Neurological Disorders in Dogs: Understanding The Ordeal

Neurological disorders in dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Humans and dogs share a similar and very complex nervous system. A healthy, functional nervous system is very important in dogs to perform motor and cognitive activities to respond from stimuli to commands that their owners give them. A dog’s nervous system is comprised of the nerves, spinal cord, and the brain.

These massive and complex network controls the motor actions and emotional behavior. Neurological disorders in dogs can be hereditary or caused by an accident that lead to an injury to the nervous system. There are common neurological disorders in dogs, and it is best for pet parents to understand them completely.

Common neurological disorders in dogs


Epilepsy is considered as one of the most well-known neurological conditions in dogs. Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent seizures that can vary in frequency. This dog neurological disorder can be caused by metabolic problems, injury to the head, trauma, or even something idiopathic or not completely known. The treatment for epilepsy focuses on reducing the occurrence and duration of a seizure episode.

Dog epilepsy poster

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions, and the research on improving the lives of affected dogs are on a constant improvement. This enables the quality of life to be better than most neurological and systemic problems.

Hereditary diseases

Several neurological conditions that are the result of inherited or hereditary conditions. Through selective breeding, or even inbreeding, these hereditary diseases are passed on to younger generations. Some hereditary diseases cover the entire dog species, while others are specifically evident in a particular breed.

Dancing Doberman disease

As the name implies, it directly affects Dobermans. The Dancing Doberman Disease causes the muscle on the dog’s legs called gastrocnemius muscle, to extend and flex.

Dancing Doberman disease

This leads to uncontrollable movement and inhibits the ability to stand completely. The Dancing Doberman Disease affects both male and female Dobermans.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This condition is historically associated with the German shepherd. However, degenerative myelopathy is now connected with more than one hundred dog breeds. Degenerative myelopathy is the canine counterpart of ALS, or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” in humans. DM generally manifests weakness in the limbs and having trouble standing up after extended periods of lying down. Affected dogs will eventually lose the ability to control completely their hind limbs, and will begin dragging their hind feet while walking.

In addition, fecal and urinary incontinence is very common in later years. DM presents its symptoms later in the dog’s life. However, the DM is one of the most progressive neurological diseases in dogs. Once the symptoms show up, the affected dog can completely lost its ability to walk in as fast as six months to two years.

Startle disease

Also called hyperekplexia, Startle disease is an inherited neurologic disease that directly affects Irish Wolfhounds. Startle disease can be identified few days after birth because its symptoms appear at an early onset, which is as early as one week. Startle disease got its name due to the startling reflex that the puppies present when they are handled. The limbs become rigid and tremors start with varying strengths and duration.

The symptoms only stop when the puppies are sleeping or in a relaxed state. Puppies can also turn blue when suckling because the respiration stops. Startle disease is a debilitating condition, and most cases are euthanized after several months due to the poor quality of life.

Scottie cramp

Similar to the Dancing Doberman Disease, this disease also affects the dog’s legs. A neurological condition that only affects Scottish Terriers, it is believed that a recessive gene carries the condition.

Scottish Terrier with scottie cramp

The best way to eliminate Scottie Cramp is proper breeding, and ensuring that the pedigree does not have the condition. Symptoms of the Scottie Cramp include hyperflexion and hyperextension of the legs, as well as frequent leg spasms.

Acquired neural diseases

These illnesses greatly affect the dog’s neurological system, and involve being caught or acquired from other animals or dogs. This can also be from a particular exposure that leads to neurologic damage.

Tick paralysis

Ticks are some of the most common parasites, and they can be very problematic. Female ticks have the ability to transmit microorganisms and toxins whenever they bite, and can cause breathing difficulties and paralysis.

Tick paralysis in dogs

The manifestation of the symptoms is not immediate, as it may show up after several days after the initial bite. Removal of the tick can reduce the progression or course of action of the illness. However, some more serious cases will require hospitalization.


A highly contagious illness, distemper attacks the skin calls and the brain cells of the affected dog. This virus is highly contagious, and attacks the brain cells and skin cells of dogs. Distemper is more common in puppies and young adults. The symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and recurrent seizures. The best weapon to prevent distemper is vaccination. Distemper has a high fatality rate.

