SlimDoggy Health Check: Nervous System | Brain

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We continue our SlimDoggy Health Check look at the Nervous System today by looking at brain disorders. A dog’s brain is divided into three parts: brain stem, cerbellum and cerebrum. The brain stem controls basic life functions, the cerebrum controls decision making functions and cerebellum is involved in motor control and movement.

Probably the most common and well known brain disorder is Epilepsy which we will cover in a separate post. In addition to brain disorders such as tumors, encephalitis, Cerebellar Degeneration, Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis (GMA), the brain can be attacked by viruses as in Distemper or Rabies. Our post today will take a look at how some of these disorders affect the brain and your dog.
SlimDoggy Health Check Nervous System

Brain Tumors: As with humans, cancer of the brain may be primary (originating in the brain) or secondary (originating somewhere else in the body and spreading to the brain). The most common form of primary cancer is meningioma, or a cancer forming in the membranes that line the brain. Meningiomas are relatively slow growing and treatable, whereas secondary cancers carry a higher mortality since the cancer has already begun to spread. Depending on the area of the brain affected, you may see different symptoms. Watch for behavior abnormalities such as a confused state, head tilt or loss of balance, loss of appetite, uncoordinated gait, pacing or circling, vision problems or tremors or seizures. A CT or MRI is usually required for a full diagnosis along with a biopsy of the tissue. Treatment of the tumor depends on the size and location. Surgery may be possible as well as chemotherapy and radiation. Prognosis depends on the type of cancer and how aggressive the treatment options are. This is a VERY brief overview of brain tumors – please see our Additional Reading list below for more resources.
Encephalitis (Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis) mean inflammation of the brain. It can also affect the spinal column (myelitis) or the membranes that surround the brain (meningitis). There are two types of encephalitis: Infectious and Idiopathic. Infectious Encephalitis is typically caused by an infectious parasite, bacteria, fungi or virus or even an immune-related disorders or foreign body. Idiopathic encephalitis is diagnosed when an the source of the infection cannot be identified and it is caused by the dog’s own immune system attacking it’s brain. Symptoms include head tilt, facial paralysis, behavioral changes, fever, uncoordinated movements, seizures and blindness. Your veterinarian may perform many tests on the way to diagnosing your dog including a complete blood workup, xrays and even MRIs. A spinal tap to examine the actual spinal fluid is the most definitive test. Treatment can begin immediately with antibiotics to fight the infection but the identification of the TYPE of infection is imperative in order to combat it effectively. If the dog is experiencing seizures, anti-seizure meds can also be administered. Idiopathic Encephalitis is treated by suppressing the immune system with high doses of steroids. This is a serious disorder – the treatment is lengthy and prognosis is guarded. Ongoing regular vet examination is required to ensure the dog does not relapse.

Cerebellar Degeneration is a disease where the cells in the cerebellum slowly die. It is caused by the canine herpesevirus. There is believed to be a strong breed and genetic component to the diseases and affects the following: Irish Setters, Wire-haired Fox Terriers, Samoyeds, Chow Chows, Collies, Border Collies, Bullmastiffs, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Great Danes, Kerry Blue Terriers, English Pointers, Gordon Setters, Brittany Spaniels, American Staffordshire Terriers and English Bulldogs. Symptoms include swaying or lack of balance and coordination, abnormal gait, muscle tremors, head tilt and altered behavior. MRIs and a spinal tap are helpful in diagnosing, but a definitive diagnosis is made through a biopsy of the cerebellum tissue. There is no known cure for this disorder and due to the possible behavioral and/or muscle control issues, measures should be taken to keep your dog safe from injury.

Additional Readings:

If Your Dog Starts Doing This, He May Have Brain Cancer
Intracranial Neoplasia
Brain Tumors in Dogs and Cats
Information About Brain Tumors
Encephalitis in Dogs & Cats
Brain Inflammation in Dogs
Encephalitis: Watch Out for This Fast-Moving Brain Disease
Degeneration of the Cerebellum of the Brain in Dogs
Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health

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  1. thanks for a very important post… it’s good to know a lot of things to rule it out in case something is wrong with us. we had a doberman with a brain tumor in our hood once, all people (even the owner) thought the dog is “just crazy” when he suddenly started weird moving…. sadly the truth was a bitter one and our neighbor lost Patty :o(
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  2. The truth of what can happen to our dogs is so scary. We want to protect them from everything. Great information.
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  3. Anything messing with the mind is a scary thing!
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  4. Great health post, the brain is such a complicated organ but one we really need!
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  5. Because Sam is so dingy, I’m constantly wigging out there’s something serious going on with him. Thanks for clarifying some of the things that I really need to worry about. 😉

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