Neurological Disorders in Dogs

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Neurological disorders in dogs are rare, but they do happen. And when it happens, you really feel sorry for your buddy as it experiences many bad symptoms throughout its life. However, it is not that easy to diagnose such symptoms and distinguish the diseases from one another, because some of these symptoms are common is several of these disorders. To assist in diagnosis, one thing that pet owners can do is to document/video their dogs experiencing the symptoms or the “episodes” of their disorder.

Neurological Disorders in Dogs

According to an article in

neurological disorders can affect any part of the dog’s central nervous system, including the spinal cord, brain and nerves within the body. Some disorders are congenital while others are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.

According to the article, some of the neurological disorders which can occur are Degenerative Myelopathy, Dementia, Epilepsy, Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis (GME), and Hepatic Encephalopathy. Obviously, these have to be sorted out by a qualified veterinarian. Some are treatable, some are not.

Neurological disorders in dogs can be truly frightening, especially the epilepsy/seizures. Dogs have no control of their bowels, fall and toss on the ground back and forth, and make scary noises. However, if epileptic instances are not very long, then it isn’t very lethal. It is just a matter of cooperating with your dog and vet to find cure for the seizures.

Stroke in dogs is also a cause of panic, especially when the dog was okay throughout the day and suddenly collapses like nothing. Elder dogs are the usual targets of stroke. There is, however, a more horrific disease called canine vestibular syndrome. In this disorder, the dog’s eyes circle and move around in weird patterns.

Dogs with such diseases often have difficulty in walking, along with excessive drooling and nausea. There is a type of movement called compulsive spinning, a.k.a. tail chasing, in which dogs rapidly chase their tails as if it is an anxiety disorder. It also needs a different approach in treatment.

All owners will be saddened about the fact that their dog suffers from trouble in walking and other symptoms of such neurological disorders. There are a number of serious disorders for dogs, including canine wobblers’ syndrome, which is seen with the dog’s lack of coordination. Another is intervertebral disk disease which also hinders normal walking procedures of a dog but a lot easier to diagnose. And then, there is the lethal head trauma, and even the poisoning, both of which can occur to your dog the least you expect it, and usually have no cure.

Diagnosis of neurological diseases are very hard for vets because some symptoms are similar and the fact that they don’t always see the dog’s symptoms. There is usually no clear and definite diagnosis, and this is where you can really help by videotaping your dog’s actions.

Usual actions of a vet will include treatment that starts from the symptoms themselves, since there is typically no definite diagnosis made at the beginning. A dog’s responses will the basis of the diagnosis, as well as a couple of blood tests.

Always ask your vet for further clues and explanation about your dog’s disorder, but do not complain to them when they cannot make a definite diagnosis and are unsure of their findings about your dog. Vets will be honest when that time comes and all you can do is just cooperate with him/her to find out about your dog’s disease.

Vets have the obligation, however, to explain the possibilities and ways of getting the right diagnosis and the steps to be taken for it, such as treatments and tests. In this way, the owner should be well-informed about how things are going to work out for his/her dog. Not only that, dogs and owners also get to learn more about how a dog’s nervous system works and the many diseases that occur.

Fortunately, I have never witnessed any neurological disorders in dogs, either mine or those of friends. Have you?

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  1. I have a 10 year old chihuahua. He suddenly started not being able to walk on his front paws and then hind legs. I took him to the vet and the she said that he might have arthritis so she prescribed arthritis medication …the x-ray did not show any arthritis or malformation.
    He’s on arthritis med adequin shots for one month twice a week. If there’s no improvement then we have to rule out arthritis and bring in possibility of neurological damage.
    He walks a little and then falls down and I have to go pick him up. I’m so sad but I will not give up.
    Anyone has chihuahuas that areally having this sort of problem?

