Why is my dog walking funny? – Ataxia in dogs
You walk into the living room and notice your pet stumbling around and acting very confused. What on earth is going on?
This abnormal uncoordinated movement is known as ataxia. If you notice this behaviour in your pet, they may be experiencing a serious ailment and require medical attention immediately. There are numerous underlying causes of ataxia in animals, however the three main areas of concern are related to proprioception issues (related to the spinal cord), vestibular syndrome (related to an inner ear or brain issue), and cerebellar issues (the part of the brain responsible for coordination and balance).
Common clinical signs of ataxia include head tremors, head tilting, nystagmus (quick uncontrolled movement of the eyes), inability to place a foot on the ground or dragging toes, and large exaggerated steps. It is important to discuss any concerns related to ataxia with your veterinarian and have your pet examined as soon as possible to rule out potentially fatal neurological conditions.
Causes of ataxia in dogs:
- Spinal cord injuries (tumors, trauma, inflammation, embolism)
- Inner or middle ear infections
- Infection of the vertebrae or discs
- Vestibular disease
- Head trauma
- Inflammation affecting the brain or brain stem
- Toxicities or deficiencies
- Low levels of calcium, potassium, or glucose
- Blood circulation issues related to heart disease
Treatment of ataxia in dogs will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Medications or supplements can be administered for toxicities or deficiencies, and treatment for inflammatory processes or infections can be initiated. Where warranted, surgery can be performed to remove tumors or correct abnormalities. Once the underlying cause has been addressed, the best form of treatment is physical rehabilitation. The majority of pets that suffer from ataxia will recover very well and return to their normal selves; once again depending on the underlying cause.
It can be quite alarming to witness your pet experience ataxia and transporting them to the vet can be rather stressful. Consider calling a professional pet transport service such as Toronto Animal Mobility Services for peace of mind! For more information or to schedule a pick up, call us or complete a request form here.
Caitlyn A. is an RVT and a valued member of the Toronto AMS team.