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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.

The symptoms of ataxia can be expensive to treat. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs.

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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

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Gigi

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Pug

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11 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

My dog's leg is buckling out from under her and then folding up and going stiff. We have been to our vet as recently as yesterday. Her X-rays show very bad arthritis in her back. We were treating with hydra therapy and acupuncture before her leg started to collapse under her weight. She is now on a muscle relaxant and pain killer, and Rimadyl 25mg and Methocarbamol 500mg. She is on a week of bed rest in a pen. I carry her outside for potty breaks. IS there anything else we can be doing? She is otherwise very healthy.

May 30, 2018

Gigi's Owner

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0 Recommendations

At this stage it is really a case of waiting it out to see if there is any improvement with rest, rest is best many times. Without examining Gigi and looking at x-ray I cannot really weigh in with any other alternatives; you should continue with the hydrotherapy and acupuncture and monitor for improvement. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 31, 2018

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Lily

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Malchi

dog-age-icon

Nine Years

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

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Balance

My dog Lily is around 9 years old. She has always been a pretty energetic dog but she has also always had minor weakness in her hind legs which was never too much of an issue. However, for the past week or so she appears to be dragging her legs. I can't really tell if she is dragging her front or her back legs because it's only a slight drag, but she still walks and runs cautiously. She also seems to be a bit confused because she has been digging excessively to the point where she pants quite a bit. Additionally, she appears to have a slight lack of coordination and balance/ when she sits she slides into a laying down position. I have taken her to the vet twice but each time she goes it is like she's perfectly fine- she doesn't show her symptoms! Yet, when she's home she still displays them. She has no loss of appetite and eats very well. She also still goes for daily walks which she enjoys and she responds to stimuli pretty normally, besides bumping into stuff at times (maybe this is because she is relying on her surroundings to support her and kee her up?) She breathes a bit heavily at time or more rather she will make a low grunting noise when she's resting. I just am confused about the few symptoms she has and what I should investigate into seeing if she needs anything.

May 24, 2018

Lily's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It is difficult to say what may be causing these symptoms especially if your Veterinarian hasn’t found anything on two physical examinations; you should try to record the episodes or symptoms that present whilst you’re at home as conditions like this may be difficult to diagnose if a proper examination cannot be made. You should bear in mind that there may be something in the home which is causing these symptoms like a gas fire or something else so when she leaves the house into fresh air she is fine (just a thought as I saw something similar as a student). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 25, 2018

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Ataxia Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,200

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