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What is Ataxia?

An unbalanced gait in our pets is most likely secondary to the presence of a lesion. Simply said, ataxia will mean a lesion will be found in areas of the brain, inner ear or spinal cord. The exact cause of the loss of balance will determine the treatment protocol and the likelihood of recovery. Loss of balance can be frightening for your pet, and necessitates calmness and extra care on your part.

Gait problems, characterized by an uncoordinated movement and loss of balance, is known as ataxia in veterinary terms. A sensory dysfunction, ataxia can display many symptoms including tremors and postural abnormalities. If your dog is losing his balance and coordination, a veterinary visit is crucial.

Ataxia Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $100 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,200

Symptoms of Ataxia in Dogs

The extent of the loss of balance can vary from pet to pet. If your canine companion is showing signs of gait difficulties, consult your veterinarian without delay. Symptoms that could accompany the unbalanced gait are listed here.

  • Nausea and vomiting due to equilibrium problems
  • Loss of appetite because of the nausea
  • Head tilt which keeps one ear lower than the other
  • Reduction in hearing abilities
  • Changes in mental state
  • Behavioral differences like a lack of bladder control in the house
  • Abnormal eye movement (up and down or side to side)
  • Loss of limb coordination which could include limb crossover, large steps and a wide stance
  • Staggering, falling, swaying, drifting, and circling
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
Types

Three anatomic regions of the nervous system are involved in unbalanced gait. The types of ataxia associated with the three regions are as follows.

  • Vestibular ataxia
    • This results from a mix up of inner ear messages to the brain regarding balance
    • A loss of balance, unsteadiness, and a strange positioning of the head are characteristic to vestibular disturbances
  • Proprioceptive (sensory) ataxia
    • This form is caused by a compression of the spinal cord
    • Lack of coordination and weakness are signs of the condition
  • Cerebellar ataxia
    • The cerebellum, which is responsible for coordination and movement, is damaged
    • Sudden head movements cause dizziness, and the eyes will move abnormally
    • This condition is sometimes mistaken for a stroke
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Causes of Ataxia in Dogs

The cause for the ataxia will be determined by pinpointing the location of the lesion. Some of the causes of unbalanced gait are listed here.

  • Vestibular ataxia
    • Immune-related illnesses
    • Cancer
    • Trauma to the ear
    • Poisoning
    • Fungal infection
    • Idiopathic (unknown)
  • Proprioceptive (sensory) ataxia
    • Cysts
    • Nerve degeneration
    • Blood clot
    • Cancer
    • Infection
    • Trauma
  • Cerebellar ataxia
    • Cell degeneration
    • Hereditary factors
    • Congenital (present at birth)
    • Brain tumor
    • Infection
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Diagnosis of Ataxia in Dogs

The protocol for diagnosing ataxia can be extensive. When you bring your beloved canine companion to the veterinarian, be prepared to list every symptom or behavioral change you have observed. Because the loss of balance, dizziness, and related symptoms can cause your dog to become frightened, do your best to exhibit a sense of calm during the examination. This demeanor could carry over to your pet, allowing him to relax while being examined.

Your veterinary team will assess your dog’s gait, providing assistance to him if needed when walking or standing. The gait of your dog can tell the experienced eye of your veterinarian much about what is happening in relation to the health of your pet. The analysis will involve watching your pet walk, and possibly observing him attempting stairs, all the while keeping the safety of your dog paramount.

The physical examination will also include neurological, reflex, and limb sensitivity tests. Imaging tests may be done to reach a definitive conclusion.

  • Radiographs, plain and contrast
  • Myelography (dye and x-ray to assess the spinal cord)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (this is the best way to assess ataxia and view the brain)
  • Computed tomography scan

Muscle and nerve biopsies, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis can be done if the uncertainty of the cause is still present. Urine and blood analysis might be considered to rule out infection or disease.

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Treatment of Ataxia in Dogs

The treatment plan for ataxia can take many different directions, which will be contingent on the location of lesions present, the severity of the loss of balance, the age of your pet, and the underlying disease factor, if this is the case.

Often, eliminating the underlying cause (through surgery for a tumor, chemotherapy, and radiation for cancer, or medication for an infection for example) will relieve the unbalanced gait and coordination issues. In some cases, though, effects will remain. For instance, your pet could live with a permanent degree of head tilt, or the remnants of a gait abnormality. There are dogs who have a good quality of life, even though they have balance problems.

Hereditary and congenital imbalance conditions have no cure.

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Recovery of Ataxia in Dogs

To begin, we must face the reality that some pets who are left with very severe effects from unbalanced gait, or have an ataxia condition that progresses to a state of incapacitation, will be euthanized because they are unable to cope or continue.

