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Canine Neural Diseases: Warning Signs & Treatment

Canine neurological conditions do not discriminate, and affect dogs of all breeds and ages. Neural issues can develop at any time, and symptoms can begin suddenly. The underlying causes can vary by condition, luckily, many neural conditions can be treated effectively, and the symptoms managed.

Critical Warning Signs of Neural Disease in Dogs

four wheel quad dog wheelchair

The warning signs for a neurological condition can vary, but it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your dog’s behavior. Different symptoms may indicate pain or let you know that your dog needs help. Neural symptoms include:

  • Neck or back pain
  • Balance issues or difficulty standing
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Mobility issues or paralysis (usually in the hind legs)
  • Phantom scratching
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Paw knuckling or dragging

If your pet exhibits any of these warning signs, immediately contact your Veterinarian. Even if they occur sporadically, they can be a sign of an underlying neurological condition, and your pet should be evaluated.

Common Neural Diseases Affecting Dogs

Although there are many neural conditions that occur in dogs, here are some of the most common:

Epilepsy: Canine epilepsy is often characterized by involuntary convulsions and loss of consciousness. The severity and frequency of seizures can vary from case to case. Epilepsy is often hereditary, although it can occur for any number of reasons. In many cases, seizures can be managed with proper medication.

Most commonly occurring in breeds such as German Shepherds, Beagles, Keeshonds, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

Degenerative Myelopathy: Commonly referred to as DM. Degenerative Myelopathy is a slowly progressive neurological condition. DM affects the lower spinal cord, which often results in weakness, loss of balance, dragging feet, and eventual paralysis. Dogs with DM will need to use a wheelchair at some point.

DM is most common in German Shepherds, but it occurs in other breeds as well. Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boxers, Corgi, and Pugs are just a few that are affected. Although there is no cure for DM, it can be eradicated with responsible breeding and DNA testing.

Wobbler Syndrome: Also known as, Cervical Spondylomyelopathy or CSM. Wobblers most commonly affect the cervical spine and neck of large breed dogs. Dogs with Wobbler Disease show signs of unsteady gait in both front and back legs. Their steps usually appear uncoordinated, swaying, and ‘wobbly.’ Wobblers most commonly occur in Great Danes and Dobermans.

Young puppy with Wobbler’s walks with help from his Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair

Parkinson’s Disease: Similar to its effects in humans, canine Parkinson’s is characterized by involuntary leg tremors, fidgety movements, and difficulty moving. It can lead to a decrease in muscle and joint movement. Proper medication can lessen symptoms and slow down the progression, but there is no cure.

Acquired Canine Neurological Diseases

Veterinary Wheelchair Fitting

Is it possible for your dog to contract a neural disorder? Although rare, your dog can become infected with a disease that attacks their neural function. Luckily, many of the diseases that attack a dog’s neural function and mobility are treatable. And, in some cases, completely preventable.

Tick Paralysis: a rare but serious condition spread via neurotoxins produced in the saliva of female ticks. The neurotoxin enters a pet’s bloodstream, which can lead to paralysis and possible respiratory arrest. If your dog is experiencing this, see medical help immediately. And check your dog thoroughly for ticks. Typically damage is reversed by removing the tick. Most pets will be able to move within hours of tick removal.

Preventing tick-borne disease is your best option to keep your pet safe. Medications and treatments are available to protect your pet against ticks and the diseases they carry.

Distemper: a viral infection that can cause inflammation and degeneration in the spinal cord and brain cells. Distemper symptoms can suddenly or progressively worsen over time. Physical signs of distemper can include twitching, seizures, and loss of motor control. Proper vaccination can successfully prevent you pet from getting distemper.

Rabies: a viral infection that affects the central nervous system and causes spinal cord infection. Rabies can be dangerous and passed on to humans. Luckily, rabies is treatable and preventable. Left untreated, however, can lead to partial or total paralysis and spinal pain.

To keep your pet in good health, make sure that you schedule your dog’s annual checkup and stay up to on all vaccinations.

Caring for a Dog with a Neurological Condition

Your dog’s treatment plan will depend on the neural disease and the severity of their symptoms.

1. Visit Your Veterinarian

Veterinarian Checkup

When your dog exhibits any of the warning signs or symptoms of neural disease, speak with your Veterinarian immediately.

Early diagnosis and early treatment mean your dog gets help faster. A quick diagnosis can help to slow down the disease’s progression.

2. Research and Advocate for Your Pet

The Veterinary medical field is rapidly changing, and sometimes too fast for Vets to keep up. So, be proactive and start researching! Get online and learn everything you can about your dog’s condition so you can advocate for your pet and make sure they get the best care possible. Come prepared to your appointment and be prepared to ask your Vet questions.

3. See a Specialist

Ask your Veterinarian about additional treatment options and if your pet would benefit from working with a specialist. There are Veterinary Neurologists who specialize in this field and may be able to do more for your pet than your regular Vet.

Many dogs battling a neural condition make great strides with physical therapy. Although rehab therapy may not stop their mobility loss, a therapist can help them build up strength and work on balance issues. Hydrotherapy, daily exercises, acupuncture, and laser therapy are just a few of the options available.

4. Improve Your Dog’s Quality of Life

Small dog recovers from neural condition with wheelchair

Your Vet will help you decide on the proper course of treatment for your dog, but there are mobility solutions available to help make improve their day-to-day life. Lifting harnesses, dog wheelchairs, back braces, and no-knuckling tools are just a few of the options available. If your dog has been given the green light to move around and live an active life, make sure they are getting the support they need.

Every dog and condition is different. To determine the best treatment plan for your dog, work with your pet care professional. Although the diagnosis can be scary, there are resources available to help. And with your guidance and support, your dog can live a long and happy life.

Did we answer all your questions on "Neural Diseases"?


  1. My dog has Mass cellar cancer which Benadryl and Prednisone should keep symptoms at Bay but she’s going to have to have either a partial toe or once they get in the y maybe entire toe taken off next week. While under they’re doing a full exam I’m hoping they won’t have to take leg but if they do I’m going to try and scrounge up the money to do so and find out about recovery for hey. See I’m totally disabled on fixed income and can’t find vet to do probono but being disabled I rarely get out of my home with my spinabifidA, scoliosis and so much more… And she is my best friend and so scared to lose her. Don’t know if tradition or check y or removing leg is best but those options are allot of money. I’m rambling but I’m confused. We built her a ramp so she’s good to go. And opinions? Or know anyone who does probono surgeries or groups that can help me raise the money? You have no idea what she means to me as I was stuck inside so long after a car accident on top of all I told you (accident not my fault). Or like a news or charity company that could bring aware of my situation to help me raise money? Thank you so much I appreciate all your help, it would mean EVERYTHING TO ME AS I’M SO SCARED TO LOSE MY BEST FRIEND.

    • Hi Heidi,

      Give us a call at 888-253-0777, we can help answer any of your questions and help you make the best decision for your pet.

  2. our female golden retriever is a senior and is paw knuckling. we have been giving her phenobarbital for seizers for a little over a year. She was diagnosed with torn ligiments in her back legs about two years ago and no surgery was performed. she now has no appitiite and cannot walk anymore. She pants constantly and we use a towel to support her back end so she can go potty. We have an appointment with the vet next week. Is a wheelchair a choice at this stage?

    • It certainly sounds like your dog is ready for a wheelchair. Dogs who are able to move with the support of a towel are perfect candidates for a dog wheelchair and with your dog still being still so young, a wheelchair could really improve her quality of life. Please call us at 888-253-0777, we would be happy to discuss how a dog wheelchair will benefit your golden retriever.

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