First Aid for Dogs: Handling Neurological Disorders


A dog's health can change in an instant, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of a sudden illness or injury in your pet. Many animals, including dogs, suffer from neurological disorders that affect their behavior and actions. If you see signs that your dog is experiencing a neurological condition, contact your vet right away. Remember: The sooner you start treatment for any dog problem, the better!


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects your dog's brain. It is not contagious, it is not a disease, and it's not a mental illness or behavior problem. Epilepsy can be caused by an injury or trauma to the brain, but most cases occur when there are changes in your dog's genes that affect how his nervous system works.

It's important to know that epilepsy is NOT a sign of weakness; in fact, many dogs live full lives with this condition! If you're worried about your dog having seizures at home alone while you're gone during the day (or night), there are some things you can do to help prevent them from happening:


If your dog is having a seizure, it's important to know how to handle the situation.

  • What is a seizure? A seizure is an involuntary contraction of muscles that can cause your dog to collapse, shake or make unusual movements. Seizures can be caused by many things, including brain tumors or infections; some breeds are more likely than others to develop them.
  • How do I know if my dog is having a seizure? There are two main types: generalized seizures and focal ones. Generalized seizures include grand mal seizures--the most common type and petit mal seizures. Focal ones include partial complex focal motor seizures and partial complex focal sensory seizures.
  • How do I help my dog during these episodes? If you see signs of trouble coming on, get him into his bed or carrier before he falls down so that he doesn't hurt himself when he hits the floor.
  • Afterward? Stay with your pup until he comes out from under whatever spell has overcome him; then take him outside for fresh air. Preventative measures: Feeding schedule Feeding dogs three times daily helps keep their metabolism stable so they don't develop hypoglycemia; this may reduce their risk of developing epilepsy later on in life. Environment Stressful situations such as traveling through busy streets or crowds should also be avoided at all costs because these things can trigger unwanted reactions in dogs who already suffer from epilepsy

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease is a neurological disorder that causes your dog's inner ear to malfunction. The vestibular system contains three semicircular canals, which are responsible for detecting acceleration and deceleration. The canals are connected to the brain by a nerve that transmits information about what's happening in the inner ear, which helps dogs maintain balance when walking or running around at high speeds.

Vibration, pressure, and sound all travel through this system and are then sent up into your dog's brain through nerves planted within their inner ears (1). If any part of this process becomes damaged due to trauma or illness then it could lead to problems with balance control which is why many owners will notice their dogs being less steady on their feet after being diagnosed with vestibular disease!

Vestibular Syndrome

The vestibular syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes dogs to lose their balance and fall over. It can be caused by an injury or other trauma to the inner ear, but it can also be idiopathic. The vestibule of your dog's inner ear contains fluid and delicate hair cells that detect gravity changes and shift position when they detect movement. 

If you think your dog has vestibular syndrome, look for these signs:

  • He tilts his head one way or another when standing still
  • He leans against objects such as walls or furniture for support when walking

Inflammatory Myopathy (IM)

Inflammatory myopathy, or IM, is a disorder that affects the muscles. It's rare in dogs and often mistaken for other conditions such as hip dysplasia or spinal cord injury.

IM causes progressive muscle weakness in one or more limbs, though it can also affect their ability to stand up or walk normally. The first signs of IM may include:

  • Muscle twitches in response to stimuli such as touch or temperature changes; these twitches are called fasciculations (fas-i-kul-a-tions).
  • Weakness of the front legs when walking on slippery surfaces like ice or snow; this is called "paddling."
  • Difficulty climbing stairs due to reduced strength in the hindquarters--the back end of your dog's body--which could lead him/her to slip off each step while attempting passage upwards through each riser (Risser).

Demyelination of the Central Nervous System (CNS)

Demyelination is a process in which the myelin sheath surrounding nerves is damaged, leading to nerve dysfunction. Myelin is an insulating layer that surrounds and protects neurons in the central nervous system (CNS). Nerves without myelin cannot conduct electrical signals efficiently, resulting in a variety of symptoms ranging from mild muscle weakness to paralysis or death.

Myelination begins early in fetal development and continues until late adolescence; it's not unusual for puppies or kittens younger than one year old to have demyelination due to incomplete myelination at birth, but most cases occur later as part of degenerative processes such as inflammation or trauma. 

If you know your dog's breed, age, and health history, you can better understand what the cause might be.

If you know your dog's breed, age, and health history, you can better understand what the cause might be. To find this information:

  • Find out what kind of dog he or she is. There are many ways to do this--the easiest is by looking at his/her collar tags or microchip ID. If those aren't available, then try searching online for photos of similar breeds (or even just "similar" dogs).
  • Look up his/her birthday on Wikipedia or another website where birthdays are listed together in one place. You don't need exact dates; just knowing when they were born will help narrow down some potential causes of neurological disorders in dogs like seizures or head tremors


As you can see, there are a number of different neurological disorders that dogs can suffer from. Your dog's breed and age will play a role in determining which disorder he or she has developed, but if you know what symptoms to look for and when they first appeared then it will be easier to determine what course of action should be taken next.

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