What are the most common nervous system disorders in dogs, and can you prevent them?

What are the most common nervous system disorders in dogs, and can you prevent them?

Health & Safety

The nervous system is the system of nerves and neurons that transmit messages from all throughout your dog’s body to the brain and back; put simply, it is how the whole body is made to work!

The nervous system can also be thought of as its wiring or electrics, and it passes messages like pain, hot and cold, and hormonal messages to the brain for its attention, and the brain then uses it to pass messages back on how to respond.

As you might expect, nervous system problems can have an acute and severe impact on dogs, and the nervous system itself is highly complex, and so too can problems affecting it be as well.

Buying a dog, and canine health in general, is of course something of a lottery and even if you take all reasonable steps to research and buy a healthy puppy, you cannot tell the future or know what type of health conditions might potentially affect them in later life.

However, the Royal Veterinary College sought to identify the most common health conditions in dogs overall as part of a large-scale study undertaken between 2009-2013, and then broke this information down to list the most common health conditions to affect individual organs or bodily systems.

As you might expect given its importance for every single bodily function, the nervous system was one such area highlighted; and this article will share the most common nervous system disorders found in dogs based on the RVC’s data, and a little more information on each of them. Read on to learn more.

Number 1: Behaviour disorders

This is a very tricky one in first place… Because a behaviour disorder might quite validly be caused by a physical problem like a nervous system disorder, but it might also develop due to inappropriate training or management, or as a result of a dog’s learned and past experiences.

This in turn means that “behaviour disorder” as a catch-all is more of a symptom than a health condition; some behaviour disorders in dogs will be diagnosed and assigned to a specific nervous system problem, whilst others might be deemed to be a management and training issue.

Either way, behaviour disorders are the most common type of nervous system disorders found in dogs.

Number 2: Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the second most common nervous system disorder in dogs, and one that can have a whole host of potential causes. When caused by a genuine nervous system disorder as opposed to because of a training issue or expecting the dog to wait for too long between toilet breaks, this can happen because of bladder weakness, nerve issues, or a wide range of other things.

Urinary incontinence tends to be more common in elderly dogs, as their muscles weaken and their minds begin to drift too.

Number 3: Seizure disorders

Most of us think of epilepsy when we think of seizure disorders, but epilepsy is actually a standalone condition that is comparatively well understood, and which is a diagnosis in its own right, not one classed in with general seizure disorders of other types.

Seizure disorders are the third most common nervous system disorder found in dogs; in contrast, epilepsy itself isn’t even in the top five, but instead in sixth place.

Number 4: Intervertebral disc diseases

Intervertebral disc disease or IDD is a painful and progressive condition that affects the dog’s back and spine, and which is particularly common in dogs with a long back and short legs, like the Dachshund. It is usually the cumulative result of a lifetime of the effects of having such a conformation, and so is more common in older dogs.

However, it is not exclusive to Dachshunds nor elderly dogs, and is unfortunately both very painful and restricts a dog’s freedom of movement significantly. Sometimes, surgery is a viable option for affected dogs to help to reduce their pain and permit them to retain or regain some freedom of movement, but IDD is complex and multifaceted, and surgical correction is not always a viable option.

Number 5: Vestibular disease

Vestibular disease is a sudden-onset condition that is commonly confused with stroke in dogs, and which is more common in elderly dogs than younger ones. This is the fifth most common nervous system disorder in dogs.

It affects the vestibular system, which includes the inner ear and brain, and which can be caused by an injury or bump, a tumour, various hormonal conditions, or in some cases, no obvious or present reason at all. It can even be caused by some medications and also ear infections, although you may never know for sure.

Vestibular disease in dogs doesn’t have a set treatment protocol and cannot be operated on or reversed per se, but it does often improve over time, often within a few days. However, dogs with vestibular disease tend to display some symptoms for the remainder of their lives nonetheless.

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