The study of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) is termed neurology. A wide variety of diseases fall into this category affecting dogs and cats across all age brackets. A patient suspected of having a neurologic disorder may present to Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital with disorientation or depression, they may stumble or wobble when trying to walk, they may have just experienced a seizure and some animals even come in paralyzed. Our first step will always be to take a complete history of your pet’s problem and perform a thorough physical examination of their entire body. Next, we will move on to a detailed neurologic exam where we will assess their mentation, cranial (head) nerve function, reflexes and proprioception (body orientation). This specific exam will help us to localize the source of their problem in their nervous system. From there, we will usually recommend diagnostic testing such as blood work, a urinalysis, radiographs or even more advanced blood panels to assess the likelihood of infection. A common difficulty is determining if an animal is experiencing orthopedic pain that is affecting their ability to ambulate (walk), or if their problem is truly neurologic in nature. Radiographs can help make this distinction and direct our treatment appropriately.
In most cases, the history, physical and neurologic exam findings, and the diagnostic test results will aid us in determining a definitive diagnosis of your pet’s problem. It’s important to know that some pet neurologic problems can rapidly worsen, resulting in paralysis or brain damage. For example, intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) is one of the most common neurologic conditions we see typically affecting small breed dogs such as Daschunds. This can be a debilitating problem compressing the disks located between each vertebra in the spine, thereby putting pressure on a pet’s spinal nerves and spinal cord. Without prompt treatment, this disease can leave a pet permanently paralyzed. Seizures are another common disorder we routinely encounter. They can be congenital in nature, due to head trauma or low blood sugar, idiopathic (meaning no cause is determined), the result of an infection or toxin ingestion, or because of organ malfunction, a glandular disorder or brain tumor. Unfortunately, if a pet experiences a lengthy seizure or multiple seizures in a short period of time, they may suffer permanent brain injury. Some pets presenting to our veterinarians with signs of a neurologic condition are found to have some other underlying disease and not a primary neurologic disorder at all. Disorders of the thyroid gland, for example, can adversely affect a pet’s neurologic system. With proper treatment of the thyroid disease, the pet’s neurologic signs should resolve. Interestingly enough, pets do not experience strokes as much as their owners seem to believe. While a common condition in humans, strokes are actually quite rare in veterinary patients. Thankfully, some neurologic diseases are actually preventable. The rabies virus (which primarily affects a pet’s nervous system) is nearly 100% fatal once a pet is afflicted. However, vaccination is highly effective and required by law since this virus can be transmitted to humans.
Once your pet has been diagnosed with a disease of the nervous system, we will explain their condition and available treatment options. Some patients will receive conservative care such as a medication regime combined with strict rest for a number of days. Other patients will be started on anticonvulsants to help control a seizure disorder. In some cases, especially if your pet’s condition is very severe or rapidly deteriorating, we may recommend more advanced diagnostics (CT scan or MRI) or even spinal surgery.
Seeing a pet experience a neurologic problem can be alarming and upsetting to owners, but the staff of Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital is here to support you and your pet with the best possible care to return them to their happy healthy selves