The Dog-Wide Web – Unraveling the Mysteries of the Canine Nervous System
Every time your dog catches a Frisbee, jumps over an obstacle, swims across a pond, or snags an illicit treat, thousands of nerve cells throughout the body are busily messaging information back and forth. All of this activity is coordinated, monitored and stored by another collection of nerve cells, the brain.
Scientists, including veterinary neurologists, learn more every day about how the nervous system functions as well as gain greater understanding about diseases of the nervous system. But much is still left to be discovered.
The Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will provide new and valuable information about the nervous system, particularly on the initiation and progression of neurologic problems, as well as identify possible risk factors for disease development.
The nervous system, extending from the tip of a dog’s nose to the end of its tail, is intimately involved in all bodily functions. Because of this, diseases of the nervous system can take a variety of forms, from seizures to incontinence. This makes diagnosis of nervous system problems particularly tricky.
The nervous system also tends to be hard to visualize with diagnostic tools such as X-rays and blood work. Many times veterinary neurologists need specialized testing, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to help confirm the presence or absence of a neurologic problem.
Neurologic diseases can affect dogs of all ages, although some diseases are more common at certain life stages than others. Looking at reported neurologic problems in our Golden Retriever Lifetime Study cohort at baseline, data showed that 56 dogs were diagnosed with some type of neurologic disease.
The most common diagnosis was epilepsy, with a total of 19 affected dogs. Several other types of diseases also were reported including behavioral problems, inflammatory diseases such as meningitis and muscle inflammation, and trauma. As the study cohort ages, diseases common to older dogs, such as herniated disks, arthritis and brain cancer, are expected to appear more frequently in the database.
Although neurologic problems can be serious, many are treatable and have a good to excellent prognosis. Thanks to all the participants in our Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, we will continue to grow our knowledge about the canine nervous system to improve the health and well-being of dogs.