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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.

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 

Types

 

  • 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
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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

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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.

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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.

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Neurological Disorders (Aging) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Kiko

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Mixed

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
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

Kiko's Owner

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Emma

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Cock-A-Poo

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Still Blind After Cataract Remo

My little cockapoo who is almost 13 had cataract surgery 10 days ago. The surgery was successful. Although her eyes are now completely normal....retinas, corneas, etc. she is still blind. Her ophthalmologist doesn’t know why. He suspects a dementia and feels her brain is not connecting with her eyesight. Is this possible?? And if so, is there any hope it just might take longer? I am so sad, I wanted to give her the chance to see for her remaining years.

Sept. 10, 2018

Emma's Owner

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Sweetie-pie

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Maltese poodle

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15 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Dizziness, Wobbling, Disorientation

My 15 year old maltese/poodle has started stopping and being wobbly on her feet. Over the past week these symptoms have increased and she has stumbled and fallen a few times. She recovers within seconds and will carry on walking. If this is a neurological condition that will eventually end up with her passing away would she be experiencing pain before that time. Our local vet wants to do tests and x rays which are beyond my financial capabilities and if my little dog is going to pass away even with treatment I would rather watch over her all the time and make her as comfortable and happy as possible as long as she is not suffering. Thank you for your help.

Aug. 14, 2018

Sweetie-pie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Without seeing Sweetie-Pie, I'm unfortunately not able to comment on whether her condition might be neurologic or musculoskeletal, and I suspect that is why your veterinarian wants to take x-rays. If you are not able to have those tests done, it is okay to tell your veterinarian that, and see if they think that she is in pain or is suffering. They may be able to suggest possible treatments for her so that she is comfortable.

Aug. 14, 2018

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Samra

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Belgian Shepherd

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11 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Respiratory & Neurological

We are currently facing a nightmare with our dog Samra and we are hoping that a Vet/veterinary scientist might be intrigued by the case and try to help us. Here is the summary of our 11-year old Grey Tervuren; Belgian shepherd). In mid-April, she had her first seizure followed by a second seizure three weeks later. At that point, we conducted every possible test including blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound of the abdominal area, and MRI. No cancer was found so it was ruled an idiopathic seizure. She was put on phenobarbital after her second seizure. At first, she had the usual symptoms associated with this anti-convulsive namely ataxia, some lethargy, etc. But after a few weeks, she was back to her normal self, playful and puppy-like. Approximately three weeks ago, I started noticing what appeared to be a relapse in her symptoms. Her back legs would give out at times and she even fell the full set of stairs on one occasion. She was a lot more lethargic but that was easily explained by the fact that we've been experiencing a very heavy heatwave in Montreal. On July 22 we left for a six-day trip to Boston. Upon our return on July 28, I could not believe my eyes. Samra looked very different. She had "crazy eyes" (very wide-eyed empty stare) and she started exhibiting respiratory problems. Over the next few days we took her to the hospital on countless occasions and finally admitted her to the hospital this past Thursday. EVERY conceivable test was conducted on her including: 1) All of the blood work did not reveal anything 2) We conducted a new abdominal ultrasound and it yielded nothing 3) We took two X-rays separated by a few days. There was an "opaque fuzziness" that increased across the two X-rays suggesting that the ailment was progressing but there was no definitive cancer diagnosis (or any other diagnosis) 4) We had a CAT scan of the chest done and it did not reveal any definitive cause. There were some apparent nodules but again it could easily appear as though it is a form of inflammation (i.e., no definitive cancer). 5) We agreed to have a spinal tap done on her => Again, there appears to be some inflammation but otherwise no apparent cancer cells etc. 6) We had a bronchial lavage => no cancer but possible inflammation 7) Lung aspiration => no cancer but possible inflammation We have now agreed to have a test for blastomycosis, a test for heart worms (although we always give her the pills), and a test for a new battery of viruses. Bottom line: She has some neurological symptoms as well as some respiratory disease (which seems to be improving due to antibiotics) but after spending an ENORMOUS amount of money, we have no cause and no clear course of action. We have two oncologists, a neurologist, critical care specialists and internists working on her case and they are utterly baffled. Her current condition is stable although neurologically she remains a bit weak (wobbly on her feet and somewhat confused). Any thoughts? Thank you.

