Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs

Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Neurological Disorders (Aging)?

Due to leading advancements in diagnosing and treatments that are now available, there are now many options available to families with an aging dog. As your dog ages, it is more important than ever to be observant for any changes in behavior, and balance loss or incoordination that may be passed over as just ‘old age’.

It could be the start of a disease that could easily be treated in its early stages. While these disorders can be devastating to owners and frustrating to deal with, the sooner you seek veterinarian help the better off your dog will be.

As your dog ages, risks of developing neurological disorders such as strokes, brain tumors and neurodegenerative disorders increases and that may compromise their quality of life.

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Symptoms of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs

  • Changes in the activity level
  • Reluctance to venture out or join in any high energy activity 
  • Changes in their sleep pattern
  • Wandering around during the night 
  • Spinal pain
  • Limb weakness
  • Lack of coordination 
  • Unexplained changes to their normal temperament 
  • Balance problems such as wobbling and unsteady gait  
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence that may result in house soiling 
  • Vision loss or impairment 
  • Convulsive seizures 
  • Disorientation 
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety 


  • As your dog ages, dementia and other symptoms as listed above are surprisingly common but most owners put it down as the aging process whereas these conditions signal the signs of developing neurological disease 
  • Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a neurodegenerative disease/condition in older dogs which results in reduced cerebral blood flow to the brain and an accumulation of free radicals in that area
  • Neurological diseases are mistakenly attributed to your dog becoming older and are ignored whereas many great advances in veterinary medication demonstrate that with early treatment your dog can live a full healthy life as it ages

Causes of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs

As your dog ages, he may suffer some changes in the way his brain works.

  • Brain atrophy - Changes in the weight and size of the brain area and reduced number of brain cells causes a gradual loss of brain function causing notable ‘old age’ symptoms 
  • Increased beta amyloid plaques - This is a protein that accumulates in the brain and damages the cells, inhibiting the normal functioning of the brain
  • Several micro sized hemorrhages (bleeding) may occur, or blood flow can be disrupted both which compromise the blood flow and oxygen needed for a healthy brain 
  • Changes to the neurotransmitter levels - High levels of Monoamine Oxidase B (MAOB) results in a lowering of dopamine levels; dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter in the brain

Diagnosis of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs

Neurologists in the field of veterinary medicine have made great advances in knowledge, with specialised training in the diagnosis and treatment areas. Your dog may be referred to a specialist who will work with your local veterinarian to diagnose and treat your pet. Any information you can provide your specialist with will help with diagnosis. Details, like noting any unusual behavior and when it began, or even a video of your dog when it is acting differently will be of an immense help. Remember it is never normal for an older pet to show signs of neurological dysfunction; the more observant you are the more relevant information you will be able to provide to your pet specialist. 

After a discussion with them your specialist will perform a complete neurological exam which will include X-rays, MRI, and CT scan as well special blood tests to assist with diagnosis. Samples of your companion’s spinal fluid may also be taken. While it can be upsetting to see your old friend’s health deteriorate, the good news is that there is usually something that can be done to alleviate the condition, and the earlier you notice your dog changing, the easier and more effective it is to provide treatment.

Treatment of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs

Nutrition and personal attention are ways that you can manage your dog’s cognitive decline. A diet rich in antioxidants and fatty acids can help fight the free radicals that are attacking your dog’s brain and it has been proven through several studies that older dogs respond and can improve in just a few weeks. Your pet specialist will be able to advise of dietary changes needed or whether supplements may help. Keeping your dog’s brain active is important. A home that is rich in play, companionship and active learning is the best prevention. Hiding your dog’s treats in special places or in a dog treat puzzle toy is a good start to exercising the brain. 

Treatment depends on the extent of your dog’s condition; some things we can control, others can be slowed in their progression, and others can be managed, which will make your companion feel better. Training exercises will help strengthen an older dog’s limbs and body to avoid injury. The spinoff is that the extra activity also fires up the brain and will improve your dog’s appetite, mood and sleeping patterns. Medication may be necessary when treating cognitive dysfunction to help prolong the dopamine activity in the brain. While surgery may be required for serious conditions such as cancerous tumors in the brain, or intervertebral disk disease in the spine, most conditions can be managed with supportive care, medication and a change in diet and preferably early intervention.

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Recovery of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs

Ideally from the moment you get your dog right through to the aging of your pet, prevention through diet, exercise and a happy environment will be practiced. The observant owner can notice the early onset of any health problem, even though dogs are clever and keep their pain to themselves. While you don’t want to be going to the veterinary clinic every time your dog sneezes, common sense will dictate when it is necessary to do so.

Early intervention will prevent disease from settling in to your dog’s system and taking over. It is far easier to treat a condition before it becomes rampant, it is also cheaper, and it is kinder on your dog. Home care for the older dog, including the correct diet combined with enjoyable activity and care management of medication and treatment, will see a spring in your pet’s step as he enjoys his later years.

Neurological Disorders (Aging) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals





12 years 11 months


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Without any scans my vet has diagnosed Bailey’s sudden lunges to be neurological, due to his age they have prescribed the above meds and informed me this is his final hope.. Bailey has always been a placid boy so the lunging is totally out of character!

Sept. 25, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Since I cannot examine Bailey, it is difficult for me to comment on his behavior, and I hope that the medications helped. If not, it may be best to seek a second opinion before making any final decisions.

Oct. 21, 2020

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13 Years


5 found this helpful


5 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Weakness Sudden Vision Loss
Kiko an almost thirteen years old, very mixed breed thirty-five to 40 pound rescue dog. He has been very healthy up until recently when he developed an arthritic knee. Our vet prescribed gabapenten and a doggy version of ibuprofen. The meds seemed to be working. Last week he took a turn for the worse, unable to walk without severe wobbling and limping. His eyesight suddenly got much worse (he already had some clouding in the lenses) and he was bumping into everything! And now, less than a week later he needs assistance getting to his water bowl, and going outside to do his business. His appetite has decreased considerably in the space of a week. I did coax him to eat a bit of wet cat food and dry cat food. He's not interested in his food. His rear legs can no longer support him and his front paws "knuckle". He shudders when he sleeps. He's more or less alert, turns to face me when I call his name and reacted to some very loud thunder and the sound of hail hitting the roof. He's going to the vet in the morning. I think his situation is grim.

Sept. 16, 2018

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