"Polyneuropathy in Dogs

"Polyneuropathy in Dogs

Health & Safety

Polyneuropathy is a disorder that negatively impacts a dog's peripheral nerves. As the name suggests, it is a neurological disease that results in lots of abnormalities developing in a dog's nervous system which seriously affects their movements. Any nerve damage that occurs peripherally which is the case when dogs develop a polyneuropathy disorder, needs to be investigated because studies have established that the condition may well be breed specific.

Symptoms Associated with the Disorder

When dogs develop polyneuropathy, there are certain signs to watch out for that there is something very wrong with them. The symptoms associated with the disease typically includes the following:

  • Weakness in their legs
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • A high stepping gait
  • A change in the way dogs bark
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Atrophy
  • Loss of feeling which often leads to self-mutilation

The Causes

Research has shown that dogs develop the condition because the fatty tissue that covers and protects their nerve fibres are damaged in some way or another. As previously mentioned, it is thought the disease is breed specific and that it affects three peripheral nerves which are the following:

  • Sensory nerves – these carry sensory information to a dog’s central nervous system also referred to as CNS system and are a bundle of cable-like axons that send information from sensory neurons which are found in a dog’s peripheral nervous system otherwise known as PNS
  • Motor nerves – these nerves carry impulses from a dog’s brain or spinal cord to muscles and glands
  • Autonomic nerves – these regulated the functions of a dog’s internal organs which are known as the viscera and which includes the heart, stomach and intestines

With this said, any nerve damage negatively impacts the function of peripheral nerves which is why dogs with the condition have such trouble keeping their balance, breathing and carrying out other essential, normal functions. Unfortunately, the condition can come on without any sort of warning when dogs are anything from 10 to 20 months old and they can vary being quite inconsistent at times. An example of two types of peripheral neuropathies are as follows:

  • Dancing Doberman Disease - a disorder that only affects Doberman Pinschers
  • Idiopathic polyneuropathy - a disorder that affects Alaskan Malamutes

Diagnosing the Problem

Diagnosing polyneuropathy in dogs is extremely challenging and more often than not, a vet would need to carry out a neurological examination of a dog suspected of having developed the disorder. Other tests that would help in diagnosing the problem could include the following:

  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • Muscle biopsies
  • Electronic nerve tests

A vet would refer a dog to a specialist veterinary neurologist who might recommend carrying out the following tests too:

  • A spinal tap which would help eliminate any other health issues which includes tumours or other neurological diseases

Treatment Options

For the moment, there is no treatment available for dogs suffering from polyneuropathy disorders and more research is needed to establish why some breeds appear to be the most affected by the disease than others. Because the symptoms can be so different from dog to dog and because the symptoms come on so quickly rather than slowly, it can be really hard to catch the condition in its early stages. With this said, studies have shown that some dogs do, indeed, grow out of the condition, whereas others do not and as such it is much kinder to put them to sleep rather than let them suffer.


Because the symptoms and severity of the condition varies so much from dog to dog, it can prove extremely challenging to treat and offer any sort of prognosis. Some dogs show signs of getting better only to go downhill again in a short space of time. The bad news is that even when dogs do make a recovery, they are never the same as they were before which means carefully monitoring the quality of their lives. Dogs that have been diagnosed as suffering from polyneuropathy disease should be spayed or neutered to prevent them from being used in a breeding programme.

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