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Board-certified veterinary Neurologists/Neurosurgeons are veterinarians who have received advanced training after veterinary school in the diagnosis and management of diseases that affect the brain, spinal cord, muscles, and nerves of animals. They have typically completed one or more years of internship and a three year residency in an approved program. In addition, they have passed numerous exams and have demonstrated the knowledge, proficiency, and skills to be awarded certification by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in the specialty of Neurology. In other words, they are individuals that have dedicated years of their life to study and practical training in their chosen specialty far beyond what a typical graduate veterinarian would.

Some of the conditions a neurologist would diagnose and treat include:

  • Weakness or paralysis (difficulty using legs)
  • Wobbler’s Syndrome
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome
  • Spinal pain
  • Tremors
  • Behavior changes
  • Head tilts and balance issues
  • Seizures
  • Neuromuscular disorders (diseases of the nerves and muscles)
  • Meningitis/Meningoencephalitis (Inflammatory/Infectious diseases of the central nervous system)

Board-certified neurologists work closely with your family veterinarian and are an integral part of the team once a problem is detected. Internists often utilize specialized testing to diagnose illness. The tests may include: The more common specialized tests utilized by a board-certified veterinary neurologist include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography (CT, cat scan)
  • Myelograms
  • Spinal fluid analysis (spinal tap)
  • Electrodiagnostics
  • Muscle/nerve biopsy

Some of the procedures a neurologist can perform include:

  • Spinal cord decompression (disc herniation)
  • Cervical Vertebral Stabilization (Wobbler’s Syndrome)
  • Lumbo-Sacral decompression (Cauda equine Syndrome)
  • Cranio-Occipatal Malformation surgery
  • Atlanto-Axial luxation stabilization (AA Lux)
  • Spinal fracture/luxation stabilization
  • Craniotomy

VCA West Coast Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital strongly believes in the triad of care. You, your family veterinarian, and your VCA West Coast neurologist will become a team working together to provide your pet with the best possible care.

If you or your veterinarian believe your pet may benefit from an consultation with an neurologist, please contact us. Additional information is available at www.acvim.org.

What Additional Training Does A Veterinary Neurologist Have?

A veterinarian who has been awarded this specialty status by the ACVIM will list the initials, 'DACVIM (Neurology),' after his or her veterinary degree. Or, the veterinarian may indicate that he or she is a 'Diplomate' of the ACVIM. The word 'Diplomate' typically means the specialist has achieved the following:  

Obtained a traditional 8 year veterinary degree (four years of college plus four years of veterinary school).

Completed a one year internship and an additional two to three years of advanced training, including a residency at an approved program where the doctor will have trained with some of the best experts in the field and obtained hands on experience.

Following this training, the aspiring veterinary neurologist must pass a series of examinations covering all aspects of general internal medicine and neurology.

After completing and passing all of these rigorous requirements, the veterinarian is then recognized by his or her peers as a board certified specialist in veterinary neurology. Many veterinary neurologists are also trained in neurosurgery, while others limit their practice to the medical aspects of the discipline and work with a surgeon on the cases requiring surgery. When your pet needs the care of a veterinary neurologist, years of intensive training and additional education will be focused on helping him or her to recover from his or her problem or enjoy the highest quality of life possible.  

What are Examples of Neurologic Diseases In Pets?

Epilepsy
Congenital deafness
Viral infection (canine distemper, feline infectious peritonitis, feline leukemia, rabies)
Fungal infection (Cryptococcus, Coccidioides)
Tick-borne infections (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia)
Granulomatous Meningioencephalitis (GME)
Myasthenia gravis
Hypoglycemia
Hepatoencephalopathy (brain dysfunction due to liver disease)
Hypothyrodism
Toxicity due to pesticides, lead, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), certain antibiotics
Nutritional disorders, such as thiamine or vitamin E deficiency
Traumatic brain or spinal cord injury
Degenerative myelopathy
Cancer
 

What are Signs of Neurologic Disease In Pets?

