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Vestibular Disease in Dogs

by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease, which is also sometimes called “old dog disease” or “old rolling dog syndrome,” can be very scary for pet parents. To the untrained eye, the symptoms may mimic serious, life threatening conditions such as stroke or a brain tumor.

The good news is that this condition, which is described by veterinarians as fairly common, typically disappears in a matter of days.

VCA Animal Hospitals define vestibular disease as a sudden, non-progressive disturbance of balance.

“Idiopathic refers to the fact that veterinarians can’t identify the source of the balance issue,” said Dr. Duffy Jones, DVM, a veterinarian with Peachtree Hills Animal Hospitals of Atlanta in Georgia. “There are a lot of theories such as inflammation, but as with some humans who suffer from vertigo, we really don’t know the cause.”

Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, DVM, a veterinarian with Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital in Garden City Park, New York, and who has been practicing for 32 years, said that idiopathic vestibular disease is more common in older dogs and there really isn’t a breed that is immune.

“Anecdotally, I’ve seen it more in large breed dogs, but it can also happen with small breeds as well,” Niesenbaum said.

Symptoms of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease 

Deb Hipp of Kansas City, Missouri, was preparing to go out of town for a few days when her 17-year-old dog, Toby, suddenly had more trouble than normal getting up.

“He has some mobility issues, so I thought he was just tired, so I waited another ten minutes and tried to get him up,” Hipp said. “On the second attempt, he was having trouble placing his paws to stand and I immediately took him to the emergency vet.”

Hipp thought Toby might have had a stroke, but the veterinarian made a note of Toby’s eyes, which were darting back and forth. After some blood tests and a more thorough exam, he diagnosed idiopathic vestibular disease. By that time, in addition to not being able to stand and the darting eyes, Toby also displayed other symptoms of the disease, which include:

  • Head tilt, which may be slight to extreme
  • Acting dizzy and falling down, which may remind people of someone who is drunk
  • Nausea and/or vomiting  
  • Dogs may also turn in circles or roll

“The symptoms are acute, or immediate,” said Jones. “The symptoms will not be a slow progression but happen all of a sudden. There really aren’t any symptoms that can be a sign this is coming on.”

Medical Treatment for Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Jones said it is important to get your dog to its veterinarian as soon as you see any of the signs, as the symptoms are similar to that of other more serious conditions, such as an inner ear infection, stroke, brain tumor, or seizure.

Jones said idiopathic vestibular disease is confirmed by a veterinarian upon a complete physical examination, such as checking the eye movement, which would be rolling in cases of a stroke, and lifting the paw and flipping it over to see if the dog puts his paw back. “If the dog can flip his paw over, it typically isn’t a stroke,” said Jones.

Niesenbaum said that once the condition is diagnosed, the dog is typically treated at home unless the dog is vomiting and is at risk of dehydration, at which point he will hospitalize the dog so it can be put on IV fluids.

“If the dog goes home, we will typically prescribe an anti-nausea medication and something to help with dizziness,” Niesenbaum said.

Home Treatment for Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

Jones said that dogs can eat, but due to the nausea, they may not want to eat. He added that it is important to watch for hydration issues. Other concerns include keeping the dog in a confined area, and not allowing them to climb stairs or be on the furniture.

“The dog will really be off balance and if there are stairs or he gets on the furniture, he may fall and break bones,” said Jones.

Another consideration, especially if it is a large dog, is getting the dog outside to go to the bathroom. This was a big concern for Hipp, whose dog, Toby, weighs 60 pounds.

“Toby had mobility issues, so I had bought a special harness to help him up,” said Hipp. Still, when Toby was in the first days of idiopathic vestibular disease, he was dead weight, not being able to stand or walk at all.

After conferring with her veterinarian, Hipp was advised to hospitalize Toby.

“I was leaving town and didn’t want to leave him with the pet sitter. Although we were convinced Toby would recover, I didn’t want her to have to pick him up and take him outside,” said Hipp.

Niesenbaum said if you don’t have a harness, you can use a towel as sling to help your dog stand.

The good news is that like most dogs with this condition, Toby completely recovered within a matter of days and now even goes on his daily short walk. “It can sometimes take a couple of weeks, but if they’re not improving after 72 hours, we know it could be something more serious,” said Jones.

