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Neuropathy in Dogs (Vet Answer): Signs, Causes & Treatment

Bynewsmagzines

May 3, 2023
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Neuropathy is a problem with a nerve or a set of nerves. Neuropathies can vary from small problems that do not impact your dog’s life greatly to dramatic, life-shattering disasters. On the giant highway system of the nervous system, with all roads leading to the city-center (the brain), even small roadblocks can seriously slow things down and cause problems.

Knowing about the nervous system can help you understand when it goes wrong.

This article will explain how the nervous system operates and how neuropathies get in its way. But understanding the exact ramifications of your dog’s particular neuropathy will have to be a conversation with your vet. Each disease that causes neuropathy will have different clinical signs, prognoses, and treatments.

Using this article’s explanation of nerves and neuropathies and your vet’s individualized explanation can help you understand a very complex and confusing topic: nervous system disease.

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What Are Nerves?

Nerves are the cells in the body that transmit information from and to the brain. The brain itself is made up of nerves, as is the spinal cord, and shooting off the spinal cord are smaller nerves that travel, weaving through the body.

Nerves transmit information with tiny electrical-chemical charges through their membranes and cytoplasm. They hand off the tiny electrical-chemical signal to the next nerve and then to the next creating a chain traveling through the body.

A red Doberman Pinscher dog with natural uncropped ears standing outdoors
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Central Nervous Systems

The central nervous system is categorized as the brain and the spinal cord. The brain is the central city, where information is processed and delegated. The spinal cord is the highway that everyone has to travel down to get to the brain.

The central nervous system is made up of neurons all bunched together in defined lanes. Just as a highway can seem overwhelmingly chaotic but are organized into lanes, each with their own purpose and destination, the spinal cord is organized with nerves traveling up and down and preparing to branch off to specific destinations.

Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system is made up of sideroads that branch off to very specific destinations. Some of the sideroads, particularly those that are close to the highway, are very large as individual nerves branch off the highway together. For example, the sciatic nerve is a large nerve bundle made up of numerous nerves heading to various parts of the leg that come off the spinal cord.

The peripheral nervous system also includes the small nerves that control very specific and localized spots on the body. These tiny nerves absorb information from their assigned body part and transmit the information to the central nervous system.

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What Are the Signs of Neuropathy?

When there is a roadblock in the nervous system, the impact depends on where on the highway, the lanes, or the sideroads it is. Blockages in the central nervous system can have wide-ranging effects over large parts of the body or be more localized if only certain lanes are affected.
If the roadblock is in the peripheral nervous system, the impact tends to be more local. The smaller local roads slow down, but other parts of the body are not affected.

As a result, the signs of neuropathy can vary. It is nearly impossible to list all the things that could go wrong with all the nerves and all the body parts.

Here is a short list to give you an idea.

  • Pain
  • Limping
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Strange, abnormal movements of the head or limbs (i.e., head tilt, uncontrolled rolling, spasms)
  • Excessive stiffness in the muscles
  • Lack of a sense (i.e., touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell)
Black french bulldog lying on the floor
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Nerves transmit two main bits of information that can be slightly easier for us to observe: touch and movement.

  • Touch. Nerves send sense signals to the brain; they send information gathered by the senses to the brain. So, touch is a big one and is often used to test nerve function. If an animal can feel something touching them, then the nervous pathway is clear enough to send that information to the brain.
  • Movement. Nerves also send signals about movement toward body parts. The order to move starts in the brain and travels along the system, in its specific lanes, to the leg, where muscles are instructed to move.

If the nerve is completely roadblocked and no movement occurs, that is paralysis. If a nerve is partially road blocked (a lane is blocked but not the whole road), then there is partial movement. Partial movement can look very strange. It can be jerky and uncontrolled. Or it can be weak and unsteady.

What Are the Causes of Neuropathy?

Anything that creates a roadblock in the nervous system can cause neuropathy. The following is a generalized list of ‘somethings’ that can cause neuropathies.

  • Degenerative changes
  • Inflammation
  • Metabolic and hormonal problems
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Cancer
  • Toxic substances
  • Trauma
  • Vascular diseases causing blood flow obstruction
  • Infection

How Do I Care for a Dog With Neuropathy

This will depend entirely on what their exact diagnosis is. A neuropathy that affects a leg will need different care than a neuropathy that affects the inner ear.

A dog’s prognosis with neuropathy also depends entirely on where and how big the roadblock is. Neuropathies can be permanent or resolved; depending on their causes, they might never improve or improve with time and TLC.

If you suspect neuropathy, the most important thing is to be gentle. You do not want to cause more damage to the nerves. When a dog loses control of a body part because of neuropathy, they also cannot protect it. As a result, they can easily cause more damage, so be gentle. And get veterinary advice and a treatment plan for their specific neuropathy.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What to expect at the vet?

If your vet suspects neuropathy, expect to perform several diagnostic tests to rule out diseases.

Unlike the skeleton, there is no standardized and easy-to-access test for the nervous system.

The skeleton can be assessed fairly easily with X-rays. But, unfortunately testing the nervous system definitively takes much more advanced imaging, such as MRIs or CTs. This type of testing is becoming more available to pets but has yet to be universal.

As a result, a vet may need to rule out other problems and slowly piece together clues to confirm neuropathy. It may even need to be assessed by a neurologist or vet specializing in the nervous system. Expect a lot of tests and numerous, repeated visits to the vet to figure out what is wrong.

vet examining an english bulldog
Image Credit: Branislav Nenin, Shutterstock

My dog has a nerve problem. Is it neuropathy?

Probably yes. Neuropathy can be caused by anything, so it is a term used as a catch-all for all the things that can go wrong with nerves. Ask your vet for clarification. Or if you are unsure about their answer, get a second opinion. Sometimes, it helps to have numerous people clarify confusing information.

Having a specific diagnosis is more helpful. Knowing exactly what is causing neuropathy. Here is a small list of the 100s of diseases and problems that can cause neuropathies, just to give you an idea.

  • Acquired laryngeal paralysis
  • Acute idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Botulism
  • Strokes
  • Intervertebral disk disease

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Conclusion

The nervous system is a complex part of the body that still has a lot of questions to answer. That complexity makes it a difficult system to understand and to heal when things go wrong. Neuropathy can be a scary and difficult problem. When things go wrong in the nervous system, the results can be dramatic and strange.
Using as many tools as possible, including diagnostic tests and, most likely, multiple veterinarians, may help you provide the best care for your dog with neuropathy.


Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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