By Karen A. Soukiasian
Degenerative Neuropathy is a disease triggering the dysfunction of the peripheral nervous system, primarily affecting your dog’s coordination, digestion and physical responses.
Unlike the central nervous system, which is protected by the skull and vertebrae, the peripheral nerves, are dispersed over the entire body, making them more exposed to physical contact injury, or to elements entering your dog’s body.
The sluggish deterioration of myelin, a fatty, lipid material that acts as an insulator sheath protecting the nerve fibers, causes short circuits of signals, generating the impairment of the desired motor functions.
As a rule, the typical symptom of the disease advance so gradually, the damage is acute before owners even notice. Most suppose the trouble is their dog’s age or the possibility of arthritis. The common signs noted are: difficulty standing, pain, inflammation, stiffness, difficulty walking, depression, weak/no reflexes, less muscle tone, tremors, atrophy, spatial disorientation, paralysis (facial, throat and legs), dizziness, unconsciousness, lack of appetite, dehydration, slower heart beat, dry nose, dry eyes, dry mouth, and loss of bodily functions.
The underlying sources of Canine Degenerative Neuropathy can include: trauma, inherited (breed specific), immune disease, infection from parasites, thyroid problems, medications (cancer), Cushing’s Disease, diabetes, and toxins, such as rodent poisons, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers.
Breeds known to be predisposed to neuropathy include, but are not limited to: Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, and German Shepherds.
Dogs known to have degenerative neuropathy should be spayed or neutered, to prevent accidental breeding, and passing the disease to another generation.
The tests your veterinarian would most likely recommend could comprise of: complete physical exam, blood work (chemical and complete blood count), spinal fluid analysis, peripheral nerve biopsy, electrolyte panel, urinalysis, x-ray, ultrasound, and electrophysiology.
Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure. Your dog’s condition will worsen, as the peripheral nerves continue to break down. However, depending on the dog’s age and general health, there are treatments for some of the secondary symptoms that could make your dog more comfortable. They include IV fluid therapy, and changing to a low fat diet. Insulin would be recommended for those diagnosed with diabetes.
Physical Therapy and Aqua Therapy may also be suggested, to help prevent respiratory distress, restore muscle tone and nerve memory.
Bottom line: Canine Degenerative Neuropathy is serious! Know your dog. The more aware you are of your dog’s baseline health, the sooner you will recognize deviations. That will give you the advantage of time, which at the very least, will allow you to make your dog as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible.
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