Aug. 6, 2018

Samra's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I'm so sorry that you are having these issues with Samra, that is very frustrating. Without knowing more about medications that she may have been on or being able to see the results of the tests or see her, it is difficult for me to add anything beyond what the team of veterinarians have found, but you do seem to have an impressive team working on her case. There are other anti-seizure medications that she might benefit from if any of this is at all related to Phenobarbitol, which is unlikely but possible.

Aug. 6, 2018

Hi Dr. King, Thank you for the response. The only medicine that Samra was on is the phenobarbital. Since this past Friday, she has been placed on antibiotics. Her breathing seems to have improved but her neurological symptoms have not (very wobbly and unstable on her legs). Two days ago, my wife (from whose Facebook account I have signed to this forum) noticed a lump on Samra's left back paw. The vets are now analyzing it (cytology). Can you think of any diagnoses that attack the lungs and the brain other than cancer (which we've not been able to find in our beauty)? Thank you.

Aug. 7, 2018

Samra's Owner

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Monie

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Rat Terrier

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Ten Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Blindness

I have a 10 year old, diabetic, hypothyroid, spayed Rat Terrier mix who had successful cataract surgery approximately 14 months ago. She began losing her vision again 3 months ago. She is under constant Ophthalmological care, as well as our regular veterinarian (diabetes and thyroid are stable). She is scheduled for an MRI in late August (this was the soonest appointment available) to look for any neurological disorders causing her blindness. She has no other symptoms, is active and social. Obviously cancer is a possibility, but what other conditions could be the cause (all of her bloodwork is normal)? Also, can you tell me what I need to be watching for between now and her MRI appointment? Thank you so much.

July 9, 2018

Monie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

I’m sure your Ophthalmologist has rule out the usual causes associated with diabetes, increased blood pressure, glaucoma and other similar issues; with the MRI we would be looking for tumours or abnormalities which may indicate a possible loss of vision. In the meantime you should look for changes in behaviour, gait and general well being; if you have concerns about any new symptom visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 10, 2018

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Summer

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Siberian Husky

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Rear Gait
Loss Of Balance
Seizure
Frothing At The Mouth

My 13 year old Husky had a funny turn last night. She was laid in the kitchen as she normally does after her evening walk, I heard a noise so went to investigate. At first it sounded like she was attacking something, she was snarling. I went further into the kitchen to turn the light on and she was on the floor, limbs going as if she was running, her body tense, teeth bared, ears up and frothing at the mouth. It was her first seizure, never been so scared in my life. Took her to the vet who ran bloods, was told apart from abnormally high potassium levels everything else looks normal. Vet was happy that she seemed more alert then what she did when she came in so sent us home with diazepam incase another seizure occurs. Thankfully she’s not had one, but vet said it could be brain tumour or brain trauma. For the past few months she barks at nothing and the vet back then said it could be dementia. During the night she loses control of her bowels and ends up going in the house. She’s also very unsteady on her walks, she walks fine for a few steps then trots then goes back to walking. This morning when she woke up she was wobbly and looking around the house as if she doesn’t recognise the place, even went to hide under a small table.