    • that’s so similar to my 9 year old yorkie. she’s stumbling at best, easily falls over on her side and can’t get up. nothing on xrays, took her to a neurologist and they believe its a brain tumor, or lesion on the spine. A MRI which is super expensive, can tell more, but because she’s on prednisone it could show a wrong diagnosis. I called a local rescue for a solution, and they said don’t do the mri, or surgery afterwards, it’s too risky, and most of the time they end up handicapped and I end up with a 5,000 bill. I will keep her on the pain meds and prednisone, till she would get worse such as having seizures. I made a large pen for her while I am away, I am afraid she will roll out the doggy door. I can’t put a bright eyed little girl down just because of a disability, I am hoping to wake up and this is all a nightmare.

  2. I have a 14 week old puppy that is blind and is showing signs of a neurological disorder. We were told today that we need to take him to a specialist…so we made an appointment with a neurologist. He circles to the left and his eyes bounce. Right now he just seems like a puppy with a slight problem and I can’t wrap my head around the fact he won’t have “quality of Life”. but I know being kept in a crate cuz he bites all the time and I mean all the time and everything isn’t a way a puppy should live…but “putting him down” isn’t something I’m ready to do either…..*sigh*

  3. My 5 month old gsd puppy had to be put down on 5/9/15. She took ill at 11pm on the 4th and was put down at 1.30am on the 5th. Within 20 minutes she went from being fine to having seizures. She had been sick during the day so i kept her off her food. She turned at 11pm. First she was dragging her paws, then she couldn’t lift her head and was pacing the room crying. I was calling her over but she would just wag her tail and look in the opposite direction. Then she slumped again the wall with her front legs crossed. By the time I put her in the car she had started having convulsions. We left the house at 10 past 11, when I took her out she was limp but still convulsing really strongly. The vet couldn’t suggest a cause and said she was brain dead. She told us she had never seen a dog come back from that and advised we put her down. Our younger puppy also took ill the same night with the start of the same symptoms (vomiting) but thankfully has now recovered. Absolutely devastated

  4. My family had two dogs in 1992. Suddenly 1 dog became sick, started walking in circles with her eyes ticking to the side. The vet was unable to diagnose anything and we had to put her down. She was 13. A short time after she got sick our other dog got sick, she was 11 at the time. Same symptoms. This dog wasn’t quite as debilitated by the symptoms and being younger and not having the additional health issues that our older dog had, we took care of her as a near invalid until she was quite a bit better. She never regained full health though. She was always slightly off balance, tended to walk towards one side and never seemed quite ‘all there’ again. She slowly degraded in health over the next year or so and had to be put down as well. During that time she developed many severe tumors, lost her sight and her hearing. We never got answers. The vet couldn’t decide if they’d gotten poisoned by the rat poison, poisoned by heavy metals from the junkyard next door or caught a disease from the rats.

  5. My Sophie girl will be 6 yrs old this Sept 2015. Approximately 1 month ago Sophie started limping in her hind end. Within just a few days she was going on three legs at times, carrying her left hind foot. I took her straight away to her vet. I was told she may have inflammation but ruled out my fear of a broken bone or dislocation in her hip. Today July 30, 2015 I took her back to her vet after treating her for apprx 10 days with medicam (anti-inflammatory). I thought perhaps he (Sophies vet) was right and I being over protective jumped to wrong conclusions and she simply had inflammation even though my gut was telling me otherwise. Today when Sophie was in to see her vet for vaccinations and a follow up on her left hind leg, more tests were done in a further examination. When her left hind foot was turned upside down as she stood, she never corrected her foot and she actually left her upside down. She has gone from 83 lbs to only weighing 75 lbs. My vet feels she has degenerative myelopathy. My beautiful hearted german shepherd girl is the love of her families life. Her best friend is my 18 month old grandson who actually cries to see her when they are not together and she is absolutely in love with him and the rest of her family. PLEASE is there anyone who could help my Sophie girl. I adopted her originally 5 years ago as she was left to starve to death chained to a metal post out in a field. She was picked up by the pound and a german shepherd rescue association rescued her (she was down to 34 lbs and very near death). This beautiful hearted girl has been through enough. Again I ask if there is anyone out there who knows about this disease and how I can help my best friend in the whole world. Could it be possible there could be a different diagnoses? Please help me save my girl… she is everthing to us and deserves so much better.

