What is Veterinary Neurology?

Veterinary neurology is the branch of medicine that treats pet diseases of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system. Our Bush Veterinary Neurology Service (BVNS) teams, located in Rockville, Springfield, Leesburg, Richmond, and Woodstock, are led by highly trained board-certified veterinary neurologists who are experienced in providing compassionate care for pets affected by neurologic conditions. In addition to improving pets’ lives, BVNS neurology specialists advance veterinary science by conducting valuable research, publishing scientific articles, and lecturing nationally to educate other veterinary professionals about neurologic diseases in pets.

What is a veterinary neurologist?

To become a veterinary neurologist—a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Neurology)—takes extreme dedication and hard work. A veterinary neurologist’s qualifications include:

  • Veterinary school — Graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine
  • Internship — Completion of a year-long small animal medicine and surgery internship
  • Residency — Completion of a three-year residency at an approved program in which they receive training from veterinary neurology experts.
  • Examinations — Passing an examination series that covers all general small animal internal medicine and neurology aspects

What conditions do veterinary neurologists address?

General practitioners commonly refer pets who have serious neurologic conditions to board-certified veterinary neurologists. Common neurologic conditions in pets include:

  • Seizures — A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical brain disturbance that causes behavioral changes, bodily movements, and unconsciousness. To treat a pet’s condition appropriately, a veterinary neurologist must first determine the seizure’s underlying cause, which may include primary epilepsy, metabolic disease, brain tumor, or brain infection or inflammation.
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — Intervertebral discs sit between spinal vertebrae, and IVDD causes the intervertebral discs to degenerate, resulting in disc rupture or herniation, which puts pressure on a pet’s spinal cord, causing them pain and decreased mobility. Veterinary neurologists grade a pet’s condition based on their clinical signs, and the neurologist may perform surgery to prevent a pet from developing permanent spinal cord damage.
  • Caudal occipital malformation syndrome (COMS) — COMS has been diagnosed in small-breed dogs such as Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese terriers, Japanese chins, and Brussels griffons. This condition causes a skull malformation, compressing the brain and causing pinching at the beginning of the spinal cord, which results in sensory information disruption from the body to the brain. COMS signs include vocalizing when handled or picked up, head and neck scratching, holding the head low, and head pressing.
  • Degenerative myelopathy (DM) — DM is most common in older medium- to large-breed dogs. The disease affects the spinal cord, and causes slowly progressive pelvic limb weakness and paralysis. Initial DM signs include hind paw knuckling, swaying hindquarters when standing still, and difficulty rising from a prone position. The disease is similar to humans’ amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (i.e., Lou Gehrig’s disease).

What signs indicate neurologic disease in pets?

Many varied signs can indicate a neurologic condition. If your pet has a neurologic disease, they may exhibit signs such as:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Altered consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Complete or partial paralysis
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination
  • Confusion
  • Head tilt
  • Incontinence

What does a veterinary neurology examination involve?

During a typical neurologic examination—which proceeds from head to tail—our veterinary neurologists systematically evaluate every body part to detect abnormalities. Evaluations include:

  • Mental status — We observe your pet to determine if they interact normally with you, other people, and their environment.
  • Gait and body posture — We assess your pet’s body posture—sitting and standing—and we watch them walk on a level surface (i.e., around a room), and up and down stairs.
  • Cranial nerve examination — We assess your pet’s sight, smell, hearing, their chewing and swallowing ability, and whether they can move their eyes and facial structures normally. In addition, we check their pain response.
  • Physical examination — We palpate your pet’s body, checking for pain or muscle atrophy.
  • Reflex testing — We check your pet’s limb reflexes and posture. We may also pick up your pet and lower them to the floor to see how they position their limbs when they contact the surface.


What veterinary neurologic diagnostics are performed?

Our veterinary neurologists recommend specific diagnostics based on the findings of your pet’s physical examination. Your pet’s physical condition determines which neurologic diagnostics they should undergo, such as:

  • Spinal radiography — Spinal X-rays can detect fractures, bony tumors, arthritis, and disc infections.
  • Myelogram — A myelogram is a radiographic examination that uses contrast medium to detect spinal cord pathology, including the location of a spinal cord injury, cyst, or tumor.
  • Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) tap — CSF is removed from the spinal canal and analyzed for infection, inflammation, and certain diseases.
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) — An EEG measures the brain’ electrical activity through small, metal electrodes attached to the scalp.
  • Electromyography — Electromyography evaluates and records electrical activity the skeletal muscle produces.
  • Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) — NCV measures an electrical impulse’s conduction speed through a nerve.
  • Brainstem auditory evoked response testing (BAER) — To detect whether your pet has hearing loss, BAER measures brain wave activity in response to clicks or certain tones.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)MRI uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed brain and spinal cord images. BVNS offers on-site MRI at our full-service locations.
  • Computed tomography (CT) — A CT scan uses specialized X-ray equipment to produce cross-sectional body images.

Neurologic conditions in pets are concerning, and you should consult with a trained veterinary neurologist if your pet has neurologic disease signs. If you have concerns about your pet’s neurologic health, contact the BVNS team nearest you, so we can ensure they receive the expert care they need.


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Atlanta, GA
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(703) 451-3709
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