Ataxia is a condition defined as a change in the animal’s normal gait and causes abnormal movements. Today we take a closer look at the causes of ataxia in dogs. There is a wide range of symptoms that can affect a dog. Some may not be so obvious if you are not paying attention, such as urine colour changes or whiteness in the mucous membranes. But other symptoms are apparent to all observers; among these, we can mention vomiting and ataxia in dogs. Perhaps the most conspicuous signs are those related to the gait and musculoskeletal system, as the owner can easily observe any disturbance that changes the dog’s speed. Today we are going to talk about one of these symptoms: ataxia in dogs. Do you know the causes of this condition in dogs? Read on to find out.
DEFINITION OF ATAXIA IN DOGS
Ataxia can be clinically defined as a sign of sensory dysfunction that causes jerky and unsteady or uncoordinated movements of the animal’s limbs, head or upper body. Translated into ordinary language, this means that the dog suffering from this disease walks as if it had taken a few drinks too much, or at least it is the comment that the owners usually use when describing this condition in their pets. As mentioned, ataxia is not a disease in itself but a symptom of another underlying pathology. In addition, different diseases often share the same symptoms, and in the case of ataxia in dogs, it could not have been otherwise. For this reason, we will explain some of the leading causes of this disturbing symptom.
NEUROLOGICAL CAUSES OF ATAXIA IN DOGS
Ataxia is a neurological symptom. Therefore, diseases and pathological processes affecting the nervous system are the most common cause of this change. Different parts of the body perform adjustment and control of movements and body position, and thus a disturbance in some of them can cause this symptom to occur. Let us mention some of these disorders.
- Cerebellar disorders
- The cerebellum is the organ responsible for regulating and modulating nerve impulses. In addition, it controls proprioception and body position. Diseases that directly affect the cerebellum can cause ataxia. Among the most common are the following:
- Cerebellar hypoplasia, i.e. underdevelopment of the cerebellum
- Puppy disease ( Canine distemper virus, CDV )
- Neoplasia – The formation of tumours – that affects this organ
- Granulomatous meningoencephalitis, an inflammatory disease of unknown origin
With the balance organ, the vestibular system is another essential part of the nervous system that is responsible for receiving, processing, and transmitting information related to the animal’s position and balance. Disorders affecting this system can cause ataxia. Among the most common vestibular diseases, we can find the following:
- Internal otitis or inflammation of the inner ear
- Idiopathic or geriatric vestibular syndrome
- Trauma and injuries affecting the inner ear
DISEASES OF THE SPINAL CORD CAN CAUSE ATAXIA IN DOGS
The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting and modulating nerve impulses. Therefore, a change at this level can trigger a gait-related disorder such as ataxia. The diseases of the spinal cord that can cause ataxia are the following:
- Herniated disc or prolapse
- Disk protrusion
- Neoplastic processes
- Ankylosing spondylitis, an infection of the spine
- Congenital vertebral malformations
- Myelopathy, spinal cord compression
OTHER CAUSES OF ATAXIA IN DOGS
Certain types of ataxia are scarce, but they do exist. They must be considered when attempting a thorough clinical examination or, as in this case, when we want to provide you with all available quality information. For example, certain electrolyte disorders such as hypokalaemia – lack of potassium in the blood – lead to a series of neuromuscular conditions that, in some cases, can lead to the diagnosis of ataxia. At the neurological level, there are no problems, given that ataxia, in this case, is only due to a lack of potassium or other salts.
Likewise, ataxia is a side effect that results from the administration of certain drugs. For this reason, the owner needs to inform the veterinarian about the entire medical history and then especially about medicines that the animal has received before. In this sense, although rare, cases of ataxia have been reported in dogs following administration of the following drugs:
- Acepromazine maleate
As you can understand, ataxia in dogs is a sign that, in most cases, comes from a pathological process that involves the nervous system in one way or another. However, there are other circumstances in which the dog may show these symptoms, even in the absence of neurological disease.