Some dogs do not recover completely from the head tilt. Even if your dog has appeared to have completely recovered, it’s important for the dog’s veterinarian to see the dog again just to be sure.

“I don’t get to give a lot of good news to owners of geriatric dogs when they have serious conditions, but this really is the ‘good news’ condition in that most dogs will survive and recover completely,” Jones said.

This article was verified for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM. 

Related

“Old Dog” Vestibular Disease

Head Tilt, Disorientation in Dogs

Loss of Balance (Unbalanced Gait) in Dogs

Don’t Kill Old Rolling Dogs

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Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Cervical Spondylomyelopathy in Dogs

Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or wobbler syndrome, is a disease of the cervical spine (at the neck) that is commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs. CSM is characterized by compression of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, which leads to neurological signs and/or neck pain. The term wobbler syndrome is used to describe the characteristic wobbly gait (walk) that affected dogs have.

Intervertebral disk slippage and/or bony malformation in a narrowed vertebral canal (the bony canal surrounding the soft spinal cord) can cause spinal compression. Disk associated spinal compression is most often seen in dogs older than three years of age.

Doberman pinschers are predisposed to slipping intervertebral disks (in between the vertebrae). Vertebral malformation (bony associated compression) is most commonly seen in giant breed dogs, usually in young adult dogs that are less than three years of age. The bony malformation can compress the spinal cord from the top and bottom, from the top and sides, or just from the sides. Dynamic spinal cord compression (compression that changes with different positions of the cervical spine) always occurs with any type of compression.

Breeds that appear to be predisposed to this condition are Doberman pinchers, rottweilers, great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, and basset hounds.

Symptoms and Types

  • Strange, wobbly gait
  • Neck pain, stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Possible short-strided walking, spastic with a floating appearance or very weak in the front limbs
  • Possibly unable to walk – partial or complete paralysis
  • Possible muscle loss near the shoulders
  • Possible worn or scuffed toenails from uneven walking
  • Increased extension of all four limbs
  • Difficulty getting up from lying position

Causes

  • Nutrition in some cases – excess protein, calcium, and calories have been a proposed cause in great Danes
  • Fast-growth is suspected in large dog breeds

Diagnosis

Along with the standard medical tests, which include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel to rule out other diseases, your veterinarian will take a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, such as traumas to the back or any previous illnesses. Any information you might have on your dog’s genetic background may be helpful as well.

Wobbler syndrome is diagnosed via visualization. X-rays, myelographs, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will allow your doctor to view the spine and vertebrae. X-rays should be used mainly to rule out bony disorders while myelographs, CT and MRI are used to visualize the compression of the spinal cord. Diseases that will need to be ruled out though a differential diagnosis include diskospondylitis, neoplasia, and inflammatory spinal cord diseases. The results of the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) analysis should pinpoint the origin of the symptoms.

nerve

A bundle of fibers that are used in the process of sending impulses through the body

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

malformation

Any growth or organ on an animal that is not normal

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

ankylosis

A condition in which a joint is unable to move, usually due to some type of illness or medical procedure.

adhesion

Fibers that bond items together that would not normally be combined.

gait

The term used to describe the movement of an animal

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Water on the Brain in Dogs

Hydrocephalus in Dogs

Hydrocephalus is an expansion or abnormal dilation of the ventricular system due to an increased volume of spinal fluid. In this case, the ventricles that are affected are those connected with the spinal cord. The abnormal dilation may affect only on one side of the brain, or both sides. It may involve the entire ventricular system (a set of hollow structures in the brain continuous with the central canal of the spinal cord), or only elements next to a site of ventricular system obstruction.

There are two types of hydrocephalus – obstructive and compensatory. Both compensatory and obstructive hydrocephalus can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired.

In the case of obstructive hydrocephalus, spinal fluid accumulates due to an obstruction along the normal circulatory pattern (noncommunicating hydrocephalus), or the fluid accumulates at the fluid resorption site near the meningeal arachnoid villi (communicating hydrocephalus). The meninges are composed of three membranous envelopes – the pia mater, which lies against the brain; the arachnoid, the middle layer; and the dura mater, the outer, thicker layer closest tot he skull – that surround the brain and spinal cord. Intracranial (within the skull) pressure may be high or normal. However, clinical signs may be noted when intracranial pressure is normal.