  6. Our 5yr old French Bulldog started having hind limb weakness that seemed to get worse every day. He was treated for athritis in his right knee (klaser treatments) and Rimadyl, which seemed to help initially. However, his symptoms worsened every day to the point he had a strong head tilt to the right and could no longer stand on his own or walk on his own. He would collapse on his right side. We took him to a vet Neurologist and had an MRI and spinal tap performed, as he was diagnosed with encephalitis. . He was diagnosed with GME (presumptive diagnosis) due to two lesions in his brain seen on the MRI. The prednisolone, an antiinflammatoty, got the symptoms to subside. He’s acting fairly normal now, a bit tired from the pred, but can walk and acts more like himself. He’s getting cytosine arabinoside to reduce his white blood cells from attacking his brain. We’re going to see Dr Allen Sisson in Boston next week, as he’s the leading vet neuro for treating GME. He’ll work with your local vet for treatment if you can make it up once to see him. He can’t prescribe meds for a dog he hasn’t seen, which is why you have to go see him at least once. I’m writing this in case someone else has had a similar experience. Preservere, get the help you need. Our dog is 90% back to himself ( though blind in one eye from brain damage). GME used to be a death sentence, but there are many stories of dogs living 5+ yrs after diagnosis with aggressive treatment. Good luck!

  7. I have a Chihuahua pup only 8 weeks old. She spins to the right non stop. She will sometime run backwards in circles or run figure 8’s. She doesn’t respond to commands and doesn’t like to be held. She kicks to get down and heart appears to beat fast all the time.
    It sounds just like Lani’s post above. I would love to hear her outcome with that Chihuahua.

  8. I have bought an Akita 3 days ago, and since waking up this morning he won’t get up or walk atall :( phoned the vets and she says could be tired as he may not be used to long walks can’t help but worry anyone else having the same problem ? He don’t seem to be in pain I have been massaging his legs and seeing if he hurts anywhere but no response :(

  9. 2 years ago suddenly i feel could in my head and got thirsty of water from then i feel so weak and felling imblance in walking time still now i am a neurological patient

  10. yes, we have observed what we believe to be neurological problems. Our dog, Blue is an 11- year old Heeler. In the last week he has been having episodes, always at night, where he is confused, has no muscle control and staggers aimlessly about the house.
    The first time it happened he fell down a flight of stairs; now when we hear him moving about, we get up and carry him down. Last night he pooped in the living room, not in his character at all.
    During the day he appears fine, eats and goes for a pretty good walk.
    Blue was diagnosed with hip dysplasia in Sept and is on a low dose of meloxicam.
    Tomorrow we will see our vet.

    • Hi, we have an 11 y/o healer also and have recently feel like things are falling apart but he is so strong it’s hard to tell his symptoms. About two months ago he went completely blind in a matter of weeks and they called it’s SARDS. He adjusted really well minus waking up at night pacing and hungry. Recently in the last week his back legs have been “off” and he now hasn’t eaten for two days and has been lethargic. No one seems to know what’s up, blood is normal and X-rays didn’t turn up anything and we’ve kind of maxed how much money we can invest in diagnosing.

      What did your vet say?

  11. We just took in a 8 year old doxie. He walks around looking confused at times. Very hard to feed him. To get him to eat I have to spoon feed him. Sometimes he appears to forget that he is eating. He just stops and looks blank. Then when I get his attention again he will try to cover his food up. I have to wave the spoon right under his nose to get him eating again. He will go in circles and bark. Any ideals?