Neural diseases

There are several dog neurological disorders that may not be directly associated with heredity, but are closely connected with certain dog breeds.

White dog shaker syndrome

The White Dog Shaker Syndrome is not confined with dogs that have white coat. However, the name was coined due to the fact that a large percentage of the affected population does have white or light-colored coat. It is not completely known what causes the White Dog Shaker Syndrome, which manifests as episodic trembling and shaking for no reason.

White dog shaker syndrome

Veterinarians prescribe corticosteroids to treat affected dogs once the cause has been confirmed to be neurologic in nature. Otherwise, supportive treatment options can be discussed by the veterinarian to help relieve the symptoms.

Cauda Equina syndrome

The Cauda Equina Syndrome, or Lumbosacral stenosis, is an arthritic condition that usually affects the hind legs of the dog. Cauda Equina Syndrome is a very painful illness, which radiates especially when lying down. The symptoms of this syndrome also aggravates activities of daily living, which can lead to difficulty of defecating or urinating. Due to the similarity in manifestation, it is commonly confused with hip dysplasia.

However, Cauda Equina Syndrome happens when a dog’s spinal column narrows down and inhibit functionality. German Shepherds, Greyhounds, and other large breed dogs are more commonly affected with the Cauda Equina Syndrome. Supportive treatment can be provided to help alleviate the symptoms and appraise quality of life.


Rabies can be contracted from the bites of other animals that is affected by the disease. It is one of the most common viruses that attacks the nervous system. Dogs that are showing signs of the disease, or even those that are just suspected to have rabies must be quarantined to ensure dog and pet parent safety. Vaccination is the most important preventive measure for rabies.

Other neurological diseases in dogs

Aside from the classifications of the possible neurologic illnesses that a dog can contract, here are other common neurological conditions and diseases that can occur in dogs.

Facial nerve paralysis

Facial Nerve Paralysis affects the muscles on the dog’s face, causing asymmetry and drooping facial features. The paralysis can be a symptom from another underlying illness, or can be due to trauma, or something that is not completely known. Facial nerve paralysis usually resolves on its own, and can vary from weeks to several months.

However, in cases that the paralysis is not improving, it may require further intervention from the veterinarian. The condition has no standard treatment protocol, and supportive treatment is given to severe cases, or cases that involve discomfort.

Wobbler disease

Wobbler disease affects the dog’s cervical spine. This can be identified when the dog wobbles when walking. A combination of supportive and surgical intervention can help the condition.

Wobbler disease

It is also important that the pet parent is well-informed of the situation, and the severity of the condition has been explained in great detail after further testing.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease affects humans and dogs as well. Manifested by difficulty in walking and recurring tremors, Parkinson’s disease is incurable and symptoms can only be alleviated with the help of supportive treatment. There are several treatment options to somehow reduce the symptoms such as reducing the frequency of tremors. In humans, Parkinson’s disease manifests as the age progresses. This is not the case in dogs, wherein the disease can appear at a much younger age.

Intervertebral disc disease

Intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD, is an illness in which a disc develops a problem and the material inside escapes into the spinal column, which leads to severe pain, paralysis, and nerve damage. IVDD is a condition more often seen in dogs than cats. IVDD has two types – Hansen Type I, which involves explosive disc herniation and is the acute version of the disease, and the Hansen Type II, which is a slower and more gradual progression of the disc protrusion.

IVDD can manifest numerous symptoms that may appear on other similar illnesses as well. These include back pain, dragging of one or two legs, unsteady gait, or having trouble sitting or standing.

Intervertebral disc disease

A combination of medical and surgical intervention can help relieve the symptoms for dogs with IVDD, and the management will directly depend on the severity of the case. The goal of the interventions is to relieve the spinal cord from additional pressure, and to inhibit the progression of other surrounding medical concerns. Dogs with intervertebral disc disease will greatly benefit from therapy and medication management.


While most of the symptoms of the common neurologic disease in dogs share a common pattern, it is very important to properly diagnose the condition. This is very important because despite the fact that the manifestations are similar, the treatment branches out. Supportive treatment may involve medications, therapy, and lifestyle modification, and the prioritization will vary depending on the condition. Once you noticed something peculiar about your dog’s behavior, do not hesitate to have an appointment with the veterinarian.

