Cerebellar Ataxia in Dogs

Cerebellar ataxia in dogs is a condition the occurs when the cerebellum, a part of your dog's brain, sustains damage. The condition can occur as a result of hereditary or congenital defects, or it can be the result of infections or tumors of the brain. Sadly, cerebellar ataxia is both progressive and fatal. Read on to learn more.

Cerebellar Ataxia Explained

While cerebellar ataxia can be caused by tumors or brain infections, it's most commonly passed down through families as a genetic illness. Because the symptoms of cerebellar ataxia don't appear until later in the dog's life, it can be difficult to avoid breeding those dogs who carry it. Recently, a DNA test for cerebellar ataxia was made available, so reputable breeders should test their dogs for the disease. The gene that causes the disease is recessive, however, meaning that both of the dog's parents must carry the gene in order to pass the disease to their offspring.

In cases of hereditary cerebellar ataxia, some or all of the cells of the cerebellum deteriorate. The cerebellum is a vital portion of your dog's brain, responsible for coordinating movement. As the cerebellum deteriorates, motor coordination decreases, and sometimes cognitive impairment also occurs.

Symptoms and Progression of Cerebellar Ataxia in Dogs

Cerebellar ataxia is a progressive canine disease that causes symptoms to appear in a certain order. Initial symptoms typically include clumsiness and slight swaying. As your dog's condition worsens, he will fail to keep his balance and begin falling down frequently. Your dog's head and eyes may begin to move rapidly and at random. Your dog will have trouble walking and may lose weight.

Vets do not completely understand how cerebellar ataxia occurs or how it progresses. In some dogs, symptoms appear slowly and cause only mild disability for up to five years. In other dogs, symptoms progress swiftly and cause rapid, serious impairment. Symptoms usually appear in dogs older than two years of age.

Diagnosing and Treating Cerebellar Ataxia in Dogs

If you think your dog is exhibiting signs of cerebellar ataxia, you should see a veterinary neurologist. Your regular vet can recommend one. There is currently no diagnostic test to definitively identify cerebellar ataxia. A definitive diagnosis can only be made via autopsy.

Your vet or veterinary neurologist may perform a wide range of tests to rule out other possible causes of your dog's symptoms, including infections, brain tumors and brain injury. If your dog does have hereditary cerebellar ataxia, there is not much you or your vet can do. Treatment involves keeping the dog as comfortable as possible until his symptoms have progressed to the point where he is no longer enjoying a good quality of life. Most dogs with cerebellar ataxia are put down by seven or eight years of age.

Unfortunately, cerebellar ataxia is always fatal, and there is no cure. It does not always, however, lead to rapid deterioration. If your dog's symptoms are mild, he may be able to enjoy several more years of quality life.