Supportive care is the key to a happy, comfortable life for a dog with less severe, yet nonetheless permanent, effects from ataxia. You must maintain a safe environment for your much-loved canine family member. Monitoring your pet at all times when you are home, and keeping his living space free from potential injury (such as blocking access to stairs) will be a necessity. When you leave your dog, alone in the house, confinement to a crate or a safe area will be in his best interest.

A dog with a loss of balance will need a day to day assistance with his needs. Feeding time can be an effort if he has tremors and finds it difficult to eat. Taking him for walks will take longer, and he will require assistance for balance. Medication requirements for nausea and dizziness may become the norm. Even with these changes and others, your dog can continue to be a great family pet with your help, and the advice of your veterinarian.

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Ataxia Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $100 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,200

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Ataxia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Labrador Retriever

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Ataxia, Lethargy, Stiff, Panting, Licking Lips

Started 2 days ago. Dog has been eating sticks and roots in yard (Buddlia plant, possibly acanthus). Was also digging around in an aged compost pile. He I s eating and drinking, pees normally, drinking a lot of water, yellow, slightly loose poops

July 17, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Your dog could have an upset stomach due to things he ate, or he may have potentially ingested something toxic or something causing irritation in the G.I. tract. I think with the symptoms that he is displaying I do think it would be a good idea to consult with your veterinarian and have him examined. I hope he feels better soon.

July 17, 2020

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Murphy

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English Bulldog

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Trouble Walking And Slipping

Is there anyway to reverse Potassium Bromide ataxia? Our Murphy has cluster seizures and since he was put on the Potassium Bromide his hind quarters have gone from wobbly to walking like he's drink 75% of the time.

Aug. 6, 2018

Murphy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

The weakness and ataxia that can be caused by Potassium Bromide can typically be decreased with a decrease in dosage. Murphy may need to take a combination of drugs if he can't tolerate his dosage of one. Your veterinarian can help you decide what his dosage might be, or if he needs other medications.

Aug. 6, 2018

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Buddha

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Pug

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Disorientation
Tired
Lack Of Appetite
Confusion
Stiff Hind Legs
Unstable Gait
No Interest In Playing
No Response To Name

My 9.5 year male pug has been acting peculiarly lately. We had an unexpected trip 1500 miles from home and I thought this was what brought on the issue. It started with bizarre behavior (lethargy, disorientation and a barking cough). The vet (not our normal vet) examined him with xrays and lab work up and diagnosed collapsing trachea. He was put on steroids, antibiotic (in case he had an infection going on as his white or red cells were a bit off) and a cough syrup. He was seemingly better within a few days, though not at all playful. He seemed depressed. Then after awhile he improved but that lasted only for a couple days and he was back to seeming depressed. I took him back in for more exams which included a full body CT scan, which showed nothing out of the ordinary. They prescribed more steroids for any unseen inflammation and a sedative. We came home a week ago and he was back to his old self but yesterday he seemed very out of it (depressed?) and today his gait is very odd. He almost seems uncoordinated but stiff? He is curling his front paws under and standing like that at times. He can't walk that way but his when he stands, it's almost like he forgot how and will curl his paws under and stand up, then once standing he opens them up and lays the pad on the floor. His hind quarters look stiff and super uncoordinated. He sleeps and has little interest in food, which is very very unlike him. He loves food typically. I had to coax him out of the crate to go outside and encourage him to go potty but he just seemed confused. He doesn't pick his head up when you call his name either, also unlike him. He just seems out of it, like he's drugged but of course he is not. I'm hesitant to go to another vet and have more exams done only to be told there is nothing wrong with him but he seems very strange acting and his gait is definitely off. There is no way he could attempt a walk down the street if that gives you an idea of his level of incapacity.

Aug. 1, 2018

Buddha's Owner

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It is difficult to say what may be going on here, sometimes the stress of a long journey may lead to some behavioural issues (lethargy and depression) but we wouldn’t expect to see problems with paw curling etc… It seems that he is otherwise healthy and the CT scan would have detected any brain lesions or anything else concerning; if you have further concerns you may ask for a copy of the CT scan and send it to a telemedicine provider (PetRays) for a board certified Radiologist or Neurologist to take a look to be on the safe side. Without examining Buddha and checking all results I cannot really weigh in with a cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 2, 2018

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Luna

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Labrador Husky

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Uncoordination

My 4 year old chocolate lab started acting unlike herself 5 days ago. She showed signs of being a little wobbly when she walked and just didn’t seen her usual spirited self. By Wednesday the issue had progressed to where she didn’t even want to get out of bed or come when called. Also never an issue before. Her “wobble” had gotten a little worse so I made an appointment and took her in. The vet said she seemed to have a sprained knee although she never yelps or anything if you mess with it. He prescribed her 2 pain pills to take every 12 hours. Now 3 days later, she’s having difficulty walking. She’s extremly off balance, falls down, walks in circles and is very slow. My in laws think it’s the pain medicine she is on, but I’m not sure this seems right. Any thoughts?

