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Why Does my Dog Struggle with Balance? Understanding Dog Ataxia

by Geoff Works |

Do you notice your dog wobbling whenever it tries to stand or walk? Or perhaps your pet has a hard time properly maintaining balance? 

If you notice these symptoms, your dog may have a condition called ataxia. In this blog, we'll take a look at what this condition is and discuss its signs, causes, and treatments available.

What is Ataxia in Dogs?

Ataxia is a degenerative condition that occurs in your dog's nervous system. It causes a loss of proper coordination and balance in your pet's movement, making it difficult for your dog to move properly.

But what are the causes of ataxia in dogs? There are three types of ataxia, and each one has a different cause. The type of ataxia will depend on where the condition occurs in your dog's nervous system.

General Proprioceptive Ataxia

Proprioception describes your dog’s awareness of its body — so if your dog is diagnosed with this condition, it may experience difficulty knowing where its limbs are located.

General Proprioceptive Ataxia is caused by the compression or pressure of the spinal cord tissue, which can be a result of:

  • Trauma
  • Infection in the spine
  • Inflammation in the spinal cord
  • Cysts
  • Tumors

Vestibular Syndrome

Some signs of vestibular disease include loss of balance, falling over, frequent head tilting, and eye jerking movements. 

Vestibular syndrome is caused by abnormal ear or brainstem function, which can result from:

  • Ear infections
  • Trauma or injury 
  • Cancer or tumor in the ears
  • Nerve health decline
  • Inflammation
  • Hyperthyroidism

Cerebellar Ataxia

If your dog has cerebellar ataxia, you might notice the loss of coordination in its hands and legs.

Cerebellar ataxia is caused by damage or injury to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls muscle movement. And it could be the result of:

  • Brain infection
  • Tumor
  • Abnormal formation of your pet's skull
  • Genetics

What Are the Signs of Dog Ataxia?

Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for if you suspect your canine has ataxia:

  • Swaying while walking: Dogs with ataxia find it difficult to walk normally because of an impaired sense of balance.
  • Dragging of feet: Ataxia causes your dog to lose its sense of space. In turn, your pooch could also lose its ability to properly coordinate movement, resulting in your dog dragging its feet. 
  • Tilting of the head: A common symptom of ataxia is constant head tilting, which could indicate the side of the lesion if they’ve been diagnosed with vestibular disease.
  • Difficulty hearing: Dogs with ataxia may have problems with hearing, especially if their ears have been affected by the condition.
  • Wide stances: If your dog has ataxia, you might notice your pet standing with its feet wide apart. A wide stance helps your dog stay upright and avoid tumbles and falls. 
  • Exaggerated limb movements: Dog ataxia can cause your pet to move its limbs exaggeratedly, making them walk like a goose or duck.
  • Loss of appetite: It is common for dogs with ataxia to feel nauseous or show signs of motion sickness. Make sure your dog still receives the proper nutrition, otherwise it could end up malnourished.

The severity of your pet’s balancing issues can vary depending on the type of ataxia. Moreover, the symptoms of the condition may develop gradually or suddenly. So if you suspect your dog has ataxia, take them to the vet ASAP. Early treatment can help your canine recover quickly and prevent the condition from getting worse.

How is Dog Ataxia Diagnosed?

When you take your dog to the vet, provide as much information as you can, such as its medical history, symptoms, and other possible causes of the disease.

Your vet may also make your pet go through tests like a complete blood count, chemical blood profile, urinalysis, ultrasounds, and electrolyte panel. Your dog may go through further imaging such as a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray to determine what areas have been affected by the disease. 

Conducting these tests will help single out the type of ataxia and if your dog has any underlying conditions. Your vet will provide a specific treatment plan after they’ve identified if your dog has an underlying condition. 

How Do You Treat Canine Ataxia?

Sometimes, prescribing medication is enough to treat ataxia. The treatment focuses on addressing the cause behind the neurologic dysfunction. In more severe cases, however, your dog may need to go through surgery. 

Other issues are more complicated. For example, if the ataxia is linked to hereditary causes, there is little to no cure available. But if the condition is linked to tumor and cancer, you may opt for surgery, chemotherapy, or radioactive therapy. 

Dog Ataxia & Proper Home Care

As a pet owner, what can you do to help your dog with ataxia? 

Supportive care is a must. Make sure that your dog’s environment is safe from potential hazards that could aggravate their conditions. After all, the last thing you want is for your wobbly dog to get into an injury. So make it a point to dog-proof your home if your dog is struggling with movement and balance.

Always remember that patience is a virtue. So make sure you lend your dog a helping hand whenever it struggles to play, eat, or walk. If your dog requires meds, make sure your dog is taking them as prescribed. 

To learn more about how you can help treat other conditions or injuries, explore the Lick Sleeve blog.



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