What Is Ataxia in Dogs and How Is It Treated?

by johnsmith

What Is Ataxia in Dogs and How Is It Treated – When a dog stumbles repeatedly, loses its balance, or seems uncoordinated, this is called ataxia. It is an indication that the brain isn’t communicating properly with the body. There are many possible causes of ataxia in dogs that involve the inner ear, brain, or spine. While some of these issues may not be treatable, determining the cause may present options to boost your dog’s quality of life.

What Is Ataxia in Dogs and How Is It Treated

What Is Ataxia?

Ataxia refers to a lack of coordination or balance that often occurs suddenly in a dog. It is a symptom of an underlying condition affecting the dog’s central nervous system.

Symptoms of Ataxia in Dogs

While not a medical condition itself, ataxia indicates a problem that requires further investigation.


  • Stumbling
  • Clumsiness
  • Head tilting
  • Falling to one side
  • Loss of balance
  • Uncoordinated gait

The lack of coordination referred to as “ataxia” may manifest gradually, but it often appears suddenly and is easy to differentiate from your dog’s normal behavior.

What Is Ataxia in Dogs and How Is It Treated

A dog has a distinct way of walking and if this normal gait suddenly changes, this could be a sign of ataxia. Sometimes head tremors and nystagmus (quick twitching of the eyes) may also be seen with ataxia.

The inability to properly place a foot on the ground when walking is another sign of ataxia. This may result in a dog knuckling its feet and dragging its toes on the ground. Since a dog with ataxia is having difficulty knowing exactly where its feet are, it is unable to flip them over and walk on them normally so it can cause damage to the feet as they scrape on the ground.

Finally, some dogs with ataxia don’t knuckle their toes but their foot placement is exaggerated. This is similar to a person who has depth perception issues or doesn’t realize there is a step-down and takes a large, exaggerated step to reach the ground.

Since ataxia is just a symptom of an underlying disease, you should have your dog examined by your veterinarian to rule out any potential issues that could be causing it.

Causes of Ataxia in Dogs

There are multiple causes of ataxia that may occur in dogs, and all affect the nervous system.

  • Spinal cord issues such as tumors, trauma, inflammation, or embolism
  • Inner or middle ear infections
  • Infection of the vertebrae or disks
  • Vestibular syndrome (an inner ear issue)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Head trauma
  • Tumors in the head
  • Infections affecting the brain or brain stem such as canine distemper virus
  • Inflammation affecting the brain or brain stem
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Metronidazole toxicity
  • Changes or abnormalities to the cerebellum
  • Low levels of calcium, potassium, or glucose
  • Blood circulation issues such as heart disease

Diagnosing Ataxia in Dogs

Ataxia is easy to identify on sight by the characteristic movement abnormalities. Your veterinarian will recognize the condition on sight. However, the cause of this condition is rarely apparent upon a routine physical examination and will require diagnostic testing to identify. These tests could include blood panel(s), x-ray, CT scan, and MRI.

What Is Ataxia in Dogs and How Is It Treated

Treatment of Ataxia in Dogs

The treatment plan for ataxia depends on what the underlying cause is. Providing supplemental nutrition with calcium, potassium, glucose, or B vitamins may be warranted for deficiencies of these nutrients. Medications may be administered for toxicities, inflammation, or infections. Sometimes, surgery to remove tumors or to correct abnormalities may even be necessary.

Prognosis for Dogs with Ataxia

The prognosis for a dog experiencing ataxia is highly variable and depends on the severity of the underlying cause.

How to Prevent Ataxia

There is, unfortunately, no way to ensure ataxia never occurs in a dog. Doing your best to maintain a fit, healthy, and happy dog is always a great strategy to ward off avoidable illnesses.

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