Neurological diseases, as some are incurable, will benefit from early detection to help slow down the progression of the disease. This inhibits the rapid degeneration of the dog’s system, which greatly affects the quality of life. It is important to understand that as a pet parent, there are indeed conditions that are still in the chase for a cure.


With hundreds of neurological diseases that affect dogs, there are a couple of conditions that you can prevent by a great deal. Canine distemper and rabies are two of the most preventable neurologic illnesses, which are prevented through prompt vaccination. Also, for first time dog owners, be vigilant enough to determine the overall health of the puppy’s pedigree. Most of the neurologic diseases are passed on to generations, that is why it is a very wise decision to cross check with the records to make sure you are getting the best.

Dog breeds chart

Prevention of injury, especially head trauma and injuries that can involve the spine will also inhibit acquired neurological conditions. Proper selection of the dog breed that is compatible with your lifestyle will prevent incompatible activities that can lead to injuries.

Supportive, palliative, and hospice care

Neurologic diseases in dogs, especially those illnesses that manifest later in life, will be such a burden not only for the affected dog, but to its pet parent as well. Due to the degeneration of the quality of life, it will come to a point that each day will be such a chore. Therapies, as well as supportive and palliative care options are available, and can be discussed by the veterinarian for those who would like to have a more organized care management approach.

Dogs can benefit from different supportive and palliative care methods that can be customized depending on their daily needs. Nutrition is very important aspect of providing supportive care, and it should be the top priority followed by comfort. This is going to be your best bet, if euthanasia is not considered as one of the possible options. You can only do so much for a condition that is incurable and can only progress in time.


Therapy sessions can be provided for dogs that are having issues with gross motor skills. There are specialty veterinary centers that offer such services with a scheduled frequency and duration as decided by the veterinarian. These include light physical activity, and other activities that help maintain muscle tone and keep the remaining motor function intact.

Medical management that is incorporated in supportive care usually tackles the symptoms that manifest together with the disease. Usually, medications that are prescribed address tremors and reduction of the frequency of seizures. In addition, supplements can be added in the management to help sustain muscle mass and skeletal function. Pain management is also under medical management, especially for dogs that deal with progressive skeletal pains. This allows them to live a somewhat pain-free life.

Canine hospice care is a growing trend that enlists a sick dog into palliative care until they cross the rainbow bridge. This negates the need for euthanasia, which is a highly sensitive and controversial option to end a dog’s suffering by ending his life as well. Hospice cares are manned by qualified veterinarians and personnel that provide the most comfortable quality of life for affected dogs that have been diagnosed to have a terminal illness. This can also be discussed openly with your veterinarian as an option for your sick dog.

As a pet parent of a sick dog

Due to the special needs of a dog with neurologic disease, it may consume most of your time that you might miss other things that also require your attention. As a pet parent, it is very important to balance things out between you, your dog, and your other responsibilities.

Rehab for sick dog

If you have other dogs at home, it is very important to spread your attention to your other fur babies and not just focus on the sick dog. Neglect may lead to other problems such as lack of nutrition or sickness that could have been prevented. You should also take care of yourself, above everything else that surrounds the sick dog.

Communicate with support groups

It is a great time nowadays that there are many support groups that can provide emotional support and encouragement for the pet parent. By sharing stories and exchanging insights and ideas, you can feel the situation can be handled better because there are people who completely understand your situation and you don’t have to deal with it singlehandedly.

Online groups are everywhere, as well as other support and research groups that are available in major cities. You can even learn something new and help you deal with your dog’s condition in a more effective approach.


Neurologic diseases in dogs are some of the most serious network of illnesses that are not as publicized as cancer, but are equally aggravating. These conditions require the pet parent to have the patience and compassion to take care of their sick dogs to help them live as normal and as pain-free as possible.

Prevention and management can only do so much, as some conditions are incurable and appear in the later years in life. The most important aspect here is to how situations define you as a pet parent. This situation calls for a deeper understanding, commitment, and extended patience.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.