dog is bitten by a female tick that bites it and passes poison into the dog during the biting process. When the poison enters his system, the dog will begin to lose feeling and the ability to move, which can lead to paralysis and issues with respiration. The poison that the tick transmits to the dog can quickly affect the nervous system and symptoms will generally begin to present within days of the bite. If the tick is found and carefully removed, the symptoms will usually begin to resolve on their own, but in some cases, the dog may need to be hospitalized and monitored during his recovery.

Distemper

Another neurological disorder to watch out for in dogs is canine distemper. Distemper is a virus that is extremely contagious and dangerous for dogs. Distemper is more common in puppies and young dogs and affects their skin and brain cells. If a dog has distemper, he can present with a number of different symptoms, including an inability to eat, difficulty breathing, eyes that appear an abnormal color, lethargy, and in some cases, seizures. Vaccinations protect dogs from developing distemper, but once a dog contracts distemper, it is rare that they will recover. If you think your dog may have distemper, it is vital that they see a veterinarian as soon as possible to begin receiving treatment.

Rabies

Another virus that poses a neurological risk to dogs is rabies. Dogs can contract rabies if they are bitten by another animal that has rabies. Canine rabies is a dangerous disease that will require immediate quarantine of the infected dog to avoid spreading to other animals. Rabies attacks a dog’s nervous system, which causes a swift progression of increasingly concerning symptoms. If a dog has been infected, he may begin to display different behaviors and restlessness, as well as aggression. As the virus progresses, this may escalate to the desire to bite and attack other animals or human beings. Dogs may also develop a fever and become increasingly sensitive to light, sound, and touch. From there, dogs will often begin to experience paralysis of their jaw and throat muscles and foam at the mouth. As the rabies symptoms in dogs progresses, they may also begin to stagger and wobble. If a dog has been vaccinated for rabies, then they will be quarantined for a designated amount of time, usually a period of ten days. However, if a dog has not been vaccinated for rabies prior to being infected, then the virus can be fatal.

Facial Nerve Paralysis

The name of this disease gives an indication of how it affects dogs. Facial nerve paralysis causes the muscles in the face of a canine to become paralyzed. In some cases, this facial nerve paralysis may be caused by a different disease that the dog has, but in some cases, it may be unknown what causes the paralysis to develop. If the cause of the facial nerve paralysis can be identified and successfully treated, then the paralysis can be resolved. Some dogs may also improve from this condition in their own without medical intervention, though if it occurs, it is always best to involve a veterinarian to allow them to do an examination and develop a treatment plan.

Parkinson’s Disease

Did you know that dogs can develop Parkinson’s disease just like human beings? Just as with their human counterparts, Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease that is caused by the loss of dopamine in nerve cells, which functions as a neurotransmitter. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in dogs include difficulty walking, stiff muscles and movement, and tremors. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease is incurable, though the symptoms can sometimes be controlled and reduced through the use of medications. Parkinson’s disease can develop in dogs at a relatively young age, unlike how it generally presents in human beings. If you think your dog may be developing Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to visit a veterinarian to rule out other potential causes and to begin medications to control the symptoms if Parkinson’s disease is the culprit.

Wobbler Disease

Wobbler syndrome is a neurological disorder that is more common in large and giant breed dogs. Wobbler disease is caused by abnormalities in the soft tissue of the neck and in the vertebrae of the spinal cord that cause the spinal cord to become compressed. Wobbler disease earns its name from the primary indication of its presence, a dog that is wobbling when he walks. Wobbler disease typically requires a CT scan or MRI of a dog’s spinal cord to be diagnosed and treatment is usually surgery, sometimes in combination with steroid therapy.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is also sometimes called Lumbosacral stenosis. This arthritic condition develops when a dog’s spinal column becomes narrowed and affects the hind legs. In some cases, cauda equina syndrome may be confused with canine hip dysplasia because they share a number of symptoms. Dogs suffering from this neurological disorder may begin to experience difficulty urinating or defecating and pain when they lie down. Large dogs breeds are particularly susceptible to this neurological disorder, especially Greyhounds and German Shepherds. A veterinarian will be able to do a physical examination and order additional imaging to confirm a diagnosis and then can develop a treatment plan to help reduce the symptoms and pain the dog is experiencing.

To obtain an accurate diagnosis if you suspect your dog may have a neurological disorder, it’s vital to see a veterinarian so that they can conduct the necessary testing to make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

Diagnosing a Neurological Disorder

If you think your dog may be suffering from a neurological disease, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Before you go, make sure to write down the symptoms you have noticed, how long they have been occurring, and whether they have increased in severity over time. In addition, it is helpful to note anything abnormal that has taken place in the dog’s life recently, such as a big trip to a new place or an interaction with an unfamiliar animal. Having this information ready before your appointment will help make sure you can provide your veterinarian with reliable information and prevent forgetting anything once you are there.

During the appointment, a veterinarian will usually begin by taking a brief medical history and then doing a physical examination of your pet. The veterinarian may also conduct a neurological examination to test reflexes and nerve function. From there, depending on what they suspect the potential cause to be, they could order a variety of different tests. Potential tests include blood work to assess organ function and blood cells and urinalysis as well as various types of imaging, such as an MRI or CT Scan. There are additional tests that could be introduced to help narrow down potential causes of the symptoms and your veterinarian may refer your dog to a specialist. Once your veterinarian has arrived at a diagnosis, they will recommend a treatment plan to initiate. While neurological disorders in dogs can be scary, knowing what to look for can help you get your furry friend treated and back to normal.

Sources:

  • “Neurological Disorders In Dogs: Signs, Diagnosis And Treatments.” Care.com, www.care.com/c/stories/6477/neurological-disorders-in-dogs-signs-and-car/.
  • “Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost.” WagWalking, 10 July 2017, wagwalking.com/condition/neurological-disorders-aging.
  • Burry, Madeleine. “Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health.” PetCareRx, 2 Apr. 2013, www.petcarerx.com/article/dog-neurological-disorders-and-brain-health/912.
  • “Rabies in Dogs: Vaccination, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” WebMD, pets.webmd.com/dogs/rabies-dogs#1.
  • “Warning Signs of Neurological Disorders in Canines.” PetHelpful, pethelpful.com/dogs/Warning-signs-of-neurological-disorders-in-canines.

 

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