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Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health

How the Doggie Brain Works and Possible Diseases

By Madeleine Burry. April 02, 2013 | See Comments

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Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health

As in humans, a dog's brain and nervous system are very complex. Learn about dog neural health, possible diseases and issues, and what you can do.

The nervous system of a dog is comprised of the dog’s brain, spinal cord, and the nerves traveling between the two and throughout your dog’s body. The nervous system controls a dog’s actions, from movement to play to eating and to emotional behavior. A dog's neurological disorder can occur as a result of external factors like an injury, a reaction to medication, hereditary diseases, or general health problems. Find out some common neurological problems that can impact dogs, as well as some breed-specific disorders to watch for.

Epilepsy in Dogs

Perhaps one of the most well-known neurological disorders is epilepsy, which is characterized by recurrent seizures. Epilepsy can be caused by trauma, like a head injury, or metabolic issues, but the causes can also commonly be idiopathic, meaning that veterinarians are not quite sure why the dog has the disease. Treatment of epilepsy is aimed at reducing how long the seizures last and how frequently they take place. While the seizures can be quite scary, the day-to-day quality of life for a dog with epilepsy often remains high.

Hereditary Diseases in Dog Breeds

Some neurological problems are the result of inherited conditions; with careful breeding, these kind of diseases can often be avoided.

  • Dancing Doberman Disease: This disease affects Dobermans only, and causes the gastrocnemius muscle, located in the dog’s legs, to flex and extend. Dogs will eventually avoid standing entirely to avoid this uncontrollable movement. Both males and females can get this disease.  

  • Scottie Cramp: As with Dancing Doberman Disease, Scottie Cramp is a disease that impacts a dog’s legs. Only affecting Scottish Terriers, this disease is carried by a recessive gene, and can be eliminated through proper breeding. Scottish Terriers that have this disease will hyperextend and hyperflex their legs, and experience leg spasms.

Neural Diseases Associated with Dog Breeds

Some neural diseases, while not necessarily hereditary in nature, are closely associated with specific breeds of dogs.

  • White Dog Shaker Syndrome: While not exclusively experienced by dogs with white fur, a large number of dogs with this syndrome are white. The causes of the disease are unknown. Dogs with this condition shake and tremble. Corticosteroids can be used as a treatment method if the causes are neurological in nature.

  • Cauda Equina Syndrome: Also known as Lumbosacral stenosis, this arthritic condition occurs in a dog’s hind legs. It’s quite painful, especially when dogs lie down, and dogs can also have have trouble urinating or defecating as a result. Cauda Equina syndrome occurs because of a narrowing in the dog’s spinal column, and can be easily confused with hip dysplasia. Large breeds, especially German Shepherds and Greyhounds, are most commonly afflicted.  

Acquired Neural Diseases

These diseases, which greatly impact a dog’s neurological system, are characterized as being caught from other dogs or animals, or acquired through exposure.

  • Tick Paralysis: All ticks are problematic, but some females will transmit poison to dogs during the biting process, which will cause paralysis and breathing difficulties. These nervous system problems will occur within a few days of the bite, and with the removal of the tick, the symptoms will generally dissipate. In some cases, hospitalization will be required.

  • Distemper: This virus is highly contagious, and attacks the brain cells and skin cells of dogs. It's most common in younger dogs and symptoms usually begin with respiratory issues that progress to anorexia, lethargy, abnormal coloring in the eyes, and sometimes seizures. Vaccines can prevent distemper, but recovery once the disease is contracted is rare.

  • Rabies: Another virus, rabies is caught from bites from other animals with rabies, and attacks your dog’s nervous system. Rabies is a serious disease, and your pet will need to be quarantined -- even if they were vaccinated in the past. (A vaccine will decrease the duration of the quarantine, however.)

Other Major Neurological Diseases in Dogs

As well as the diseases mentioned above, some other common neurological diseases and conditions that can occur in dogs are:

  • Facial Nerve Paralysis: As is apparent from this condition’s name, muscles in the face will become paralyzed as the result of either the symptom of another disease or for unknown reasons. Although there isn’t a specific treatment, treatment of the underlying disease can resolve the situation. Many dogs will recover on their own.

  • Wobbler Disease: This disease affects the cervical spine -- you’ll recognize it by the dog’s wobbling walking movements. Surgery is one treatment option.

  • Parkinson's Disease: As with people, Parkinson’s disease has symptoms of tremors and difficulty walking, and is unfortunately incurable. Medications can help reduce symptoms somewhat. With people, this disease develops relatively late in life, but dogs can get this degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Given the vital role that the nervous system plays in your dog’s behavior, many diseases can cause dogs to display neurological symptoms, such as tremors, seizures, or paralysis. If you notice these kinds of movement-related symptoms, or a major shift in your dog’s behavior, take your dog to the veterinarian for a check-up.

More on Dog Health

Puppy Vaccinations
Antibiotics for Dogs
Anxiety in Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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