  12. as a volunteer working with a no-kill, private non-profit organization I brought home a very tiny (1 lb. 3 oz.) Chihuahua, male. Just darling! In keeping to strngthen him & bring his weight up, I noticed that he had trouble eating (actually chewing the food); he has the constant spin trait asociated with dogs who have Nuerological Disease; he prances when he runs; and he almost always crosses his front legs when he sits down. In addition, his vision is compromised, tho not lost. Just as reported in the posts above, I worried about him, felt bad for him, & love his unconditionally.
    My question to anyone reading these posts: Does he understand my behavior commands? He does not seem to respond very well to a stern spoken “No” along with his name. Out in the yard, he seems to come to me when I call him, sort of on the “If he wants to” basis. when he doesn’t come to me, his actions apear to be playful. However, it may be that I am missng the key to this. I am elderly, have fostered many dogs for this organiztion & previously for the local SPCA, & feel I have adequate knowledge to socialize & give basic training t0 my Foster dogs, preparing them for Adoption. I am stumped with this little long legged, big eared Deer Chihuahua. He is a darling little dog & I love him, plus, an adoption for him may well be a long time in coming, if ever! Success seems much mor likely if I can train him in just the basics of sit, stay, come & off. If he stays in my home forever, I will appreciate the effort. So, is there any information; any reading material which speaks to this problem. I have a wonderful Vet who has diagnosed that this little guy is indeed “not right” & suggests that the brain lesion is on the right side of his brain which is determined by his total turning behavior in circles to the right. Never to the left!

    I will continue to check with my Vet for additional information & would so much appreciate any reliable suggestions any poster might have regarding the trainability of a Nuerologically challenged dog. Thank you.

  13. Hi,

    I wish someone would provide some sort of feed back. I have read these posts, and am having similar problems now. I don’t know what it is or what to do. Well, I know that if I take him to the vet, the bill will run upward to more than I can afford.

    My dog has recently started losing his balance and I think it’s his back legs that are giving out. I don’t think it’s arthritis b/c his head is tilting towards the left. Also, I have noticed in the past he’d lose his balance, just not as often as in these last 15 hours. I’ve had him for 3 years and he is about 7 or 8 years old. Since I’ve had him, he’s always walked sideways. Don’t know what that means.

    • Over the last week or so, we started noticing some severe issues with our 7 year old Pembroke welsh corgi. He was diagnosed 6 months ago with severe arthritis in his hind legs (which made it difficult for him to get up after laying down for awhile and stumbling coming in and out of the house. The first sign of trouble was that he was hesitant to get up and when he did he would wobble and stumble and fall. He could not get in and out of the house without assistance. He could walk although not very well and would fall down often. I also began to notice a distant look in his eyes and a tilted head. Eventually, he just began dragging his hind end. One or two steps and he fell down. Took him to the vet and she verified it was neurological because when she placed his back foot in an akward position he wouldn’t put it back himself as he did with his healthy front foot. The only option was to have an MRI done (about a thousand dollars) and if surgery was an option another 5 or 6 thousand. I chose to take him home and spend a few days with him and think about it. He just got worse. He was so weak he could not have a bowel movement and rarely urinated. The outlook was not good. After the research I did, he had all the symptoms of a neurological problem that would eventually make him paralyzed completely. I had to carry him everywhere. What finally made me make the decision to put him to sleep was that he hadn’t had a bowel movement for four days. It was the hardest thing I had to do but my love for him would not allow me to let him suffer. I hope this helps you.

  14. I have an 8 year old BoerBoel dog, (8 next week), initially diagnosed with Arthritis in the rear limbs. More detailed considerations now suggest a neurological problem since the dog suddenly collapses into an uncontrolled sprawl on to the ground. He will not eat regularly, now is only realy happy with chicken and water on an irregular basis. Is he in pain? I’m not sure; sometimes perhaps. It’s very difficult to be certain. Pain killers over a period of 4 days was of little use. I take each day as it comes, but what to do in the longer term? I’m having difficulty with that question. I would appreciate any meaning answers. Is it too early to have him destroyed? A difficult question balancing my desires and what is best for the dog.

    Thanks in anticipation of any advice Mike 08/08/2013

    • My 11` 1/2 year old Boerboel has similar problems. Could be a degenerative
      disease or Hip Dypspasia or artheritis. X-Ray than a MRI to determine for sure.

