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Pet care

Bahrain News
Sat, 16 Apr 2016
Dr Hansel Geo

Vet Hansel answers your questions about pet care in this weekly advice column, created in partnership with the Bahrain Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA). It will also be highlighting each week some of the animals in the BSPCA sanctuary, in the hope of finding each of them a loving home.

Question: Could you please discuss about ataxia in dogs and its significance on their health?

Answer: The word ataxia means lack of order. It can show up in a puppy or dog, from the age of 3-4 weeks to its senior years. It is a neurological disorder; producing a steady degeneration of an animal’s ability to move and function.

The three forms of ataxia are interconnected:

* Cerebellar ataxia is the degeneration of the cerebellum’s cortex.

* Sensory ataxia occurs when the spinal cord is slowly and progressively compressed.

* Vestibular ataxia begins with the central and/or peripheral nervous system. It occurs when messages from the inner ear to the brain are scrambled.

Signs and symptoms include head tilts to one side, unable to get up, lack of co-ordination, hearing loss, excessive drowsiness to stupor-like behaviour, involuntary eye movements and unable to focus on certain tasks during the day.

The root sources of a puppy or dog’s ataxia are believed to be from: a genetic disorder, toxins and viruses, anti-seizure medications containing potassium bromide and phenobarbital that could exhibit the side-effects explained earlier.

Puppies can be born with it. Symptoms may be obvious in as early as 3-4 weeks of age. Others may develop it a bit later in life, and there are those who get it as late as their senior years, where it is referred to as Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome. No breed is immune to ataxia.

Diagnosis is made following a physical examination, concentrating on your dog’s medical history, with some blood work that might need to be done. Your veterinarian will refer you to a neurologist should they believe your dog may have ataxia.

Currently there is no cure for ataxia. However, there are measures you can take to maintain the quality of your pet’s life, for as long as possible.

* If your dog is suffering from ataxia, try to keep them away from slippery flooring such as tile and hardwood. Even something as small as a scatter rug or mat, will help them get a grip while trying to stand.

* Keeping their muscles toned up is imperative. Make lengths of walks giving them good exposure to a bit of hard work.

* Swimming is a wonderful way to exercise and tone up your pet, without stressing the limbs. Be sure you’re in the pool to support and encourage them.

Bottom line is the rate of progression and its severity will be the determining factor on how you treat this disease. Talk to your veterinarian and neurologist. Ask the right questions.

Remember, it is a recessive gene; if both parents have it odds are eventually you will be faced with this problem. Neuter or spay the carrier to prevent further spread.

Make life as comfortable as possible, for as long as you can for your dog. It may take a bit more effort and sacrifice on your part, however your pet will appreciate it.

 Dr Hansel Geo is a veterinary consultant and surgeon for the BSPCA and Charis Vets. Please send questions to

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