The first sign: now that is some crazy head bobbing!
Hello everyone, and meet Captain. Captain is a 2 yr old neutered male Labrador with a wonderful life. As you can see Captain even gets to sleep on the bed with the owners. His parents wake up this morning before work, and this is what they see Captain doing. Is this a seizure? is this a weird type of head tremor? Is he sick? Does he have a brain tumor? You can only imagine the questions that were running through the head of his parents. And this is where I step in.......
The Vet trip.
Of course, Captain is going to be perfectly normal when he takes his trip to the veterinarian, right? Kudos to Captain for taking a selfie. From the video we see that Captain is at rest, conscious and responsive, and only appears to be suffering from rapid head movement. No other part of the body that we can see is involved. Now I want you to be prepared for what your veterinarian is going to want to know.... History!
There is somewhat of a good list of possible causes that we need to weigh out as doctors. The video is perfect as it already tells me so much, but what else might I want to know...?
As you can see, your veterinarian is going to want to know quite a bit about the lifestyle and behavior of your puppy. The reason is that we are attempting to rule out a list of causes for the clinical signs of "head tremors."
What is this, and can we stop it?
This particular movement appears to be a tremor that is localized to the head. It is a tremor because we are witnessing an involuntary oscillating contraction of opposing muscle groups. It is localized to the head in this video, and is occurring at rest, but not during sleep. We cannot definitively say that this is not a seizure, however, after investigation of the history we find that Captain appears to have completely normal behavior before, after and during the event with no sign of confusion or disorientation which often accompany a seizure. Therefore, our current primary thought is a resting head tremor. But what causes it?
Head tremors can be caused by several different diseases in different areas of the nervous system. Idiopathic head tremors most commonly affect small breed dogs, however we cannot rule it out in the Laborador. Cerebellar disease and dysmelination are considered along with age, and even congenital cellular storage diseases. Lastly, we must consider toxins leading to intoxications. Certain substances found in the house would be, but not limited to: mycotoxins from the mold on your spoiled food in the trash can (pretty common, folks) organophosphates found in many house hold bug sprays and cleaners, or even tick and flea medications, illicit and non illicit drugs such as fentanyl or excessive benadryl, and many others. We discussed vaccine history because of the potential for distemper, an infectious virus of dogs that can invade the CNS. If Captain was a female that had just whelped, can anyone think of a depleted element in the body that can result in muscle fasciculation and extreme weakness?
"Can we stop it?" This is a great question, and in order to know this we must find out the cause. We can find this out in 2 ways:
Primary Rule Outs based on history:
Captain's new family has taken amazingly good care of him. He was recently neutered and vaccinated after being given to the family from a disinterested owner. Could this mean that Captain is suffering from distemper which is just now rearing its ugly head? Less likely due to the life cycle of the disease and known pathophysiology, however it must go on the list. Secondly, we found out that Captain eats food out of the trash on a weekly basis. If this is simply a moldy food intoxication then remove the source and monitor for progression. Small amounts do not require veterinary intervention, but severe responses will require detoxification of the body and medical therapy for relief of the clinical signs until recovery. Now we need to monitor for actual seizures. Be on alert by tying small bells to the collar. If you hear the bells then rush to the animal and take a good video of the event. Never pick up a dog that is seizing, or you will be bitten. They must recover on their own, and then be taken to the veterinarian immediately for further care and treatment. Progression of the disease will definitely be the alerting sign to seek out veterinary help.
As for Captain, the owners will go and see their primary veterinarian as well as be on the look out for progression.
Please know that causes of tremors and other CNS disease can be very complex, and most general practitioners highly recommend the help of a board certified veterinary neurologist ( AS DO I). Should your pet be suffering from an unidentified CNS disease then I will highly recommend the neurology team at Center for Veterinary and Specialty Care in Lewisville, TX. With access to CT and MRI, along with a profound neurosurgery team you will receive the BEST care possible.
Have specific questions about your pet's odd behavior or signs? Leave a comment and we will post an article. Thanks all for reading, and don't forget to sign up for the weekly newsletter.