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Pets share many health issues with humans. Neurological problems are one of them, and they can affect the spine, brain, and nerves of cats and dogs. When pets begin to move or behave differently because of a neurological issue, pet parents may not know how to help them feel better. Finding the underlying cause and possible treatment options can go a long way toward giving a cat or dog a more comfortable, relaxed life.
For cats and dogs, neurological issues show up in various ways. Pet parents should be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms:
Staring at walls
Stumbling or losing balance
Moving in circles
Running into walls
Neck or back pain
Darting eye movements
Paralysis of limbs or head
Head shaking or tilting
Muscle twitching or body trembling
Neurological issues are broad, and they can have many underlying causes. In general, though, neurological problems in pets come from several primary sources:
Infection of the brain or spinal cord
Inflammation of the central nervous system, such as meningitis or encephalitis
Brain or spinal tumor
Congenital and hereditary conditions
Epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders
Since the causes of neurological issues in cats and dogs are vast, vets use many diagnostic tests. The first test is the physical exam. When pet parents bring their pet to the appointment, the vet starts by checking the pet’s reflexes, muscle strength, and coordination.
This physical exam also includes observation, which can help a vet notice the warning signs that brought the pet and parent to the appointment. For example, rapid eye movements, head tilting, or body trembling becomes apparent quickly, helping a vet narrow their focus for the possible cause.
Body scans are the next essential test. A body scan might be an x-ray or a CT scan highlighting possible tumors, spinal disc problems like a herniated disc, or other structural abnormalities. However, a magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI) is one of the best tests for finding neurological disease. This scanner is also standard for human neurological issues and can take images of the soft tissues of the brain, nerves, and spinal cord.
Finally, the vet may put in bloodwork and spinal tap orders. These tests can look for signs of infection, but they also help a vet see how well the organs are functioning. For example, bloodwork is essential in ruling out metabolic causes of neurological disease as in the case with liver disease. Liver enzymes and bile acid levels from blood work help vets determine if the liver is healthy or potentially a cause of neurological signs in a disease called hepatic encephalopathy. This disease can affect neurotransmitter levels and functioning.
The best way to control symptoms depends on the underlying cause. Vets often recommend surgery for tumors and spinal disc issues while prescribing medication for autoimmune disorders or other congenital diseases. Antibiotics are the typical treatment course for bacterial infections, along with corticosteroids for inflammation.
Pet parents may need to make lifestyle changes for their pet, such as baby gates to prevent them from falling down the stairs or carpet runners for improved traction. New locations for food, water, and litter boxes can also help pets move around easier. Vets may also recommend mobility aids, such as slings, carts, or wheelchairs, which support a pet experiencing incoordination or muscle weakness.
For advice on how to help a pet with neurological issues or whether emergency care is warranted, reach out to Fuzzy vets for 24/7 Live Vet Chat.