Ataxia: any puppy or dog can have it or get it

The word ataxia comes from the Greek. It means lack of order. It can appear in a puppy or dog, from the age of 3-4 weeks to old age. It is a neurological disorder; producing a constant degeneration of an animal’s motor skills and mobility. In essence, it affects your coordination and balance.

Three types of ataxia

The three forms of ataxia are interconnected. They include:

Cerebellar ataxia is the degeneration of the cortex of the cerebellum. It can and does affect other motor skills, most of the time beginning with the head and neck and then progressing to the extremities. Puppy or dog may be in a wide stance for balance, goose step with front legs (high step), appears to be stepping over things that are not there, very likely have head tremors and the body, and the torso. sways.

Sensory ataxia occurs when the spinal cord is slowly and progressively compressed. It affects the dog’s ability to accurately sense where its limbs are and how to coordinate them; causing them to be unable to stand and / or walk with a wobbly and uncoordinated gait.

Vestibular ataxia begins with the central and / or peripheral nervous system. It occurs when messages from the inner ear get mixed up with the brain. Usually the dog has a deceptive sense of movement and / or a hearing impairment. To compensate, they often tilt their head, lean on people or objects to stabilize themselves, roll over, fall, or roll over. The first signs are often noticed when the animal changes in the way it moves its head and neck.

When it affects the trunk of the animal, it may appear that it walks very well, in a straight line, but stumbles, wobbles or even falls in quick and unexpected turns.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for

A telltale sign that there is a problem is often exaggerated movements and changes in behavior. Other things to watch out for include: head tilted to one side, stumbling, falling, being unable to get up, unsteady, staggering (looks drugged or drunk), bent legs, confusion, incoordination, hearing loss, excessive sleepiness at a stupor-like behavior, seizures, involuntary eye movements, usually up and down, drooling, facial paralysis, exaggerated steps with the front legs, depression, when walking (high or goose steps), crossing of the limbs when walking, vertigo, avoid stairs and dark corners, inability to focus on task, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting (due to motion sickness) and coma.

Most of the time, when the dog is at rest or when he can visually focus on something on the horizon, the symptoms are not shown or are not as pronounced.

Sources and causes

The sources of origin of ataxia in a puppy or dog are believed to come from: a genetic disorder (both parents carry the recessive gene), toxins, trauma, viruses, seizures, ear infections, medications such as anticonvulsant medications containing bromide potassium and phenobarbital. . A growing number of veterinarians believe there may be a connection between dogs that have vestibular ataxia and those that have received the antibiotics streptomycin, aminoglycoside, and gentamicin.

Who can get ataxia?

Puppies can be born with it, especially if both parents carry the recessive gene that causes it. Symptoms can be apparent at 3-4 weeks of age. Others may develop it a little later in life, and there are those who contract it as late as old age, where it is known as vestibular old dog syndrome.

No race is immune to ataxia. However, it appears most commonly in: Airedale, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Kelpie, Border Collie, Brittany Spaniel, Chinese Crested, Coton de Tulear, English Pointer, Kerry Blue Terrier, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, Bloodhounds ( all types), Jack Russell Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer, Old English Sheepdog, Parson Terrier, Collie Rough Coat.


There is currently no cure for ataxia. There are steps you can take to maintain your pet’s quality of life for as long as possible. Depending on the severity of your individual case or how quickly the disease progresses. Interestingly, older dogs seem to respond quite well to their particular version of the disorder. They may not act like puppies again, but they can often regain some of their old selves.

After a physical examination, focusing on your dog’s medical history, known parentage history, the dog’s age, time of onset, how quickly the disorder has progressed, and blood tests, your veterinarian will check it out. You will refer to a neurologist if you think your dog may have ataxia. The neurologist will most likely do a CT scan, MRI scan, and collect cerebrospinal fluid, before offering you their diagnosis and recommendations for additional action plans or that difficult final decision.

What you can do to help your dog

If your dog suffers from ataxia, try to keep him away from slippery floors like tile and hardwood. Even something as small as a rug or rug will help them grip as they try to stand. In the winter, try to avoid icy areas.

Keeping your muscles toned is imperative. Make the lengths of walks and types of exercise reasonable. Stop often so your dog has a chance to rest. Swimming is a wonderful way to exercise and tone your pet, without stressing the limbs. Make sure you are in the pool to support and encourage them.

If possible, avoid stairs or go up and down.

Leave a small light on at night or in darker areas of the house to help them get around.

Wrap them in boxes, if they are to be left unattended for an extended period of time. It will reduce the chances of them getting injured.

Basically, be there for them, to help them when they need it.

Bottom line: the rate of progression and its severity will be the determining factor in how to treat this disease. Talk to your vet and neurologist. Ask the tough questions.

Whenever possible, find out if a DNA test for ataxia has been performed on both parents of a potential puppy. Remember, it is a recessive gene; if both parents have it; most likely you will eventually face this problem.

Neuter or spay a carrier. Do not breed a dog that you know is a carrier of that gene. It will only perpetuate clutter.

Make life as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible for your dog. It may take a little more effort and sacrifice on your part, however your pet will appreciate it.

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