The term polyneuropathy refers to a collection of various peripheral nerve disorders that can crop up within certain breeds of dogs (and also cats), all of which are considered to be generally hereditary and breed-specific. “Poly” indicates that multiple nerves are affected by the condition, which usually leads to dysfunction of the motor nerves, sometimes known as lower motor neuron disease. While symptoms vary from breed to breed depending on the type of polyneuropathy involved in the condition, generally, symptoms include poor or absent nerve reflexes connected to muscle tone, causing weakness or paralysis. The condition most widely affects the hind legs, and usually affects both legs at once, with slow-onset symptoms in most cases, but some exceptions.
In this article, we will look at some of the various types of breed-specific polyneuropathy conditions that can affect dogs. Read on to learn more.
Dancing Doberman disease affects the Doberman pinscher dog breed, and affects the gastrocnemius muscle in affected dogs. It usually begins to develop at around six months of age, and begins with the involuntary flexing of one rear leg only when the dog is standing up. As the condition develops, it begins to affect the other leg too, causing an apparent dancing motion in the dog when standing. Over time, the condition leads to weakness and muscle atrophy of the rear legs.
While there is no known treatment for the condition, it is usually painless, and affected dogs usually retain their ability to walk.
Diabetes in dogs often has a hereditary element to it, and diabetic neuropathy occurs after prolonged periods of high blood sugar levels, or hyperglycaemia. This causes dysfunction of the tibial nerves and stance of the rear legs, but may resolve itself once the dog’s diabetes, and blood sugar levels, are brought under control.
Distal symmetric polyneuropathy affects several breeds of dog, including the St. Bernard, Great Dane, Newfoundland and Labrador retriever. It causes weakness and atrophy of the distal leg muscles, weakness in the hind legs, and atrophy of the muscles of the head and neck.
Unfortunately, no treatment is available, and the prognosis for affected dogs is normally poor.
Giant axonal neuropathy affects the German shepherd dog breed, but is thankfully very rare. It generally first presents when the dog is aged 14-16 months old, and causes hind leg weakness, poor reflexes, and muscle atrophy. Currently, no treatment is available, and the prognosis for affected dogs is generally poor.
CIDN is a hereditary condition that affects the Tibetan mastiff, leading to poor reflexes, loss of the bark, and general weakness of the limbs. The condition usually begins to present with symptoms before the age of twelve weeks old, and can ultimately lead to a poor gait, and in some cases, the inability to walk.
No treatment is available, but the prognosis for the condition varies from dog to dog.
Polyradiculoneuritis is also referred to as Coonhound paralysis, and can potentially affect any of the six dogs that fall into the American Coonhound breed grouping. It is thought to be caused by the after effects of the dog being bitten by a raccoon, but the same problems do not seem to occur in other breeds of dog. It is worth noting that the condition may also occur without a bite, or any contact with a raccoon at all.
If the condition occurs as the result of a bite, it usually becomes symptomatic within 7-11 days after exposure, leading to progressive hind leg weakness, and a decrease in reflex responses. The condition does usually resolve itself with time, but paralysis may be present and remain for up to three months, and the dog may not regain a full range of movement for up to six months after onset.
This condition affects the Rottweiler dog breed, and causes denervation or loss of nerve sensation in the distal (far) ends of the muscles. It most commonly affects young adult Rottweilers, causing weakness of all four limbs, and poor reflexes. The condition is classed as progressive, but may be manageable with corticosteroids, however, the long term prognosis for affected dogs is generally poor.
Spinal muscular atrophy most commonly affects breeds including the Pointer, German shepherd, Rottweiler, and Cairn terrier. It leads to paralysis and nerve damage to the nerves of the spinal cord, and is a progressive condition that is unfortunately untreatable.
Sensory neuropathies are hereditary conditions that lead to an inability to feel pain, and proprioception, which refers to the dog’s ability to sense their limbs and their own relationship to their bodies. While the presentation and symptoms of the condition vary from breed to breed, some of the most commonly affected breeds include the Boxer, Dachshund, and English pointer.