What is Cerebellar Ataxia in dogs?
Cerebellar Ataxia is a form of brain damage that affects the part of your dog’s brain called the cerebellum. This condition can arise from both inherited causes or during the life of your dog including infection and brain tumours. This is a progressive condition meaning that it gets worse over time and unfortunately is always fatal. This article deals with the inherited form of the disease where a DNA test is available to screen dogs before they are bred from. Cerebellar Ataxia has a fairly late onset of about 3 – 5 years old. Unfortunately this inherited disease has infiltrated some dog breeds such as American Staffordshire Bull Terriers to the point where 30% of the dogs are carriers (have at least one faulty copy of the gene).
Genetics of Cerebellar Ataxia in dogs
Hereditable Cerebellar Ataxia has an autosomal inheritance pattern in dogs. This is where the faulty copies of the gene responsible for Cerebellar Ataxia are recessive so just one copy of the normal gene will cancel out the effects of the faulty copy. DNA disease testing of one parent who is clear of this brain disease means that all the puppies in the litter will be free from Hereditable Cerebellar Ataxia regardless of the other parent’s status.
What is the severity of Cerebellar Ataxia?
Cerebellar Ataxia is considered to be a highly severe condition as the affected dogs will begin to suffer from the symptoms early in their adult life and then succumb to the condition at the prime of life. Unfortunately, this disease has no cure.
What are the symptoms of Cerebellar Ataxia in dogs?
The first signs an owner will see in dogs affected by Cerebellar Ataxia are clumsy behaviour that gets worse over time as the disease progresses. Later stages include the dog constantly falling over and losing their balance. Typical signs include the dog having difficulty navigating corners while walking and falling when they shake their head. Dogs affected by Cerebellar Ataxia will often lose weight and will usually be euthanized when the constant falling over, coupled with the difficulty moving around make a normal life impossible for the dog.
Diagnosis of Cerebellar Ataxia
Definitive diagnosis of all forms of Cerebellar Ataxia is still unavailable at this stage, the hereditary form can be detected with DNA disease test. This test is best used to assess the compatibility of dogs to be bred together to virtually eliminate the chances of puppies being affected by Hereditary Cerebellar Ataxia later in life. A number of tests to diagnose Cerebellar Ataxia in its clinical presentation include the use of tests such as blood tests, urinalysis, electrolyte panel, and the use of imaging including x-rays and CT scans. These are often used to locate the affected part of the brain causing the dog’s deteriorating condition.
Treatment of dogs with Cerebellar Ataxia
Treatment of the hereditary form of Cerebellar Ataxia is limited to supportive therapy to make the dog more comfortable but unfortunately there is no cure. If the cause is an infection or tumour, then treatments to treat the underlying cause can be fairly effective in halting the progression of the Cerebellar Ataxia. Ultimately, screening breeding dogs where there is the possibility of Cerebellar Ataxia is the best form of defence against the inherited form.
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