  15. My dog Mario has yet to be diagnosed …. He had one major seizure when he was a puppy and has been on medication since. However he often walks “sideways” (we’ve lovingly nic named him “the sidewinder”) though its heartbreaking to watch. He runs into walls and tables daily and he turns in circles before laying down…his record is 27 circles. He paces alot also. He is a happy guy and doesn’t seem to be in pain. He is a grey hound Lab mix and he can run faster than any dog I’ve had, but he tires very quickly which is very unusual for his breed and for as young as he is (just over a year). We love him so much and its just heartbreaking to us. I’ve researched and talked to the vet but its still unclear to me if treatment would be available. If it isn’t, then I’d rather enjoy him for as long as we can…and prefer not to know what is wrong. Would love to hear from anyone who has experienced this with a younger dog. Thanks

    • My son recently got a dog (appears to be mostly Terrier, about two yeas, 10 to 15 pounds) at a rescue center that has similar symptoms.
      Did you receive any replies to your post? If so I would very much appreciate
      your letting me know where I cab read them.

      • Have your vet check your dogs liver- it could be a Portalsystemic Shunt. All dogs are born with this extra vessel at the liver, but 97% of them close by the age of 3mo. (I believe). However, 3% of dogs continue to live on with this extra vessel and the toxins that are to be removed from the liver are not, the toxins get transported into the blood stream. If left untreated this is always fatal- however, my Yorkie mix was diagnosed at 3 and lived 6 long years with treatment from daily medication.

  16. Our 19 year old Chihuahua experienced a sudden neurological disorder that the vets were unable to diagnose, however they did say that neurological disorders are common amongst older dogs. She could no longer hold her head up straight and found eating and drinking difficult and lost all control over body and persistently made a whining noise, she could have recovered but due to her age this was highly unlikely, therefore earlier last night we decided to have her put to sleep to end her suffering. All of her health in general was above average for her age, however its just a sad thought that whatever neurological disorder she suffered from stacked the odds against her, all of this happened in 2-3 days. If anyone out there owns an older dog be on the look out for any unusual behaviours particularly if your dog appears to be uncoordinated then your best bet is to rush them straight to the vets.

  17. My Peppy has myelitis…at first diagnosed as inverterbal disc disease…what a roller coaster ride we have been on since the onset of her illness…misunderstood and mis diagnosed…been hard,,,one year and a half later she is fairly stable…you cant give up hope on these dogs…we take everyday as it comes …good and bad…all I want for her is happiness and good quality of life….every extra day is our blessing

    • I find your blog interesting.
      I have had my dog poodle/cocker through a few days of trauma she has had MRI CT blood work spinal work and all because it looked like a disc, her neck is sore and her left foot is not good
      It looks neurological now. She is home from emergency vet on many meds, but reading your blog gives me another thing to check with the vet.
      the fact everything came back normal, but my baby ebony i still crying in pain. Intermitent but still in pain.

  18. My almost 3 year old Koolie cross started having episodes where she was acting “drunk”, falling over and very uncoordinated since late December. She only has these eisodes when it is hot and she is out excersising. She has had approximately 8 episodes now and the vet has done blood tests which came back normal. He seems to think this is a neurological problem but is baffled at the moment. It is quite distressing for us to watch her going through this. She has also started whining in her sleep.

    • My pug is having similar episodes of acting drunk, but he seems to be in pain with them and looks confused. Afterwards he is just fine. They last for a couple minutes. My vet doesn’t know what is happening to him and the blood tests have come back normal. He is having at least two a month now. Have you found anything out?

    • did you ever find out what was going on?? i have a 16 month old male german shepherd who had one incident of swaying, loss of coordination, appearing drunk in december and one more yesterday, 3 mos after the first one. each incident lasted a minute or two and then he was back to normal. i had him checked out by a vet for orthopedic issues but there are none. i am worried.
      any info/experiences most gratefully accepted.

  19. My almost 4 year old miniature schnauzer, Rosie, has had two seizures in the past year. While the vet did diagnose epilepsy, at this time she is not on medication because the seizures seem to come once every six months or so. On the medication there are risks, and “good control” is two seizures a month; so unless hers become much more frequent as she gets older, I will just comfort her afterwards.

    • My dog also has seizures about every 6 months, we have noticed it is due to extreme changes in weather, summer to fall and winter to spring. We don’t use any meds either since it is a very predictable pattern. Not sure if your dog also follows that pattern, but it might be good to be aware of the possiblity since it might make it easier to predict when your dog might have an episode. Good luck!