Congenital obstruction causes primary obstructive hydrocephalus. The most common site of obstruction is at the level of the mesencephalic (middle brain) aqueduct. Prenatal (before birth) infections may cause aqueductal stenosis (narrowing) with subsequent hydrocephalus. This may result in considerable disruption of the architecture of the brain.

Acquired obstruction results in secondary obstructive hydrocephalus. It is caused by tumors, abscesses, and inflammatory diseases (including inflammation resulting from hemorrhage that has been caused by traumatic injuries or other causes of bleeding). The sites of obstruction include the interventricular foramina (channels that connect the paired lateral ventricles with the third ventricle at the midline of the brain), the mesencephalic aqueduct, or the lateral apertures of the fourth ventricle.

With compensatory hydrocephalus, spinal fluid fills the space where the nervous system’s functional parts have been destroyed and/or failed to develop. Intracranial (within the brain) pressure is a normal result. This is ventricular dilation incidental to the primary disease.

Overproduction of spinal fluid can also cause hydrocephalus. However, this is rare. A tumor in the eye may also cause water on the brain.

The congenital form of hydrocephalus is more likely to occur in small and brachycephalic dogs: bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Pomeranians, Toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Cairn Terriers, Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Pekingese. It is an inherited disease in Yorkshire terriers. Additionally, there is a high incidence of normal adult beagles that are found to have enlarged ventricular systems and yet are clinically without symptoms. Acquired hydrocephalus can occur in all breeds.

Congenital hydrocephalus usually becomes apparent at a few weeks up to a year of age. Acute onset of signs can occur in dogs with previously undiagnosed congenital hydrocephalus. The exact cause of this uncertain. Acquired hydrocephalus can occur at any age.

Symptoms and Types

  • May be without symptoms
  • Wetting or soiling in the house
  • Sleepiness
  • Excess vocalization
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Blindness
  • Seizures
  • A large dome-shaped head (due to intracranial swelling)
  • Crossed-eyes
  • Gait abnormalities
  • Coma
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Animal may arch its head back and extend all four legs

Causes

  • Congenital
  • Genetics
  • Prenatal infection
  • Parainfluenza virus (dogs)
  • Exposure to teratogens (drugs that interfere with fetal development) in utero
  • Brain hemorrhage in newborn after difficult labor
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Acquired
  • Intracranial inflammatory diseases
  • Masses in the cranium

Diagnosis

You will need to provide your veterinarian with a thorough and detailed history of your dog’s health, including any information you have about its birth and parentage, the onset of symptoms, and any possible incidents, including minor falls, that might have preceded this condition. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, with a complete blood profile, chemical blood profile, complete blood count, an electrolyte panel, and a urinalysis, in order to effectively rule out or confirm evidence of trauma, infection, or cancer.

Diagnostic imaging is essential. Skull radiographs may help to diagnose congenital hydrocephalus, but computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are best for visualization, enabling your veterinarian to come to a definitive diagnosis.

Other diagnostic tests that can assist in the diagnosis of hydrocephalus are a spinal tap, with a laboratory analysis of the fluid, and an electroencephalogram (EEG) for measuring the brain’s electrical activity.

meninges

The term for the connective tissue around the brain and spine

lateral

Moving or located away from the midline; located along the side

intracranial

Found inside the cranium

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

third ventricle

The cavity that connects to the fourth ventricle in the diencephalon

ventricle

a) A cavity in certain animals b) Term refers to a rear chamber in the heart or a cavity in the brain

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

interventricular

Found between the ventricles

stenosis

The act of making an opening narrower.

in utero

Inside the uterus

dilation

The widening of something

brachycephalic

An animal with a wide head, short in stature.

arch

A bend or curve

dura mater

The outermost part of the meninges

electroencephalogram

Any record of the electrical activity that takes place in the brain

hydrocephalus

A condition in which fluid is found inside the brain; water on the brain

hemorrhage

Extreme loss of blood

arachnoid

Term used to refer to something being constructed of tiny hairs; a cobweb is arachnoid in nature.

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Unintentional Eye Movement in Dogs

Nystagmus in Dogs 

Nystagmus is a condition defined by the involuntary and rhythmic oscillation of the eyeballs; that is, the eyes unintentionally move or swing back and forth. Nystagmus can occur in both dogs and cats and is a characteristic sign of a problem in the animal’s nervous system.

