“Neurologic disease” refers to disease affecting the nervous system, which is comprised of the brain, spinal cord and nerves throughout the body.
Very similar to ours, a dog or cat’s nervous system can be affected by numerous disease processes. These processes can be traumatic, inflammatory or infectious, degenerative, neoplastic and sometimes idiopathic—meaning we do not know what the underlying cause is.
The neurologic disorders we see most commonly at Bothell Pet Hospital are intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), seizures and vestibular disease.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
Known as “IVDD,” this disease refers to a process that affects the cushion-like discs that are located between each vertebrae in the spine. These discs can become calcified or degenerative and with a wrong step or jump, quickly place pressure on the spinal cord, causing pain and even decrease an animal’s ability to walk. Radiographs may be taken to confirm narrowed disc spaces (suggesting that disc material has changed or has moved from its normal location into the spinal cord space). Anti-inflammatories, pain medications and muscle relaxants may be prescribed to help animals with IVDD in addition to activity restriction.
Seizures most commonly are generalized (sometimes referred to as Grand Mal), involving the whole body in tremors and stiffness. They may be partial and affect only a small part of the body, or they may cause abnormal behavior like “fly-biting.” Seizures in younger animals may be caused by idiopathic epilepsy, while new seizure activity in older animals causes suspicion of an underlying brain tumor. When they become frequent enough, anticonvulsant therapy is often tried in an effort to control and ideally stop seizures. (Photo courtesy of www.canine-epilepsy.net)
Vestibular disease most often causes a head tilt, repeating rapid eye movements, difficulty walking, falling and nausea. The vestibular system helps the body orient where it is in space and maintain balance. The apparatus is made up of parts in the middle ear, cerebellum, and brain. Middle ear infections and tumors can cause vestibular disease, but many cases are idiopathic and resolve with time.
Get your Pet Examined Immediately
If you observe your pet experiencing an acute inability to walk, or having a seizure that does not stop, you should treat the situation as an emergency – call your veterinarian immediately or consult with an emergency facility if needed.
No matter what the neurologic disorder, an immediate examination is the most important first step in diagnosis. Where possible, it is extremely helpful if you can provide video footage of your dog or cat’s behaviors that can assist us in diagnosis and creating a treatment plan.