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Sensory dysfunction causing loss of balance, ataxia in dogs can be a sign of a serious problem. Here’s what you need to know about the condition.
Some dogs are naturally a little clumsy, but at what point should you be concerned about your dog losing his balance? Ataxia is the medical term for a loss of balance and can sometimes be a sign of a serious problem. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for ataxia in dogs.
What is ataxia?
The term ataxia refers to a sensory abnormality that results in a loss of coordination in a dog’s head, limbs, or trunk. There are three types of ataxia commonly seen in dogs: sensorimotor, vestibular, and cerebellar. Sensory ataxia, also known as sensorimotor ataxia, occurs from progressive compression of the spinal cord while vestibular ataxia is usually caused by damage to the vestibular-cochlear nerve. Cerebellar ataxia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the cerebellum — the part responsible for coordination and movement.
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What are the causes and symptoms?
Sensory ataxia in dogs It is associated with problems with the spinal cord, so the most common symptoms are associated with loss of balance and an uncomfortable or unbalanced gait. Some possible causes of this type of ataxia include a structural or developmental abnormality of the spinal cord, spinal tumors, infection of the vertebrae, inflammation or trauma of the spinal cord, or a medical condition called degenerative myelopathy. Other symptoms of sensory ataxia include numbness and progressive weakness of the foot.
vestibular ataxia; The vestibular nerve is connected to the vestibular nerve – the nerve that transmits signals from the inner ear to the brain. Damage to this nerve can lead to changes in the position of the dog’s head or neck as well as hearing problems. You may notice balance problems such as tipping over, tilting, or even falling. In cases of central vestibular ataxia, the dog may also exhibit sensory symptoms, changes in eye movements, weakness in the legs, and drowsiness or lethargy.
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Cerebellar ataxia It occurs when the cerebellum of the brain becomes destroyed, often by a brain tumor or some type of infection. But the most common is a congenital or genetic defect. Symptoms of cerebellar ataxia usually develop slowly over several months or years and include waddling, abnormal gait, loss of coordination, tremors, falls, and weakness. Some dogs also display rapid eye and head movements in addition to head tilt, hearing problems, behavioral changes, or a lack of appetite.
What are the treatment options?
Treatment options for canine ataxia vary depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. In cases where the underlying causes of the ataxia cannot be cured, pain management and supportive care may be the only options. If the condition worsens progressively, euthanasia may be required. In small cases, it may be sufficient to monitor the dog’s condition and make adjustments to his lifestyle to accommodate difficulty with exercise or loss of coordination.
If you notice changes in your dog’s gait or behavior, it is not something to ignore. Behavioral changes can be a sign of a serious problem and prompt treatment can make a difference. At the first sign of a problem, bring your dog to the vet for an examination.