A closer look: Difficulty Walking (Ataxia) in Dogs
The severity and duration of ataxia vary depending on the underlying disease process.
Developmental conditions, such as cerebellar hypoplasia, are present from birth and ataxia is often lifelong. Infectious conditions, such as distemper or rabies, present with ataxia alongside other symptoms. These conditions are often severe, progressive, and normally fatal. Degenerative conditions like intervertebral disc disease are usually sudden in onset but improve slowly with appropriate treatment. Some conditions, such as middle ear infections or minor toxicities, may cause severe symptoms, but are readily treatable when identified early.
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Ataxia is a feature of many underlying conditions, including degenerative, developmental, metabolic, nutritional, inflammatory, and infectious diseases, injuries, vascular causes, and certain toxins and cancers.
Ataxia is a serious symptom which significantly affects quality of life and is sometimes associated with severe underlying disease. Dogs presenting with ataxia require urgent veterinary assessment to identify the underlying condition.
Testing and diagnosis
Investigation of ataxia focuses on identification of the underlying disease process. Diagnostic tools include:
- Physical examination
- Blood work
- Spinal tap
- MRI scan
- CT scan
Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause but may include:
- Supportive care
- Palliative care
Other symptoms sometimes associated with ataxia vary depending on the location of the underlying mechanism.
All forms may include symptoms such as nausea/vomiting, excessive drooling, and confusion about where limbs are.