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Home > General > Are There Veterinary Neurologists? When To See One (Vet Answer)

Are There Veterinary Neurologists? When To See One (Vet Answer)

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Written by

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Veterinary neurology is a field of veterinary medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders in animals. A veterinary neurologist is a veterinarian specializing in neurology, so yes – they exist.

The nervous system in animals is divided into central and peripheral. The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system includes the peripheral nerves that come from the brain or spinal cord; it controls body functions, movements, posture, and reflexes. The peripheral nervous system consists of two systems: the autonomic nervous system, for which you have no conscious control, such as that on organs like the intestines, heart, blood vessels, and urinary bladder; and the somatic nervous system, the voluntary system that is under conscious control.

Many neurological conditions manifest as a change in behavior. Therefore, if you notice behavioral changes in your pet, especially if they are sudden or extreme, you may need to visit a veterinary neurologist.

In this article, you will learn the main objectives of neurological examinations in pets, the most common neurological conditions in dogs and cats, and the neurological problems that can cause behavioral changes in pets.


What Are the Main Objectives of Neurological Examinations in Pets?

Usually, neurological cases are often difficult for the average veterinary clinician, so referral to a neurological specialist is essential to establish a correct diagnosis. Here are the main objectives of the neurological examination of pets:

  • Confirming or denying the existence of a neurological problem
  • Locating a lesion in your pet’s nervous system
  • Estimating the severity of a condition and its extent
  • Establishing a differential diagnosis
  • Determining the tests to perform to reach a definitive diagnosis
  • Establishing a treatment


What Are the Most Common Neurological Conditions in Dogs and Cats?

Here are some of the most common neurological conditions in dogs and cats.

1. Epilepsy

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions found in dogs. In pets, epilepsy manifests as sudden, repetitive, uncontrolled seizures. The causes of epilepsy are varied and include:

  • Unknown causes (idiopathic epilepsy)
  • Hereditary
  • Metabolic
  • Tumors
  • Intoxication
  • Infections

2. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Intervertebral disc pathologies are among the most common diseases of the spinal cord in pets, especially dogs. Clinical signs of IVDD include:

  • Pain in the neck, keeping the head down
  • Arched back
  • Inability to walk
  • Difficulty toileting
  • Shaking
  • Wobbliness
  • Knuckling

Breeds such as Bulldogs Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Basset Hounds, and Pekingese are more prone to this condition.

Vet Office Dog Ready For Xray
Image Credit: WiP-Studio, Shutterstock

3. Encephalitis

Encephalitis is a neurological disease characterized by inflammation of the brain tissue. When the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges) are also inflamed, the condition is called meningoencephalitis. It can happen both in dogs and cats. The clinical signs of this condition are represented by:

  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Behavioral changes
  • Circling
  • Tendency to get stuck in corners
  • Depression
  • Disorientation

4. Head or Spinal Trauma

Spine and brain injuries in dogs and cats can be caused by:
  • Car accidents
  • Direct hits
  • Falls from a height
  • Fighting
Trauma can lead to:
  • Damage to brain tissue
  • Brain herniation
  • Fractures of the spine and skull
  • Hematomas and hemorrhage

Spinal and cranial traumas represent medical emergencies, with varied clinical signs corresponding to the affected segment. The clinical signs can include:

  • Coma
  • Paresis
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Alteration of the state of consciousness
  • Wobbly walking, etc.
border collie visiting a vet
Image by: Kamil Macniak. Shutterstock

5. Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Clinical signs of meningitis in pets include:

  • Generalized pain
  • Seizures
  • Loss of balance
  • Lethargy
  • Neck stiffness
  • Muscle spasms

Meningitis can be infectious—caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or protozoa—or non-infectious—caused by an immune-mediated inflammatory response (when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues), toxicity, or unknown causes.

6. Peripheral Nerve Diseases (Peripheral Neuropathy)

Peripheral neuropathy refers to neurological conditions that affect the peripheral nervous system, the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. The causes are varied and include:

  • Ingestion of toxins (e.g., insecticides)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Tumors
  • Vitamin B12 and E deficiency
  • Degenerative diseases (e.g., dancing Doberman disease, distal polyneuropathy of Rottweilers, acquired laryngeal paralysis)
  • Inflammatory diseases (e.g., acquired myasthenia gravis)
  • Injury or trauma
Clinical signs depend on the underlying disease and may include:
  • Tremors
  • Muscular atrophy
  • Weakness
  • Abnormal posture
  • Abnormal gait
  • Lameness
  • Incoordination
  • Behavioral changes
vet examining sick cat
Image Credit: Hryshchyshen Serhii, Shutterstock


What Neurological Problems Can Cause Behavioral Changes in Your Dog?

Any disease that creates a feeling of malaise in your pet has the potential to cause a change in their behavior. However, some neurological diseases can alter your dog’s behavior and personality to a point where your dog may appear aggressive, fearful, have cognitive dysfunction, or sleep-wake cycle disturbances. Certain neurological disorders, like encephalitis, brain tumors, epilepsy, and ischemic attacks, can cause behavioral changes, for example. You understand your pet best and will know whether a behavior of theirs is unusual or not.

Finding the cause, an accurate diagnosis, optimal treatment, and proper care are essential to your pet’s recovery.



To diagnose and treat neurological diseases in dogs and cats, it is recommended to take them to a veterinary neurologist. Most neurological disorders are difficult to diagnose by general practitioners. Common neurological diseases in dogs and cats include intervertebral disc disease, spinal and cranial trauma, epilepsy, encephalitis, and meningitis. Take your pet to the vet if they change their behavior or exhibit certain clinical signs that may indicate a neurological disease.

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Featured Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

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