Ataxia (Loss Of Balance) In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

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Ataxia in dogs refers to a loss of coordination or unbalanced gait due to sensory dysfunction. Depending on which part of the body is affected, dogs can suffer from any of three types of ataxia: proprioception, vestibular syndrome, and cerebellar.

The most obvious signs of all forms of the condition include uncoordinated movements and loss of balance; although, these symptoms can vary in intensity in different dogs. Some symptoms like tremors and strange posture may also be signs. It may appear like your dog is drunk.

If you see symptoms in your dog, then you must contact your veterinarian immediately to determine the cause and form a treatment plan. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for the different types of ataxia in dogs.

Symptoms Of Ataxia In Dogs

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The symptoms of ataxia may be more visible in some dogs who suffer from the condition than others. However, if you see your dog losing balance or coordination or you notice strange movements, then you should see your vet immediately.

Here are some other symptoms that may also appear:

  • Weakness in one or more limbs
  • Head tilting
  • Deafness or loss of hearing
  • Dizziness
  • Stumbling or swaying
  • Drowsiness
  • Tremors
  • Abnormal behaviors
  • Strange eye movements
  • Nausea from disruption in equilibrium
  • Loss of appetite

Causes Of Ataxia In Dogs

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The causes of ataxia in dogs vary depending on the type.

Proprioception is caused by compression of the spinal cord and makes it difficult for a dog’s brain to stay aware of where the limbs are. The compression of the spinal cord can result from the following:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Degeneration of spinal cord tissue
  • Blood clot
  • Tumors
  • Infection in the spine
  • Inflammation of the spine
  • Spinal abnormalities
  • Cysts
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Instability in the spine

Vestibular syndrome in dogs is caused by abnormal function of the inner ear or brainstem, which results in a loss of balance. This abnormal function can result from the following:

  • Ear infection or injury
  • Poisoning
  • Fungal infection
  • Cancer, including tumors in the ear or skull
  • Immune disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Inflammation
  • Infectious diseases
  • Exposure to some antibiotics
  • Nerve degeneration
  • Sometimes causes are unknown

Cerebellar ataxia in dogs is caused by damage to the cerebellum, which is responsible for movement and coordination. This causes abnormal movements, especially of the head and eyes, that lead to dizziness.

Cerebellar ataxia is sometimes confused with a stroke because they may have similar symptoms.

Here are some causes of damage to the cerebellum that result in cerebellar ataxia:

  • Cellular degeneration in the cerebellum
  • Hereditary predisposition
  • Brain tumor
  • Abnormal formation of the cerebellum or skull
  • Brain infection or inflammation
  • Exposure to certain antibiotics

Treatments For Ataxia In Dogs

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Treatments for ataxia in dogs depend on the location and underlying cause of the condition. Tumors and cancer are often treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, while hereditary causes are incurable.

Even after treatment, some dogs may still lose coordination. These dogs often lead normal lives other than suffering from a loss of balance.

It’s important to maintain an affected dog’s comfort and take steps to reduce injury from stumbling or falling. Managing pain and providing further supportive care will be necessary, as well as making the environment safe by blocking off stairs and dangerous places where a dog might fall down and get hurt.

Talk to your vet about treatment and lifestyle changes you’ll need to make if your dog suffers from ataxia.

Has your dog ever shown signs of ataxia? How did you treat their loss of balance? Let us know in the comments below!