Nerve Damage in Dogs

Updated February 21, 2017

Your dog's nerves control his bodily functions, behaviours and the sensations he experiences. These tiny fibres send and receive signals to every part of your dog's body from his brain. The tiny fibres are the primary means of communication between your dog's central command system, or brain, and every cell in his body. Any type of damage to the nerves can disable your dog temporarily or permanently in a number of ways.


There are several illnesses that can cause nerve damage in your dog.

Acute polyradiculoneuritis, also known as "Coonhound Paralysis," is a condition where the nerve roots around the entire nervous system become inflamed, resulting in temporary or permanent paralysis. Once thought to be caused by raccoon bites, it is actually caused by an immunological reaction against myelin--the coating of fat that surrounds the nerves.

Myasthenia gravis is characterised by muscular weakness that gets worse when your dog is active and improves when he is resting. It is caused by an immune condition that causes antibodies to form against your dog's own neuromuscular system. This creates impairment in the signals from the nerves to the muscles.

Polyneuropathy refers to several diseases that affect the nerves throughout your dog's body. The condition may be inherited or acquired at any age. The causes of polyneuropathy may be varied.

TTrigeminal neuropathy, or mandibular paralysis, causes a paralysis of your dog's chewing muscles. The origin of this nerve disorder is unknown.


Many nerve disorders are caused by injuries to your dog's brain or body. Brachial plexus avulsion occurs when the root of a nerve that is attached to your dog's foreleg is torn from its attachment to the spinal cord during some form of bodily trauma. The result can be a partial or complete paralysis of one of your dog's forelimbs. Other types of nerve damage can occur as a result of bite wounds, cuts and bone fractures.


Many different types of toxins can affect your dog's central nervous system. Dogs come into contact with toxins through eating the decayed flesh of dead animals, plants, dirty water, old food and bad meat. Botulinum is one common toxin that prevents a dog's nerve cells from functioning properly. When a dog is exposed to botulinum, he becomes gradually paralysed from the rear legs to the front of his body.


Several types of diagnostic tests exist to check your dog for a possible nerve disorder. Your veterinarian may perform a neurogenic reflex examination to test your dog for nerve dysfunction. He may order a series of blood tests, including a biochemistry profile, blood count or urinalysis. If the vet suspects nerve damage due to trauma, she may order a series of X-rays or a CAT scan of the affected area. Serologic tests can check for parasites and potential viruses in your dog. Immunologic testing can determine the presence of antibodies in your dog's system. A vet may perform a biopsy of your dog's muscle tissue, or he may do an MRI to show the activity of your dog's spinal fluid and if there is a blockage.


Dogs with nerve damage or nerve disorders may respond to a variety of treatments, depending on the origin of their illness. One treatment is electrostimulation, which helps stimulate the nerve endings of your dog's muscles. If the disorder is caused by trauma, treating the wound may help alleviate pressure on the nerves or swelling around the nerves, which can lead to improvement in the nerve function over time. Oral or injected steroids may provide temporary relief of swelling around nerve endings, helping to restore the nerve's ability to transmit messages to affected parts of the body. Acupuncture or acupressure treatments have also proved highly effective in treating nerve blockages. Herbal remedies may also help with nerve damage. Speak to your veterinarian about available treatment options if your dog is suffering from a nerve disorder.

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