Dog Neurological Diseases

german shepherd image by Aleksander from

It can be frightening for you when your dog demonstrates symptoms of a neurological disease. The lack of control over his body is equally frightening for your dog. Neurological symptoms should never be taken lightly, and veterinary advice should be sought. Many neurological diseases are controlled and manageable with the proper veterinary care.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

Idiopathic or primary epilepsy is characterised by repeated seizures without a known cause. Many dogs afflicted with primary epilepsy have it as a result of a mutated gene inherited from their parents. Dogs with primary epilepsy will usually begin to have seizures between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Epilepsy is considered one of the more common neurological disorders in dogs. According to Canine Epilepsy Network, it is estimated that up to 4 per cent of all dogs suffer from primary epilepsy. Some breeds seem to be more prone to develop the disease. Breeds commonly afflicted include cocker spaniel, poodle, collie, German shepherd, Irish setter, golden retriever, dachshund, Labrador retriever, Saint Bernard, miniature schnauzer and Siberian husky. Primary epilepsy is diagnosed by the process of exclusion. Seizing dogs that cannot be diagnosed with any other cause for the seizures are considered to have primary epilepsy. Primary epilepsy is not curable; it requires lifelong treatment to manage the seizures. Anti-epileptic medications such as phenobarbital, potassium bromide and diazepam are commonly used.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease involving the spinal cord. It mainly affects the hind legs of the dog, causing a loss of coordination in that area, followed by weakness, then eventually paralysis of the hind quarters. This is due to degenerated nerve impulses within the spinal cord. The symptoms usually begin after the age of 5 years and develop slowly, commonly presenting as a difficulty in rising. This normally progresses to uncoordinated movement, sometimes more noticeable on one side. The cause of degenerative myelopathy is unknown, though a genetic connection is suspected. German shepherds in mid to old age are mostly affected. Corgis, collies and Siberian huskies are also afflicted. Degenerative myelopathy is diagnosed by the process of excluding other diseases. The disease cannot be cured and is managed by helping the dog adjust to the progressive paralysis. Canine paraplegic carts are available to help with mobility. Easy exercise, such as walking, or swimming in a heated pool, may be beneficial.

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease is a disorder of the body's balance (vestibular) system in the inner ear. Symptoms of vestibular disease include: lack of coordination, circling, head tilt, falling and motion sickness. Middle ear infections and brain lesions are causes of vestibular disease, although the most common cause is idiopathic, meaning there is no identifiable cause. Middle ear infections are diagnosed by culturing and treating with a course of antibiotics. Brain lesions are diagnosed by means of an MRI or CAT scan. Treatment depends upon the type of lesion and may involve surgery and possibly cancer treatments if the lesion proves malignant. Idiopathic causes usually begin suddenly and show significant improvement within 72 hours, needing no medical treatment.

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