Your pet’s nervous system, composed of her brain, spinal cord, and nerves, is a highly sensitive network that conveys critical information throughout her entire body. Its proper function plays a role in almost every body activity, from blood pressure maintenance and breathing, to eating and walking. If your pet develops a neurologic problem, she will need prompt treatment by a veterinary team with extensive neurologic experience. Your family veterinarian can treat many of your pet’s medical problems, but complex neurologic conditions often require the advanced equipment and expertise only a veterinary referral hospital can offer.
What is a veterinary neurologist?
You have likely visited a medical specialist, such as a dermatologist or orthopedist, and your pet likewise sometimes needs the experience of a veterinary specialist. Similar to human medicine, veterinary neurologists focus on diagnosing and treating diseases of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves that originate from the brain and spinal cord to innervate the body’s muscles. VRC’s veterinary neurologist, Gaemia Tracy, DVM, Practice Limited to Neurology, is available to treat the most complex neurological conditions, and has special interests in managing intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), atlantoaxial instability, inflammatory CNS disease, and seizures.
What neurologic conditions does VRC’s neurology department treat?
The neurology department at VRC can treat a variety of medical and surgical neurologic conditions, including:
- Seizure disorders — Epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder to affect pets, but many other conditions, such as toxicity, brain tumors, and trauma, can cause seizures. Seizure disorder management involves diagnosing the underlying cause, and identifying medical treatments to control seizure activity.
- Movement disorders — Movement disorders, such as paroxysmal dyskinesia, cause spontaneous, uncontrollable muscle movements and stiffness, similar to seizures. Our neurology department will determine if your pet’s abnormal movements are due to seizures, or another cause, and design an appropriate management plan.
- Neuromuscular diseases — Your pet’s muscles cannot contract without stimulation from her nerve cells, and if a neuromuscular disease interferes with communication between her nerves and muscles, she may experience weakness, or inability to perform normal functions, such as walking. Advanced diagnostics allow us to identify rare neuromuscular diseases, and offer treatment.
- Brain tumors — Brain tumors can be benign or malignant, and often require coordinated medical and surgical treatments for management. Although surgical resection is typically warranted, medications are often also needed, to treat side effects, or prevent cancer spread.
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — Pets with long, low backs, particularly dachshunds, can experience back problems related to a “slipped disc.” IVDD causes symptoms ranging from mild back pain to complete paralysis, and severe cases must be treated immediately, to prevent life-long paralysis.
- Spinal fractures and luxations — The individual vertebrae composing your pet’s spinal column can become misaligned or fractured, which can place abnormal pressure on her spinal cord. Spinal surgery is often necessary, to relieve damaging pressure, and prevent long-term complications.
What advanced diagnostics can VRC use to diagnose neurologic conditions in pets?
Thorough diagnosis of a neurologic disease or injury often requires advanced diagnostic and imaging techniques. To help us diagnose the most challenging neurologic conditions, we maintain the most up-to-date diagnostic equipment and techniques available, including:
- Digital X-ray — X-rays are more often used to diagnose leg fractures, but they are invaluable when diagnosing neurologic problems, such as spinal fractures and luxations.
- Computed tomography (CT) — A CT is a type of X-ray machine that produces detailed body images in thin, cross-sectional slices. CT scans provide more accurate detail than traditional X-rays, by providing two- and three-dimensional images.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — An MRI uses powerful magnets, instead of radiation, to also produce slice-like images of body areas. The highly detailed images offer the best analysis of nervous system structures, including the brain and spinal cord. VRC has the only on-site MRI in the area.
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis — Commonly referred to as a spinal tap, CSF collection allows us to analyze the fluid circulating through your pet’s brain and spinal cord, for abnormal cells, cancer, and infectious organisms.
What clinical signs indicate nervous system disease in pets?
Since the nervous system plays a role in so many body functions, nervous disease signs are varied, but commonly include:
- Muscle tremors
- Pupil asymmetry
- Abnormal eye movements
- Head tilt
- Back pain
If you think your pet may have a neurologic condition, or is not acting like herself, have her evaluated by your family veterinarian immediately, or bring her to our emergency room, if your veterinarian is closed. Some neurologic conditions progress quickly, and can be fatal, if not treated promptly.
If your family veterinarian suspects a complex neurologic condition in your pet, contact us. Our neurologic team will partner with your veterinarian, and you, to provide the best care possible, and the best chance of recovery, for your best friend.