Symptoms and Types

There are two types of nystagmus: jerk nystagmus and pendular nystagmus. Jerk nystagmus is characterized by slow eye movements in one direction with a rapid correction phase in the opposite direction, while pendular nystagmus is characterized by small oscillations of the eyes with no movement being distinctively slower or faster than the other. Of these two types, jerk nystagmus is more commonly seen in dogs. Other common signs associated with nystagmus include head tilting and circling.

Causes

There are a variety of causes that may lead to nystagmus, many of which stem either from a peripheral vestibular or central vestibular disease. Sometimes called the “balance system,” the vestibular system is the sensory system responsible for maintaining proper balance of the head and body.

Peripheral vestibular diseases that may lead to nystagmus include hypothyroidism, traumatic injuries (such as those acquired in a car accident), and neoplastic tumors. Nystagmus-causing central vestibular disorders include tumors, thiamine deficiency, viral infections (such as canine distemper), and consequent inflammation, heart attacks, hemorrhages in the heart, and exposure to toxins (such as lead).

Diagnosis

Nystagmus is often diagnosed via an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid, which can also reveal inflammation associated with the disorder. Brain imaging (e.g., CT scan) is another diagnostic procedure used to identify brain abnormalities. Otherwise, your veterinarian may conduct analysis on the urine and bacterial cultures and serologic testing to check for infectious agents in the body.

vestibular disease

Any disorder of the neurons that may be characterized by rolling, circling, falling, etc.

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

nystagmus

The involuntary rhythm of the eye at night

dehydration

A medical condition in which the body has lost fluid or water in excessive amounts

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Stupor and Coma in Dogs

Marginal Consciousness and Complete Unconsciousness in Dogs

When an animal is unconscious but can be aroused with very strong external stimulus, the term stupor is used to describe the condition. Whereas a patient that is in a coma will remain unconscious even if the same level of external stimulus is applied. Dogs of any age, breed, or gender are susceptible to stupor.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms can be highly variable, depending on the primary disease that has led to the loss of consciousness.

The major symptom is varying levels of unconsciousness, with the degree of consciousness depending on the nature and severity of the underlying disease.

Causes

 

  • Abnormally low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia)
  • Abnormally high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia)
  • Abnormally high levels of sodium in the blood (hypernatremia)
  • Abnormally low levels of sodium in the blood (hyponatremia)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Kidney failure
  • Primary brain disease
  • Trauma, especially to the head and brain
  • Infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic, fungal)
  • Drugs which lead to loss of consciousness
  • Unknown cause (idiopathic)
  • Immune-mediated (immune system overreacts or attacks the body)
  • Chemical or drug toxicity

Diagnosis

 

Both of these conditions are health emergencies and will require that you take your dog to a veterinarian immediately for treatment. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health including a background history of symptoms and the time of onset. After taking a detailed history, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination on your dog. Laboratory tests will include a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. There are a number of diseases/conditions that can lead to these symptoms and laboratory tests will show any abnormalities that could be related to an underlying disease.

For example, in case of lead toxicity, abnormal red blood cells will usually appear in the complete blood count tests. In cases with infection and inflammation, an increased number of white blood cells, cells that multiply in response to infection and trauma, will be seen.

The biochemistry profile may indicate lower or higher than normal values of glucose in the blood, higher than normal levels of sodium in blood, and accumulation in the blood of nitrogenous waste products (urea), which are usually excreted out of the body through the urine.

The urinalysis may indicate high levels of glucose in the urine, a common sign in diabetes mellitus; abnormally high levels of proteins that are normally not present in the urine, such as with immune-mediated diseases; and abnormal crystals in the urine, such as what is seen in the presence of liver disease or ethylene glycol toxicity.

If the cause is not so readily apparent, more specific testing may be required to diagnose the underlying disease. Infections are one of the most important risk factors for developing stupor or coma, especially in case s of untreated infections. Your veterinarian will test for various infections that commonly affect dogs and that are known to cause serious symptoms like stupor or coma.

Bleeding inside the brain is also a possible cause of stupor or coma, and your veterinarian can order tests to measure the normal blood clotting mechanisms in your dog’s system. Besides laboratory analyses and tests, visual diagnostics can also be used to great advantage. X-rays of the abdomen and chest can be used to confirm if there is a diseased condition present in these areas, or whether there have been resultant changes in the organs. Similarly, head X-rays can be used to evaluate whether an unknown injury has occurred, whether there is fracture, inflammation or any other injury that might be affecting the brain’s ability to function normally.

