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Neurological Problems in Pets: Steps to a Diagnosis

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When a pet owner suspects that a pet has a neurologic disease, it can be a very scary time. However, remember that even if neurologic signs are severe, they don’t necessarily correlate with your pet’s ability to get better! For pets facing possible neurologic problems, the best way pet parents can begin to help is to work with a veterinary team to find a diagnosis. Here is a breakdown of what pet parents can expect from this process. 

Recognize the Warning Signs 

First off, it is important to recognize the warning signs. Common signs that your pet may have a nervous system issue include:  

  • Difficulty walking or complete paralysis  
  • Seizures 
  • Back or neck pain
  • A head tilt
  • Circling 

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Visit the Vet 

If you notice any of the above signs, it’s time for your family veterinarian to evaluate your pet. If it is the middle of the night and your veterinarian is closed, it would be appropriate to seek care at an emergency facility. Based on the veterinarian’s evaluation (which will include a complete neurologic examination), they may recommend the following:  

  • Complete bloodwork to assess red blood cells, white blood cells, and organ function 
  • Radiographs of the spine to evaluate for trauma, suspicion of a herniated disk, or evidence of infection of the bone 
  • Medication recommendations may be made based on bloodwork and radiograph findings 
  • A referral to a board-certified veterinary neurologist if your pet’s clinical signs are severe 

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Visit a Board-Certified Neurologist 

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An example of MRI results.

If your pet is evaluated by a neurologist and further information is needed, the neurologist may recommend:

  • An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the affected part of the nervous system – brain, neck, or back. The MRI is the best way to visualize the brain and spinal cord to help formulate an appropriate treatment plan for your pet.
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    Our Neurology team performing a spinal tap.

    Depending on the MRI results, a spinal tap may also be needed to evaluate the pet’s spinal fluid. A spinal tap is the gold standard test to evaluate for evidence of inflammation of the nervous system, such as meningitis. 

Based on all the diagnostic test results, a treatment plan will be made for your pet to give them the best chance for a successful outcome.  

If your pet is showing signs of a neurologic problem, consult with your family veterinarian or your local animal emergency hospital. If a consultation with a board-certified neurologist is recommended, ask about a referral to Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Neurology Service 

Missy Carpentier, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology), board-certified veterinary neurologist, board-certified veterinary neurosurgeon


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