What are Nerve and Muscle Disorders?
The canine’s nervous system, as the human nervous system, is made up of the brain and spinal cord and the nerves and muscles. The latter, or the neuromuscular system, is made up of nerves that control the movements (by way of messages to the brain) to the muscles. The brain is the control center of all of the muscle activity, but it cannot work without the specific nerves to communicate. Walking, running, chewing, and any other movements that are voluntary are only able to work because of the signals from the brain to the spinal cord, and to the peripheral nerve that controls the muscles.
When the neuromuscular system is not working properly, the muscles become weakened and the dog can suffer from muscle atrophy. Degenerative disorders of the muscles can be temporary and sudden while others are more chronic and progressive. In mild cases, dogs are affected inconsistently and can still have a good quality of life. In severe cases, paralysis can occur and the dog would need much assistance and loving care.
Nerve and muscle disorders in dogs, or neuromuscular disorders, are disorders that are characterized by abnormalities in the nervous system and the relation to the controlled muscle movements in dogs.
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Symptoms of Nerve and Muscle Disorders in Dogs
Nerve and muscle disorders of dogs present a variety of obvious symptoms that warrant the attention of a medical professional. There are several different neuromuscular disorders and many of them do have very similar symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Weakness of muscles
- Muscle degeneration
- Difficulty or inability to stand, walk, run, or rise from a resting position
- Difficulty swallowing
- Depression or sadness
There are many types of diseases that can have an adverse effect on the nerves and muscles in dogs. The diseases are generally divided into three categories since there is such a large amount. Many of the nerve and muscle diseases are also breed-specific, and many of them are hereditary. The categories of neuromuscular diseases are:
- Diseases of the peripheral nerves
- Diseases of the neuromuscular junction
- Diseases of the muscles
Causes of Nerve and Muscle Disorders in Dogs
There are several causes for nerve and muscle disorders. Causes can include:
- Disease of the nerves
- Neuromuscular junction disease
- Infectious diseases
- Nerve inflammation
Diagnosis of Nerve and Muscle Disorders in Dogs
If your dog is showing signs of neuromuscular disease, it is imperative to take him to the veterinarian. The medical professional will do a thorough exam, including blood work, imaging of the frontal chest and abdomen, an ultrasound of the abdomen. There will possibly be a blood test to look for any antibodies to check for any disorder that affects the nerve and muscle junction.
Other tests may be given to allow the veterinarian to come to diagnose a specific neurological disorder, such as a Tensilon test, a spinal tap, and possibly a biopsy of the nerves and muscles, and other tests to determine a degenerative disorder or inflammation of nerves or muscles.
An electromyogram is another test that can be done by delivering electrical stimulation towards a specific nerve or muscle. The dog is put under anesthesia for this test, and the veterinarian will check for muscle response to the nerve stimulation.
Treatment of Nerve and Muscle Disorders in Dogs
Before any method of treatment can be determined, the veterinarian will need to determine the specific cause of the neuromuscular disorder. Many of these disorders can be quite severe and have different modes of treatment. For example, in the case of a spinal cord disorder, surgery may be the appropriate course of action. A dog who is suffering from myasthenia will be given medication to renew muscle strength. Polymyositis, the most common muscle disease seen in canines, will need therapy in the form of corticosteroids. Removal of toxins, if possible, will be the treatment for toxic neuropathy. As the range of disorders of the nerves and muscles is very extensive, discussion in great length with your veterinarian may be expected.
Recovery of Nerve and Muscle Disorders in Dogs
The primary cause of neuromuscular disorders in dogs can vary greatly, as well as the severity. Many of the neuromuscular disorders in dogs are treatable and the prognosis is anywhere from fair to good with a great deal of supportive care and therapy. Unfortunately, some of the neuromuscular disorders have a prognosis of poor, such as those caused by cancerous tumors, myopathy, or inherited neuropathy.
It is important to understand that some of these diseases are degenerative, and the dog may live a good quality of life for some time before his health deteriorates. Becoming educated and proactive in the disease is the key to giving your dog a good quality of life. Learning about possible alternative treatments, such as holistic care and acupuncture therapy, may keep you positive about your loved one’s prognosis.
Nerve and Muscle Disorders Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog is a Maltese/Pomeranian. He injured his front right leg and has had some limp since 1. A vet said he also has luxating patella in his legs. He seems to have developed a muscular issue since his hind legs can't stop shaking when he eats, it is such a strain. His muscles seem weak, he doesn't like to walk far, and he has recently injured his front right leg just from chasing his toy, he literally can't walk on that leg. He's been to the vet and they say it's muscular. Could he have a neuromuscular disease -I believe it's something more than just an injured muscle.
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My dog started becoming very weak and isolated about 5 days ago and then started being unable to walk on his paw or get up he’s also very depressed crying frequently when I’m out of sight and apathetic. In addition his gas is foul smelling and his personality is very different from normal
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I have a almost 13 year old GS who has bee suffering from progressive arthritis and it was not until recently that the Vet said it was some type of myelomyopathy? In reading this webpage, I became aware of the possible blood and other tests available to confirm this diagnosis; and I am a bit upset that this Vet. did not discussed this with us. My question, what type of vet would you suggest I take my dog? Two different vets have told us that my dog is just "old and senile" and thus the progressive weakness, stiffness of his hind leg. I would like to have a true diagnosis for my 13 year old fur boy. thank you
German Shepherds are known for having problems with their back legs due to hip dysplasia and spinal problems; most likely the weakness in Max’s hind limbs would be attributable to some spinal problem due to his breed, an x-ray (with or without contrast - myelography) would tell you more. For more information I’ve placed a link to our page on Degenerative Myelopathy which is this common disorder in German Shepherds which gives more information about the condition along with diagnosis and management of the condition. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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