Your doctor will need to determine which machine will give the clearest image of the head. In some cases, X-ray may not be enough, and a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be needed to diagnose the presence of hemorrhage, fracture, mass, accumulation of fluid, or a penetrating foreign body in the skull and/or brain. An electrocardiogram (ECG) may also be used to evaluate cardiac functions as cardiac diseases and abnormalities can also lead to stupor or coma.

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

idiopathic

Relating to a disease of unknown origin, which may or may not have arisen spontaneously

stimulus

Anything that produces an action or reaction

urea

The product of protein being metabolized; can be found in blood or urine.

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

hypoglycemia

Low amounts of glucose in the blood

hypernatremia

High levels of sodium in the blood

edema

The collection of fluid in the tissue

electrocardiogram

A record of the activity of the myocardium

hemorrhage

Extreme loss of blood

hyperglycemia

Elevated levels of glucose in the blood

blood pressure

The amount of pressure applied by the blood on the arteries.

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Steroid-Responsive Meningitis-Arteritis in Dogs

Inflammation of the Meninges and Arteries Resolved with Steroids in Dogs

Steroid-responsive meningitis-arteritis describes the combined conditions of inflammation of the protective membranes covering the spinal cord and brain (meninges), and inflammation of the walls of the arteries. It causes changes in the blood vessels of the heart, liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal system.

Steroid-responsive meningitis-arteritis occurs worldwide and it is thought dogs may be genetically predisposed to the disease. However, any dog breed may be affected. Moreover, it occurs mainly in dogs that are less than two years of age.

Symptoms and Types

The disease can be sudden (acute) or long-term (chronic):

Sudden

  • Increased sensitivity to stimuli
  • Stiff neck
  • Neck pain
  • Stiff gait (walking motion)
  • Fever of up to 107.6 degrees Fahreinheit

Long-term

  • Further neurologic problems: paralysis, hind leg weakness, etc.

Causes

  • Unknown
  • Possibly immune-mediated, related to abnormal IgA production (Immunoglobulin A – an antibody in the mouth and on mucosal surfaces)
  • Triggered by environment, possibly infectious cause

Diagnosis

You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, such as accidents or previous illnesses. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, including a neurologic exam. Standard laboratory tests will include a biochemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. A sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) will also be taken to check for cells and protein levels.

meninges

The term for the connective tissue around the brain and spine

meningitis

A medical condition in which the meninges becomes inflamed

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

gastrointestinal

The digestive tract containing the stomach and intestine

gait

The term used to describe the movement of an animal

antibody

A protein in the body that is designed to fight disease; antibodies are brought on by the presence of certain antigens in the system.

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

acute

Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.

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Spinal Cord Disorder Caused by Blocked Blood Vessel in Dogs

Fibrocartilaginous Embolic Myelopathy in Dogs

Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy in dogs is a condition in which an area of the spinal cord is not able to function properly and eventually atrophies as a result of a blockage, or emboli, in the blood vessels of the spinal cord. The cause of this disorder is typically the result of an injury to the spine. The injury may be the result of jumping and landing in the wrong way, vigorous exercise, fighting, or any accident that leads to a spinal injury.

The highest number of cases tends to occur in giant and large breed dogs. Miniature schnauzers and Shetland sheepdogs are reported to be more prone to this injury. The reason has not been determined for why this is, but a suspected underlying condition of hyperlipoproteinemia that is commonly seen in these breeds is considered. Most cases occur between the ages of three and five years.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms appear suddenly and usually follow what appears to be a mild injury or vigorous exercise.

  • Sudden, severe pain, dog may cry out at time of injury
  • Pain may subside after few minutes to hours
  • Paresis (signs of weakness or partial paralysis)
  • Paralysis
  • Lack of pain response (after initial pain response)
  • Dog may stabilize within 12-24 hours
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gait (ataxia)

Causes

The exact cause is still unknown, but it is thought that a seemingly minor injury to the spine can force intervertebral disc material into the spinal cord, causing an embolism, or blockage of blood flow through the spinal cord. Other suspected predispositions to this disorder may be related to underlying hyperlipoproteinemia, and it is more often diagnosed in male dogs than in female.

