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Dysautonomia in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Dysautonomia is the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which is that part of the nervous system that works without conscious control. This includes glands, cardiac muscle, and smooth muscles such as those of the digestive system, the respiratory system and the skin.

Dysautonomia is seen mainly in cats in Great Britain, although it has been identified in the United States as well. It is rare and most affected dogs and cats are less than three years old. There are no breed or sex predilection, no genetic basis and the cause is unknown..

What to Watch For

  • Signs are generally sudden in onset
  • Depression
  • Anorexia
  • Constipation
  • Occasional diarrhea
  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Reduced tear production
  • Regurgitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Urinary incontinence (dribbling or leaking urine)

    Diagnosis

    Baseline tests to include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile and urinalysis are recommended, all of which are often within normal limits.

  • Chest and abdominal X-rays generally support a dilated esophagus.

  • Barium (dye) studies of the upper gastrointestinal tract often confirm a slow movement through the esophagus and stomach.

  • Ophthalmic pharmacologic testing by administering certain medications directly into the eyes of the affected individual often reveals characteristic findings.

    Treatment

  • It is most important to determine whether the patient's condition warrants admission to the hospital for treatment or treatment at home as an outpatient.

  • Fluid and electrolyte therapy may be of benefit in some patients.

  • Nutritional support is imperative in these patients, as many have a megaesophagus (enlarged/dilated esophagus) and cannot get food past the malfunctioning organ.

  • Symptomatic therapy including medication to improve movement throughout the gastrointestinal tract, help the urinary bladder empty, or increase tear production in the eyes.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer all medication and diet as directed by your veterinarian. If any change is noted in your pet's condition, in particular, coughing or difficulty breathing, contact your veterinarian at once, as this may signal aspiration pneumonia secondary to a malfunctioning esophagus.

    Overall prognosis is guarded. Relapse and death are common.

    As there is no known cause, there is no known preventative.

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