- Tilting their head to one side
- Swaying when standing
- Tipping over
- Darting eyes
- Weakness in one or more limbs
- Acting “spacey” and/or confused
- Change in aggressiveness—either a typically mellow dog or cat getting more aggressive or an aggressive pet becoming inexplicably placid
- Change in personality
- Confusion (for example, randomly barking at food bowl, going to the hinge side of the door)
- Getting lost in the house or familiar areas
- Increase in vocalization
- Moments of disorientation
Note: Some behavior changes may be noticeable right away, such as head pressing or continuous circling; others may take hours, possibly days to discern as lasting behavior changes.
- Constant circling
- Circular motions to navigate a space or come when called
- Circling continuously or obsessively
- Your pet does not respond when called while circling
- Head tilt when circling
- Inability to walk in a straight line
- Staggering (a “drunken” walk)
- Stumbling (falling forward or to the side)
- Sudden inability to walk
- Visible body misalignment when walking
- Trouble standing (if your pet does not have arthritis and has not experienced a recent injury)
Partial paralysis, for instance, may involve your pet dragging their hind legs. If you see your pet is unable to move their hind legs, call our team immediately as in many instances this can be an emergency.
- Collapsing when playing
- Tiring easily when playing with toys or going for their normal walk
Darting eyes (also called nystagmus), is a repetitive back-and-forth motion of the eyes. Your pet will likely keep their head still, and they do not respond to attempts to get their attention.
Unlike circling that can be confused with normal, instinctual behavior, head pressing is never normal. It is easy to recognize—your pet may either walk to a wall, solid piece of furniture or other stable object and press its head against it. It is clear during head pressing that your pet is not sniffing or searching for anything; the animal simply stands still pressing its head against the object. There is no minimum amount of time required for head pressing to be diagnostically significant.
Difficulty using a single (or multiple) limb(s) can be associated with a nerve, muscle or vascular problem. If you notice your pet showing these signs, there may be a deep concern:
- Dragging (your pet may drag or not bare weight on the limb)
- Knuckling/scuffing (most times you will notice sores on the tops of the feet or nails wearing down abnormally)
Dogs and cats communicate a lot with their tails. If that tail is no longer bouncy, wagging or swishing, that may suggest the presence of a neurological disorder.
Pet owners often notice muscle loss because of a change in their pet’s appearance. Your dog or cat may:
- Have one limb that is noticeably thinner than the other
- Appear leaner
- Experience disfigurement on the head and/or face
- Muscle atrophy may present alone or with other symptoms, such as weakness, trembling and/or trouble standing.
Your pet is a member of your family, and like other family members, you tend to keep tabs on their activities, moods and general health. You are likely to know if your pet is in pain if you notice:
- Hunched posture
- Reluctance to move
Seizures are common neurological events that may be symptomatic of a number of conditions. There are two main types of seizures that small animals may experience:
A generalized seizure affects the pet’s entire body and may present with signs such as:
- Legs paddling
- Chewing motion
- Foaming at the mouth
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
- For the duration of the event, which may be seconds to minutes, the animal is usually aware of its surroundings. For hours to days after the event, your pet may exhibit behavior changes, experience vision loss and/or suffer from lethargy.
Focal seizures are also called partial seizures because they only affect a part of the animal’s body. Partial seizures may present as:
- Twitching limb
- Twitching part of the face
- During the event, your pet may not be aware of its surroundings, appearing “spacey.”
Pet owners use a variety of terms to describe involuntary movements they observe in their pets. Among some of the most common are “trembling” and “shivering.”
“Trembling” is a vague term that may be used to describe:
- Tremoring in one or more limbs
- Shaking legs when your pet stands or attempts to walk
- However, our doctors most often hear the term “trembling” to describe full-body movements, possibly a generalized seizure.
“Twitching” is not a clinical term for a neurological symptom, but a common way pet owners describe their pet’s involuntary behavior. Other terms they may use include:
- Twitching most commonly affects one or more paws, limbs or areas of the face; however, some pet owners may use the term to describe a whole-body seizure
Vertigo is the sensation of loss of balance. Animals cannot describe the sensation of vertigo, but may exhibit behavior such as:
- Head tilt or turn (one ear may be higher than the other or your pet’s head may be turned to the left or right)
- Inability or unwillingness to stand (your pet may roll instead of walk)
- Staying in one place to minimize dizziness and disorientation
Vision loss can indicate that something is not working properly in the brain and/or nerves connecting to the eyes. Pets who suddenly lose their ability to see may:
- Bump into objects
- Exhibit difficulty tracking and/or locating an object (like their favorite toy)
- Use their nose more than their eyes to detect or locate things or navigate spaces
- Be more “clingy,” sticking to familiar spaces and people.
Weakness in pets is often observed by pet owners as lost abilities. For instance, dogs and cats may no longer be able to:
- Get up quickly or easily from a reclined position
- Jump to heights they could once reach with ease, such as the countertop or high bed
- Stand or walk without shaking, stumbling or collapsing