Signs My Pet Needs to See a Veterinary Neurologist

October 1, 2021

when to see veterinary neurologist

Avets is proud to now offer veterinary neurology services. Dr. Rebecca Sandler joined our team as a board-certified neurologist. To achieve this prestigious designation, Dr. Sandler graduated from veterinary school, and then completed two year-long internships and a three-year residency to gain extensive veterinary neurology training. This experience allows her to provide specialized care for pets troubled by conditions that affect their brain, spinal cord, muscles, and peripheral nerves.

We are excited to welcome Dr. Sandler, and to provide diagnostics and treatment for pets suffering from neurological issues.

Conditions that can affect your pet’s nervous system

Several conditions can affect your pet’s nervous system, resulting in significant issues for their wellbeing.

  • Seizures — A seizure is an uncontrolled electrical activity burst between brain cells that causes temporary abnormalities in muscle tone or movements, behaviors, sensations, and states of awareness. These episodes can be caused by brain tumors, trauma, certain toxins, metabolic issues, high blood pressure, and liver disease. The cause is sometimes unknown, and these cases are classified as idiopathic epilepsy. Extensive diagnostic testing may be needed, to determine the cause of your pet’s seizure activity. 
  • Balance disorders — If your pet is exhibiting signs such as falling, circling, head tilt, incoordination, and sporadic eye movement, they may have an abnormality affecting their vestibular system. Conditions that can result in vestibular disorders include ear infections, head trauma, stroke, nerve inflammation, thyroid disorders, certain vitamin deficiencies, and tumors.
  • Inflammatory diseases  — Meningitis refers to inflammation affecting the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (i.e., meninges), and encephalitis refers to brain inflammation. Issues that most commonly cause meningitis and encephalitis include bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, rickettsia, and parasite infections. Other causes include immune-mediated disorders, and chemical agents. Meningitis signs include fever, neck pain, and muscle spasms. Encephalitis signs include depression, blindness, partial paralysis affecting the face or limbs, seizures, behavioral changes, head tilt, circling, and coma.
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — When the discs between the vertebrae bulge or burst and invade the spinal cord space, the nerves running through the spinal cord can be affected, causing pain, nerve damage, and paralysis. High-risk breeds include dachshunds, basset hounds, German shepherds, and shih tzus.
  • Cancers affecting the nervous system — Numerous malignant tumors can affect your pet’s brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The area affected will determine the signs.
  • Nerve and muscle disorders — Neuromuscular diseases can cause problems in your pet’s nerves and muscles that result in abnormal muscle function. Signs include muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, difficulty standing or walking, difficulty swallowing, and regurgitation.

Diagnostic techniques for neurological disorders in pets

Avets uses cutting-edge technology, to ensure your pet’s condition is diagnosed as quickly as possible. These include:

  • Digital X-rays — Routine X-rays and specialized contrast studies, which are reviewed by a board-certified veterinary radiologist, are an invaluable diagnostic tool.
  • Computed axial tomography (CT) — This imaging technique combines X-ray images taken from different angles around your pet’s body and uses computer processing to create cross-sectional images. A CT scan provides more detailed information than digital X-rays, but your pet needs heavy sedation or anesthesia for the scan.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — This imaging technique uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a specialized computer to create detailed, cross-sectional images of your pet’s body. MRI is extremely helpful in diagnosing conditions affecting the brain and spinal cord. Anesthesia is needed to perform this test.
  • Spinal tap — Cerebrospinal fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and microscopically evaluating this fluid can help diagnose inflammatory conditions, cancers, and infectious diseases. A spinal tap involves collecting a cerebrospinal fluid sample via a needle aspirate. To perform this procedure safely, your pet must be put under general anesthesia.
when to see veterinary neurologist

Neurosurgery options for pets

Many neurological diseases, conditions, and injuries can be improved, or possibly cured, using advanced surgical techniques. Surgical services offered by our neurology service include:

  • Intervertebral disc surgery — IVDD surgery involves removing the diseased intervertebral disc material, to relieve the pressure on your pet’s spinal cord. This helps restore normal blood flow and prevents future disc problems. Approaches include:
    • Ventral slot — This surgical approach is most common for disc herniation in the cervical spine, and involves accessing your pet’s spinal column from the underside of the neck.
    • Hemilaminectomy — This surgical approach is most common in the thoracolumbar spine, and involves accessing your pet’s spinal column through a small window in the side.
    • Dorsal laminectomy — This surgical approach is most common in the lumbosacral spine, and involves accessing your pet’s spinal column through a small window over the top.
  • Brain surgery — Pets need brain surgery for various reasons, including brain tumor removal, blood clot or bone fragment removal after trauma, shunt placement for pets affected by hydrocephalus, and Chiari-like malformation correction. Pets with this problematic condition experience altered sensations that progress to pain.
  • Nerve and muscle biopsies — Gathering samples for microscopic examination can help diagnose cancers and neuromuscular disorders.

Avets’ neurology service is a valuable addition to our practice and our team. Our qualified veterinary professionals will keep you informed about diagnostic results, your pet’s prognosis, and recommended treatments. We will also update your primary care veterinarian, and keep them involved throughout the process. If your pet is affected by a neurological condition, contact our team at Avets, and let us help remedy their problem.