Updated on January 28, 2013
When to Visit a Veterinary Neurologist
Welcome to part three in a series of articles intended to help you determine when your pet might benefit from a visit with a veterinary specialist. Last week we covered veterinary dermatology. This week’s focus is on the specialty of neurology.
Just as is true with other specialists, veterinary neurologists spend a minimum of three years completing internship and residency training following veterinary school. During this time they master the nuances of a plethora of neurological diseases, from brain tumors and epilepsy to meningitis and intervertebral disk disease (slipped disk). Not only are they adept at treating their patients medically, they are also gifted surgeons performing the most delicate sorts of surgeries required when working in and around the brain and spinal cord.
The physical exam performed by a neurologist is quite different than what you are likely used to seeing. You will observe gentle probing of the nostrils, ears, eyes, and throat. There will be flexion and extension of every joint, tapping of the knees and elbows with a reflex hammer, stretching of the neck into a variety of yoga-like poses, two legged hopping exercises, and inspection of the patient when rolled upside down. All of these observations help the neurologist “localize the lesion” (figure out which part of the nervous system is malfunctioning).
When should your pet be evaluated by a board certified veterinary neurologist? Here are some suggestions:
- Your pet has a neurological disorder that is not getting better or is getting worse despite multiple visits with your family veterinarian.
- Your pet has a gait abnormality the cause of which cannot be clearly determined.
- Your pet has partial or complete disuse of one or more legs.
- Your pet has seizures that are not well controlled with medication.
- Your pet has an unexplained change in behavior.
- Your pet is experiencing pain the source of of which cannot be identified.
- Your pet has been diagnosed with a neurological disorder, particularly one with which your family veterinarian has limited experience.
- You simply want to be more certain about the advice you’ve received from your family veterinarian.
- The breed you fancy is prone to neurological disease. For example, Great Danes and Doberman Pinchers are predisposed to cervical spondylomyelopathy (abnormal alignment of bones within the neck that can result in pinching of the spinal cord) and Dachshunds are notorious for developing intervertebral disk disease (slipped disk). A visit with a veterinary neurologist will allow you to preemptively learn more about the disorder as well as any preventative measures you might be able to take at home.
To find a board certified veterinary neurologist in your community or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Neurology is a subspecialty within this organization. Be forewarned, there simply aren’t enough veterinary neurologists to go around. If there are none practicing in your neck of the woods, I encourage you to seek help from an internal medicine specialist for neurological issues that can be treated medically. For neurological issues requiring surgical management, the best substitute for a neurologist is a veterinarian who specializes in surgery.
Have you and your pet ever visited a veterinary neurologist? What was the reason and what was the outcome?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.