Behavior changes
Altered consciousness (e.g., depression, disorientation, coma
Seizures
Complete or partial paralysis
Neck or back pain
Generalized weakness or weakness in one area of the body
Incoordination or imbalance
Gait or stance abnormalities (e.g., straddling or shuffling of rear limbs; crouched position)
Loss of sensory function (sight or hearing)
Confusion
Head tilt
Tremors
Fecal or urinary incontinence
Inappetence


In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with the veterinary neurologist about your pet's care. In other cases, it is necessary to actually refer you to the specialist. Veterinary neurologists are trained in state of the art diagnostic techniques and will utilize advanced imaging such as CT or MRI scans to look at the structures of the nervous system. With electrodiagnostic tests, a neurologist can examine the function of the peripheral nervous system, particularly the nerves and muscles. Spinal fluid analysis can provide clues to such infectious diseases as encephalitis or meningitis. Veterinary neurologists also will be able to make appropriate recommendations for your pet's rehabilitation period, especially after such major procedures as back surgery. Lengthy recuperation times can be necessary, and your pet may be referred to rehabilitation facilities offering such services as water or physical therapy. Pain management will also be addressed.

What are Veterinary Neurological Exam Basics?

Neurological examinations typically proceed from head to tail, with all areas of the body being given systematic attention in that order. In addition, your pet may be videotaped for future reference and to help train other veterinarians.

Mental status: The pet will be observed to determine whether it interacts normally with its owner, other people and animals, and the environment.

Gait and body posture: The veterinary neurologist will watch the animal walk around the room, in the hallway, or up and down stairs. Additionally, the neurologist will make observations regarding the animal's body posture.

Cranial nerve examination: The pet's senses of sight, smell, and hearing will be checked, as well as its ability to chew, swallow, and move its tongue, eye, and facial structures normally. Response to pain will also be checked.

Physical examination: The pet's body will be palpated for any signs of pain or muscle atrophy. The veterinary neurologist will also perform a number of tests with the pet's limbs to check reflexes and reactions, such as turning a pet's paw over to see if the pet will reposition it to the normal stance, and lifting a pet up off the ground and lowering it back down to see how it positions its legs upon contact with the ground.

Reflex testing: Just as in humans, a veterinary neurologist may check a pet's reflexes as part of the examination process.
 

What Is A Neurologic Veterinary Emergency?

Seizure
Complete loss of function of any or all limbs
Recurrent or intractable pain, specifically of the back and neck
Head trauma
Spinal trauma
Severe depression or inability of the patient to respond to its environment
 

What Is Epilepsy In Pets?

Depending on the source, the incidence of epilepsy among the general pet population is estimated at between 0.5 and 2.3%. Epilepsy refers to chronic, recurrent seizures and can be inherited or acquired. Thus, epilepsy is a clinical condition, not a specific disease. Idiopathic epilepsy refers to recurrent seizures in which no identifiable cause is found to explain the seizures, such as metabolic disease, toxin exposure, encephalitis, or brain tumors. Seizure diagnosis involves ruling out common causes of seizures. Initially, your veterinary neurologist will likely order a series of blood tests to help rule out metabolic and toxic causes of seizures. Depending on the age of your pet, the course of the seizures, and the results of the neurological examination, the neurologist may recommend an MRI or CT scan of the brain and/or a spinal fluid tap to look for signs of encephalitis or brain cancer.

Idiopathic epilepsy is most common in purebred dogs, with an age of onset between one and five years of age (often before three years). Dogs and cats with idiopathic epilepsy are completely normal between seizures and have a normal neurological examination.

If your pet's first seizure occurs before 1 year of age or after 5 years of age, is not normal between seizures, or if there are any abnormalities on neurological examination, the veterinary neurologist may recommend advanced diagnostics, such as an MRI of the brain, to help determine the cause of the seizure

What Neurological Diagnostic Tests are used?

Myelogram: Contrast dye radiographic study of the spine.

CSF tap: Cerebral spinal fluid removed from the spinal cord and analyzed.

Electromyography: Electrical impulses are used to diagnose the function of nerves and muscles.

Imaging techniques such as MRI and CT.

What Problems Does A Veterinary Neurologist Diagnose and Treat?

Veterinary neurology is a challenging field in that some diseases are solely neurologic in origin while in other cases, the neurologic problem may be related to an underlying systemic disease. In the first case, the veterinary neurologist may be able to treat the neurologic problem directly. In the second case, resolution of the neurologic problem may hinge on the correct diagnosis and treatment of the underlying disease. For example, certain viral infections may result in neurologic signs.  

Our Neurology Team

Our Neurology Services

BAER Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potential Testing
Cerebrospinal Fluid Collection and Analysis
Electromyography EMG
Nerve Conduction Velocity NCV
Neuromuscular Disease Diagnosis and Management
Non Surgical Spinal Cord Disease Diagnosis and Management
Seizure Diagnosis and Management

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