July 14, 2018

Luna's Owner

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Without examining Luna it is difficult to say what the specific cause is; neurological disorders, vestibular disorders, head trauma, poisoning among many other conditions may cause similar symptoms and also without examining her I cannot determine whether or not there is an issue her with stifle (knee). I would try to keep her rested and hydrated, if there is no improvement I would recommend you return to your Veterinarian for a follow up examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 15, 2018

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Sophie

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Pekingese

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Acute Hind Limb Ataxia, Non-Painful

My 10 yr old Pekingese became acutely ataxic in the hind limbs 4 days ago. She has been non-painful & after, or in spite of, dosing with Meloxicam since that evening, she has shown gradual improvement. However, she is still unsteady & weaves a tad, although she is picking up speed while walking. She has also been able to eliminate easily & with normal posture. And while, it does tend to droop more readily, she has no trouble getting her tail up while eliminating or walking. There's was a very slight roaching of her back and her proprioceptor responses, while slightly diminished, are relatively normal and no pain is elicited with pressure along her entire back, nor with lifting by her tail or when she is picked up. No nystagmus, nor other signs other than the hind legs, so it does not appear to be vestibular or disc disease. The only thing that I recall happening, was her being startled the night before when she turned & ran into something that she didn't realize was there & yipped, but seemed fine after. I figured that it just startled her, but wasn't hurt. Could it be an simple as slight bruising of her cord? Can you think of anything else? This just seems so unusual based as my previous experience as a (now retired) veterinary technician. Her attitude & appetite have been fine. She does not attempt to jump up on the chair, as she is obviously aware that she is incapable.

July 10, 2018

Sophie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hind limb ataxia with decreased proprioceptive responses are quite indicative of spinal cord trauma, whether it is from a disc extrusion, a sudden movement, or a degenerative condition. Sophie seems to be improving slowly, and it would seen a good idea to continue with her current therapy.

July 10, 2018

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Suka

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Border Collie

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18 Years

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Moderate severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Head Tilt
Loss Of Balance
Tired
Trouble Stand
Weak Front Leggs

My 18 year old border collie had taken comfortis for fleas before. This time she had a reaction to her dose. She has a strange look in her eyes, and i noticed a limp. She almost fell over when I picked up her leg, as though her balance was gone. She stood there looking at me at the step I could see her front legs bowed, and head tilted. I carried her down the one step down to the grass. There was not much movement, but was able to follow me slowly. After coming inside, she almost can’t stand up. I’m worried about her and can’t see her this way. Does this ever go away? Will the reaction subside at some point, or has it done permanent damage?

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Chace

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Boxer

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Uncoordination
Loss Of Balance

My 9 year old Boxer Chace has always been very energetic and has had no major health issues. He only had a torn ligament on his left hind leg when he was 1 year old and I didn’t proceed with a surgery as the vet recommended because I believed in other ways of fixing it. He swam a lot and took it easy on running and gave him a daily glucosamine supplement and as I thought he showed amazing improvement and was healed. Last week I noticed a slight wobbling on his hind leg and since he ate his food and had all his senses and showed no other symptoms I didn’t think anything of it. Next morning he walked as if he was drunk. I took him to the vet right away and after blood work and xrays he was referred to a neurologist as they were unable to find anything. Neurologist recommended an MRI as he found nothing else and said that it’s most likely in the brain. By the time we left the vet’s office my boy had to be carried out to the car as he was now unable to stand up as his legs were stiff and kept buckling. He’s currently on prednisone steroids and after just one day of taking them he showed great improvement. He’s now able to go up and down the stairs on his own and even attempts to run until I tell him to relax as I don’t want him to hurt himself. His previous vet who reviewed the xrays said he has arthritis on his hind. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on his condition and what you think it could be. If it’s Ataxia or a neurological condition could steroids make that much of a great improvement? He’s almost back to his normal self with a slight coordination issue on the hind legs. Thank you in advance.