Diagnosis

You will need to provide a thorough history of your dog’s health leading up to the onset of symptoms, the type of activities your dog engages in, and any injuries that you suspect to have recently occurred. Your veterinarian will rule out other causes, such as spinal tumor, intervertebral disc disease, or fracture before settling on a diagnosis. The above mentioned conditioned are very painful, therefore, a lack of pain can be indicative of an embolism in the spinal cord. Keep in mind that though there may be a lack of pain, the condition can be progressive and may affect long-term damage to the spine and neurological system. Immediate and supportive care is essential.

Routine laboratory test results, such as urinalysis and complete blood counts, are usually unremarkable. A sample of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) may be taken for analysis, and a sample of blood from the veins and arteries of the spinal cord may show microscopic fragments of fibrocartilage. Radiographic imaging studies may help in diagnosis. Apart from routine radiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) remains the best diagnostic technique for viewing the spinal cord. In the later stage of fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy, swelling may be present at the site of the blockage.

myelopathy

A disease of the bone marrow or of the spine

radiography

A procedure of imaging internal body structures by exposing film

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

intervertebral disc

The padding found between the vertebrae that keeps them from rubbing together

gait

The term used to describe the movement of an animal

embolism

The blockage of a vessel by an object, like air or fat

euthanasia

Inducing death on an animal or putting them to sleep

ataxia

A medical condition in which an animal is unable to control the movements of their muscles; may result in collapse or stumbling.

hand feeding

A routine of feeding in which the animal is fed certain amounts of food at certain times of the day

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Spinal Cord Disease in Dogs

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy is the general medical term that refers to the disease of the dog’s spinal cord or bone marrow. The condition does not have specific cause and may remain unidentified. While the disease can affect any breed and any age of dog, older animals are most often afflicted with the disease. Prognosis of this disease is not positive, as it is the degeneration of the animal’s spinal cord, leading to loss of numerous bodily functions.

Symptoms and Types

This disease affects the central nervous system of the dog and can progress to affect the cervical and lumbar portions of the spinal cord in later stages. Lesions are often present on the spinal cord. Neurons in the brain stem may also be affected by the disease. Here are some common signs of this disease:

  • Increased muscle atrophy and the inability to maintain posture
  • Partial or full limb paralysis
  • A loss of the ability to control defecation and urination
  • Exaggerated spinal reflexes
  • Loss of muscle mass

Causes

The cause for degenerative myelopathy is unknown. Although there does appear to be a genetic link, there is no clear evidence to support the presence of a genetic mutation and the probability of the disease affecting a dog. In some genetic studies that are underway, German Shepherds, Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi’s, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Setters, Boxers, Collies, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Poodles have shown an increased prevalence for the disease.

Diagnosis

Initial lab tests are commonly used to rule out a variety of underlying diseases, including a culture and thyroid function test. Imaging is often performed to view potential spinal cord damage. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can be used to look at various compressions and diseases that are possible within the spinal cord, such as a herniated disk, which can be treated. Also, spinal cord fluid can be examined for an inflammatory disease in the spinal cord. There are several different diagnoses that are possible, including:

  • Type II intervertebral (between the vertebrae) disk disease
  • Hip dysplasia (abnormal tissue or bone growth)
  • Orthopedic disease (disorder of the skeletal and associated muscles and joints)
  • Degenerative lumbosacral stenosis (abnormal narrowing of the lower back part of the spine or pelvic bone)

myelopathy

A disease of the bone marrow or of the spine

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

stenosis

The act of making an opening narrower.

lumbosacral

The connection or relationship between the lumbar and the sacral vertebrae

dysplasia

A condition in which growth and development are not up to normal standards

brain stem

The part of the brain that contains the medulla oblongata and other vital portions of the brain.

defecation

The exiting of excrement from the body; bowel movements.

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

lumbar

The part of the back between the pelvis and the thorax

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Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs

Dancing Doberman Disease 

This neurological syndrome is characterized by the bending of one rear limb when standing, progressing over months to include the opposite pelvic limb. The affected dog bends and extends the limbs alternatively, as in a dancing motion. A combined reaction to sensory stimulus and automatic neurological impulses is suspected in the behavior. It occurs in Doberman pinschers, with an age of onset from six months to seven years. It occurs in both males and females.