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Yoda

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Shih Tzu

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14 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Barking, Night Wandering Incontinen

My 14.4 year old Yoda had an accident in the house one week ago. I remarked to my daughter that he had just peed in the house. He seemed to know what I was talking about and walked over to her. This was in the evening. When I took him up to bed, he was panting heavily. He couldn't get comfortable and was barking incessantly through the night as well as a muffled growl and what we call "talking. This went on all night. He went from bed to bed doing the same. Saturday we took him to our local vet. He has Cushing's Disease and is treated with Vetoryl. The vet said it was dementia and said we could use Xanax to supress his symptoms and sundowner's syndrome. Yoda did not improve, so that Monday off to the veterinary specialists were he was examined by a Emergency Physician, and a Neurologist. A CT or MRI is not possible financially. They dismissed the diagnosis of dementia and said that they thought he had had a stroke. They put him on Trazadone to help calm him and put him to sleep in the evenings. This did absolutely nothing. He walked the floors and barked incessantly on Wednesday night. Back to the specialists on Thursday and repeat labs were done. Slightly off because of Cushing's they said and his BUN went up a tad. New dose of predisone and a med to protect his stomach. We stopped the Trazadone completely and he behaved normally with a bit of jaunt in his step and greeted me. Then at night it was the same thing. Barking, barking, barking and a pee in the hallway. Local vet called this morning to follow up. He still thinks that its dementia and told me that dogs don't really have strokes. I know he is old but I am not ready to let go.

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Lucy

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Beagle mix

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7 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

Pain
Whimpering
Pain When Lifted
Pacing
Broken Claw (Possible)

I came home last week and Lucy greeted me as usual at the door. I was slightly distracted so I don’t know exactly what happened but she suddenly yelped in pain and dropped to the floor like she was frightened of me. Examined her thoroughly and felt like it was a broken claw. There was no bleeding but she slightly lifted one of her front paws and would not jump up or down anywhere. For the next 24 hours she seemed to be uncomfortable, pacing a bit, but constantly wagging her tail. She has since continued to experience moments where she is fine and then yelps in pain. It’s been about a week. She will run, jump up on the couch, jump down off it. Eating is normal as is water intake. She has been going to the bathroom normally, although on two separate occasions she has leaked urine. Both times occurred when I was putting her on the bed and needed to lift her up. It seems to be random when she will start to yelp. At times it happens when we have touched her paw or leg. Other times are when we have touched her back. When this happens she whimpers and crawls around, panting. She will then pace around and refuse to settle but will still exhibit signs of being “happy”. In a manner of minutes she is back to running around and wagging her tail. We are taking her to the vet the day after tomorrow but I’m concerned this is more than just pain from a broken claw. It’s heartbreaking to see my normally very joyful and happy-go-lucky dog in such distress and it’s frustrating not being able to pinpoint exactly where the issue could be. We also would have taken her to the vet sooner but wanted to give the claw time to heal. But now we aren’t certain what the problem is.

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Butters

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hound mix

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11 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy, Hacking Cough, Balance

Butters is a 11yo hound mix. started having episodes in recent months when she would be extremely lethargic, wouldn't eat or drink. Lasted about 48 hours and then would be perfectly normal again. Reoccurred about 2 to 3 weeks apart. went to vet and had check up, negative for 4 tick borne disease, received Lepto and Lyme vaccine. Next day she again very lethargic and started having trouble with balance. Back to vet, blood work normal except elevated white blood cell count. Each episode is worse and lasts longer, balance issues, looks confused some times. Sometimes has a hacking cough . Frequently vomits after eating. Tried Doxcycline but it upset her stomach

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Esme

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Boston Terrier

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15 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Incontinence
Off Balance
Pacing
Staring
Sleep Pattern Off

Our dog Esme is 15 now, but she has been on a low dose steroid for a disc problem in her back for a few years now. She also has cataracts and can only maybe see shadows at this point. Her hearing has declined to a point where she can hear if you yell loudly, but cannot determine where the noise is coming from. She sometimes just stands and seems to "stare" off at nothing for long amounts of time. She also gets off balance and slips sometimes when walking, which we attributed to her disc problem. I sometimes hear her walking around at night, although she will walk around to see if anyone is home after she wakes up sometimes. She sleeps a lot and we give her lots of treats (she always is looking for treats :)) but her activity level is basically not there. We take her for walks but most of the time its just to do a quick pee and then she's ready to go back in again. She doesn't seem like she's in any pain, but I wasn't sure if there was more I could do for her to make her happy or more comfortable.