What to do if your pet has an abnormal gait

If your pet has an abnormal gait they may have ataxia. Ataxia is a sensory condition in dogs and cats which produces loss of coordination of the limbs, head, and body.

It can be caused by compression of the spinal cord, imbalance of the inner ear or uncoordinated motor activity.

What are the signs?

  • Weakness of the limbs
  • May affect one, two, or all of the limbs
  • May affect only the hind legs, or the legs on one side of the body
  • Tilting head to one side
  • Trouble hearing – non-responsive to being called to at normal voice pitch
  • Stumbling, tipping over, swaying
  • Excessive drowsiness or stupor
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Abnormal eye movements – may be due to false feeling of movement, vertigo
  • Lack of appetite due to nausea (symptom of motion sickness from loss of balance)

How is ataxia diagnosed?

If you suspect your pet’s abnormal gait may be ataxia, your vet will carry out standard tests – including a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel.

Your vet may also perform X-rays and an ultrasound to view the spine and internal organs. It’s a good idea to discuss costs with your vet before starting any treatment.

How is ataxia treated?

Your pet is likely to be treated on an outpatient basis, unless the ataxia is severe or the cause of the ataxia is life threatening. Avoid giving any medication to your pet without first consulting with your vet – some medication can either contribute to the problem or disguise the underlying condition that is causing it.

Your vet will base your pet’s treatment on the underlying cause of the disease. Keep and eye on your pet for increasing dysfunction or weakness. If their condition worsens, contact your vet immediately.

If you’re thinking of adopting a pet with ataxia

Make sure you review the clinical history of your new pet and ask for more details on how the condition has been treated. You’ll need to sign a disclaimer to confirm you’ve been made aware of the condition. Any pet who’s had treatment is likely to have pet insurance exclusions, so it’s worth discussing potential on-going costs with your vet.

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