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Porter

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Bluetick Coonhound

dog-age-icon

3 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Falling Over

My 3 yr old bluetick coonhound just had the strangest thing happen...he was walking outside, stopped and I noticed that he was like a statue..his entire body was stiff and his eyes were fixed. He stood there for what seemed like a lifetime. I was panicked but didn't what to rush up on him or scare him. I called his name and spoke softly to him until he broke his statue like stare. He took a step and fell over. He got right up but I was at his side and just kept him still and stroked him as I spoke to him. He was scared and I was as well. We took it slow back into the house but by the time we got in the door (1/2 a minute) he was fine. WTH? I was terrified and needed a minute to get myself together and he was back to his normal goofy self. This has happened twice in the last year (at least 7 months apart) and it is a terrifying thing to experience. The vet can't find anything wrong with him. This is crazy! He is a 3yr old dog that has never had any trama. This started happening after he turned three. What could possibly be wrong and why cant they find anything?

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Bella

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Pit bull

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Uncoordination
Weakness
Loss Of Balance
Falling Over

My dog, Bella, started experiencing rear end coordination problems about 2 months ago. Since then we have had her on Rimadyl and Gabapenten daily(400 mg gabapenten and 150 mg of rimadyl) Her symptoms are getting worse despite the medications. She is still happy most of the time and eating well. She seems to be in pain occasionally, she trembles for 30-45 minutes and then settles down. Is there a better coarse of treatment? Our vet says to keep giving her the prescriptions as they work best together, but I see no improvement.

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Sunny

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Australian Shepherd

dog-age-icon

12 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Cysts
Gas
Ataxia
Hemangioma
Nausea
Dry Heaving
Hoarse

Sunny is a 12 year old Australian Shepherd. I took her to the vet 2 months ago not because she seems sick, but because she seemed to be losing weight, despite increasing her food to 3 cups a day. Our younger 8 year old eats 2 cups, is smaller, and weighs 10 lbs more! She's always been more active and had a higher metabolism, but it didn't explain why she was hips and ribs poking out skinny. I'd been monitoring her weight on the scale at home, and she seemed to be barely maintaining at 40 lbs. At her fighting fittest during her agility years, she was 48 lbs of solid muscle - to have lost 1/6th of her body weight when she'd been normal/lean her whole life? They found tumors in her abdomen. To find out whether they're cancerous or not would require poking or cutting into them, risking rupture and bleedout, with little to no chance of surgery or diagnosis being helpful. Sonigram shows they're full of blood, so likely giant cavernous hemangiomas (if non cancerous) or some variation on other organs, all the organs, cancerous, non cancerous, we don't know. What we do know is that she acts happy and normal, and any cutting and poking and stress would do more damage to her spirit than letting her go on as she is, and her indominitable bull-headed sheepdog will is her best fighting tool she will have to keep going as long as possible. So, we chose to address the weight issue, by feeding her cooked whole-dinners of chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoes, blueberries, salmon, hard-boiled eggs - basically a keto diet - along with a smaller amount of her kibble and added turkey-tail vitamins to her senior vitamins, and are feeding her several times throughout the day in smaller meals. This seems to be working, as she's put weight back on, and the whole-food diet is not just making her feel energized and great, but our younger 8-year old as well! (He can't be left out!) However, in the past few days, we've noticed her slipping on the stairs a bit more, skittering on the back deck, and losing traction in her back end. She has an old groin-muscle injury from agility and resulting stiffness, and I know she's gotten more wide-legged and her gait is off since she's gotten older from it, but I'm wondering if this could be ataxia from metastasizing tumors... other concerning signs new this week is her voice seems to have gone a bit hoarse. :-/ That was the first sign my never-smoked-a-day-in-his-life father-in-law had pancreatic cancer (and died a month later). Xray and sonigram showed her heart and lungs to be clear - just her gut was taking up space so her diaphragm and stomach had limited room... and she's had various sebaceous cysts for years that I've always seen as a sign of impending doom, except some of the newer ones are crusty and sound like the warning-sign ones they tell you about. But, she continues to smile, act like nothing's wrong, happily dominates dog #2, and demands attention now that she suspects we're giving in to her every whim and wish for it for some reason... Putting nausea in symptoms - she rarely throws anything up, but often gets the dry-heaves in the morning, probably due to how everything is sitting pushed in her gut. She's gotten terrible gas though - this started before we changed the diet... the vet wanted to put her on some sort of anti-diarrheal, but I think it just blocked her up and was giving her hemanic(?) encephalitis or something, as she'd look confused and stare at us and was really out of it... that worried us, so we stopped the medication. This was about the time we sat down the the vet and decided we were not going to pursue a medicated route, and going to try to simply make her comfortable and give her body the tools it needs to do its best through holistic means. I guess what I'm hoping to get from here is advice on what signs/symptoms I should be on the lookout for as things get worse if things are metastasizing and tumors are spreading.

Ataxia Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $100 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,200

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