Canine episodic ataxia involves recurrent episodes of impaired voluntary muscle control. A dog experiencing an ataxic episode may move unsteadily, shake, misplace her feet or suffer sudden collapse or coma. Ataxia may be the result of previous seizures or a reaction to seizure medication, or caused by illness, infection or a number of other possible causes.
Ataxic episodes sometimes result from seizure medications like phenobarbital and potassium bromide. An episode caused by seizure medication appears shortly after the dog first starts to take the medication or shortly after an increase in dosage. Symptoms that show up after the dog has already been on the medication for days or weeks are likely not related to the medicine. Ataxic symptoms related to a new medication or an increase in dosage will usually subside as the dog’s body adjusts, but still need to be discussed with a vet. Ataxia can also be an aftereffect of the isometric stress that occurs to a dog’s muscles during a seizure.
In addition to seizures and seizure medications, ataxia can result from infection, dehydration and physical trauma, among other causes. Ataxia may be broken down into three types: sensory, vestibulocochlear and cerebellar. Episodes of sensory ataxia involve compression of the spinal cord. A dog experiencing sensory ataxia may misplace his feet and stagger when walking, becoming increasingly weak over time. Vestibulocochlear ataxia affects the nerve that regulates balance. If this nerve is damaged, a dog’s neck or head may hang unnaturally. Vestibulocochlear ataxic episodes can involve hearing problems, strange eye movements, weak legs, sudden collapse and coma. Cerebellar ataxia occurs when the cerebellum stops functioning properly. The condition manifests as a general lack of coordination, overly large steps and shaking spells.
Exercise can help with seizure-related ataxia. It’s also important to consider outside dangers to dogs who suffer ataxic episodes, especially older dogs. They run the risk of slipping and sliding on smooth floors, which can lead to injured muscles and broken bones. Simple precautions like placing rugs over slippery areas can effectively prevent serious injuries.
While it’s a good idea to take note of your dog’s symptoms and consider what may be causing her ataxia, as well as to take precautions like adding extra rugs on slick floors, you should always call your vet right away if your dog shows signs of an ataxic episode, including unnatural muscle movements, sensory problems and sudden weakness. Only a vet can properly diagnose ataxia. Ignoring ataxic episodes could endanger your dog’s life, so it’s important to take symptoms seriously and seek advice from an expert as soon as possible.
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