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Dog Health 01.06.2021

Ataxia in dogs - causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Johann by Johann, Johann has been a dog dad since 2018 and a dog fan since 1986.

Ataxia in dogs

Spinal ataxia, or wobble syndrome, is a disease that primarily affects dogs in addition to horses. The term is derived from the English word "to wobble", which is translated as "to wobble" and describes the unrounded gait of the affected animal. Cerebellar ataxia means that normal movement patterns have become disordered. The disease is triggered by damage to nerves in the spinal cord or cervical spine.

The disease affects a variety of dog breeds, but large breeds have been found to be the most affected. Doberman and Great Danehave been found to have the syndrome most often. Large breeds with long necks such as Dalmatians and Rhodesian Ridgebacks have also been found to be more susceptible than average. In addition, it is known that male dogs fall ill twice as often as female dogs.

Determine ataxia in dog shutterstock.com / Ody_Stocker

For ataxia can be very different causes. Very often observed congenital diseases, or malformations of the spine. Chronic disc disease is one of the main causes of the disease, especially in older dogs. As the dog's intervertebral discs degenerate with age and thus change shape, bruising of the spinal cord is common. Long-necked breeds in particular suffer from this, as their physical makeup means that the discs are likely to be overstressed. Neoplasia or abscesses can also cause Wobbler syndrome.

Symptoms and Diagnosis:

You can recognize the disease most clearly by a severely altered movement of the animal. On the one hand, the dog shows a wobbly, swaying gait - comparable to the movements after anesthesia. Often the animal stands wide-legged and keeps its head very low, as lifting the head is associated with severe pain. Standing up is also very difficult for the dog. A clearly increased stride length in the front area can be observed especially with a faster gait. Mostly the symptoms appear very insidiously, which makes it difficult to recognize the disease. Only in about 15 % of the cases the symptoms appear suddenly.

For the diagnosis, the veterinarian has several options. First of all, a neurological examination is performed, by means of which the reactions to various tests are considered and evaluated. Often these turn out to be very delayed.

The obligatory instrument for a reliable diagnosis is the x-ray. It should be noted here that an X-ray is only useful if the animal is optimally placed and a contrast medium is administered. Accordingly, a short anaesthesia is inevitable.

If the findings after the X-ray are still uncertain, the CT or the MRT is available as a further option. The latter is considered the safest method of diagnosis. However, the high costs and the lack of availability of these instruments are a deterrent.

Therapy and prevention of Wobbler syndrome in dogs

Basically, the Wobbler syndrome can be treated well surgically. However, since every surgical intervention is also associated with risks, it makes sense to weigh up whether a conservative therapy is not the better solution. This should be considered especially if the course of the disease is not severe and remains stable, i.e. if there is no worsening of the health condition. In this case, the dog should be consistently sedated. Wild romps, long walks without a leash and climbing stairs must be a thing of the past. Anti-inflammatory painkillers are a helpful option against acute pain.

If you decide in consultation with the vet for an operation, an exact diagnosis is absolutely necessary, because this is decisive for the type of operation. There are two different methods. Decompression is about allowing the spinal cord to escape compression. In stabilisation, the aim is to restrict the mobility of the vertebrae. This can be done by means of inserted metal plates, or by screwing or wiring the articular processes.

It is very difficult to take preventive measures to prevent ataxia. Eating a balanced diet can be helpful. Likewise, you can try to make sure that too wild play and movements with many changes of direction (dummy training, ball play) are avoided. Nevertheless, a lot depends on the breed or the hereditary disposition and therefore cannot be influenced.

Ataxia in dogs causes shutterstock.com / Mary Lynn Strand
Banner: shutterstock.com / Bianca Grueneberg
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