What is Cerebellar Ataxia in Dogs?

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
Does your dog have a problem with coordination? He may not just be clumsy – it could be Cerebellar Ataxia.

Dogs can be goofy at times and certain breeds seem to have trouble controlling their own bodies from time to time. Just think about a Great Dane puppy who hasn’t quite grown into his long legs and giant paws – his awkward gait and clumsiness is endearing, in a way. When problems with gait and coordination are not just a matter of growth and development, however, it may be cause for concern – this is the case with cerebellar ataxia in dogs. Keep reading to learn more.

Related: What is Ataxia in Dogs

What Exactly Is Cerebellar Ataxia?

Cerebellar ataxia is a neurological disorder that affects your dog’s balance and coordination. Though it can cause mild symptoms like awkward gait or swaying, it can also lead to frightening and even dangerous symptoms like falling and tremors. Technically speaking, there are three types of ataxia – here is an overview:

  • Vestibular – Caused by an abnormality in the inner ear or brainstem, this condition leads to loss of balance.
  • Sensory – Also known as proprioceptive ataxia, this version is caused by compression of the spinal cord.
  • Cerebellar – Caused by damage to the cerebellum in the brain, symptoms are often confused with stroke.

The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls your dog’s coordination and movement. When it sustains damage, the results usually include loss of balance or coordination and changes in motor function control – it may also contribute to cognitive impairment. There are a number of different potential causes for cerebellar ataxia including brain tumor, brain infection, or even a genetic predisposition.

Related: Autism in Dogs

Symptoms may include the following:

  • Abnormal gait
  • A broad-based stance
  • Swaying
  • Muscle tremors
  • Head tilt
  • Loss of coordination
  • Falling
  • Changes in cognition
  • Weakness
  • Rapid eye movement

As the condition progresses, you may also notice lethargy or changes in appetite. Some dogs even develop behavioral changes or problems with hearing.

How Is It Diagnosed, Treated, and Managed?

The first step in diagnosing cerebellar ataxia in dogs is to review the dog’s history of symptoms and to perform a thorough examination. Your vet may ask about illness or injury that precipitated the onset of symptoms and he may recommend tests such as a blood chemistry profile, complete blood count, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel – MRI and CT scans may also be beneficial.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for cerebellar ataxia but there are some options for treatment and management of the disease. The treatment for this disease depends on its cause and may involve either medications or surgery. Medications may help to manage symptoms and chemotherapy or radiation may be required when the ataxia is secondary to a brain tumor. In terms of long-term management, close monitoring is important and steps should be taken to ensure the dog’s safety around the house and when he goes for walks, if he is able.

Though the symptoms may be mild at first, they signal a deep underlying issue in your dog’s brain that can get worse if you fail to seek treatment. If your dog suddenly develops a change in gait or loss of motor function control, don’t delay – talk to your vet as soon as possible.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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