Symptoms and Types

The main symptom of this disorder is presented by the affected dog holding one leg up in a bent position while standing; the alternate limb usually becomes affected three to six months after the onset of the condition, with the same behavior. The dog will alternate legs, appearing to dance around. This behavior cannot be controlled by the dog. Beginning early, soon after the condition has begun to present itself, these hyperactive tendon reflexes will lead to progressive muscle wasting (atrophy) in the limb. Occasionally, the muscles within the leg will lose the ability to detect motion in the dog, and will be unable to respond to the sensory connection the dog is willing to the limbs for movement. The medical term for this sensory reception and the resultant condition is proprioceptive deficit.

Causes

The cause of this disease is unknown, but it is suspected, and probable, that the condition is inherited through a recessive trait.

Diagnosis

Possible diagnosis that can be made in connection with this condition are lumbosacral stenosis, where there is a narrowing of the last part of the spinal canal, which causes compression of the nerve roots; infection of one or more bones in the spinal column and of the intervertebral discs that join them in the lower lumbar spine (intervertebral disk disease, and discospondylitis, respectively). This condition is usually painful; or, a diagnosis of cancer of the lumbar spinal cord, or of the nerve roots may be made by your veterinarian. This condition has a rapid progression and can be painful for the dog.
 

Diagnostic procedures will include electromyography for recording electrical currents in the muscles, and examining the amount of uncontrolled muscle and nerve behavior (fibrillation) in the legs. The transfer of information from the sensory centers to the motor movement centers (motor and sensory nerve conduction velocity) will be measured and examined to detect progression of the disease. And, a tissue sample taken (biopsy) from the muscles behind the knees will be examined for muscle disease and/or nerve loss.

 

stenosis

The act of making an opening narrower.

stimulus

Anything that produces an action or reaction

nerve

A bundle of fibers that are used in the process of sending impulses through the body

lumbar

The part of the back between the pelvis and the thorax

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

lumbosacral

The connection or relationship between the lumbar and the sacral vertebrae

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Side Effects of Anxiety Medications in Dogs

Serotonin Syndrome

Dogs suffering from compulsive behaviors, separation anxiety, chronic pain and other conditions may benefit from medications that affect the level of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that works in the brain, and is found in the nervous system. It regulates behavior, awareness of pain, appetite, movement, body temperature, and function of the heart and lungs.

If a dog is taking more than one type of medication that causes levels of serotonin to increase in the body, a condition known as serotonin syndrome (SS) can result, and if not caught in time, can lead to death.

Symptoms and Types

As seen in humans, serotonin syndrome may cause:

  • Altered mental state (confusion, depression, or hyperactivity)
  • Difficulty walking
  • Trembling and seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Increased body temperature (hyperthermia)

Causes

Drugs prescribed as antidepressants in humans are becoming more common for use in animals. These medications alter the body’s levels of serotonin, and thus alter mood and behaviors. Some commonly used antidepressant drugs in dogs include buspirone, fluoxetine, and clomipramine.

Serotonin syndrome can be triggered when:

  • Antidepressant drugs are given in excess
  • Other drugs which affect serotonin levels are also ingested (e.g., amphetamines, chlorpheniramine, fentanyl, lithium, LSD)
  • Individuals with a system more sensitive to the chemical ingest these medications
  • Certain foods are ingested along with medications (e.g., cheese, anything containing L-tryptophan)

Signs of serotonin syndrome usually come on rapidly in dogs; anywhere from 10 minutes up to four hours after ingestion. 

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will conduct blood tests to figure out if your dog could have an infection, as well as to determine what substances the dog might have eaten. Neurological testing (measuring reflexes and coordination) will also be done to pinpoint a specific area of the nervous system that might be affected, like the brain or spinal cord. There is not a specific test that can be run to tell your veterinarian that serotonin syndrome is to blame. The history of drug ingestion and the signs your dog is showing should lead to the proper diagnosis.

tryptophan

A type of amino acid that is essential for the rebuilding and repair of damaged tissues in humans and animals

tachypnea

The term for a quick heartbeat

neurotransmitter

Any sub stance that allows impulses to be transmitted from one neuron to the next

hyperthermia

High body temperature

tachycardia

A medical condition in which the patient has an abnormally fast heartbeat