What is ataxia?

The term ataxia comes from the Greek meaning "without order". Ataxia refers to a lack of normal coordination of movement. There are different types of ataxia, but here we are referring to cerebellar ataxia. The cerebellum (the "little brain") is the portion of the brain that fine-tunes movement.

Affected dogs might have a “drunken”, “staggering” gait, and frequently have a “goose stepping” movement of the front limbs. They may move well in a straight line, but stumble or fall when making fast turns, climbing stairs, or attempting to catch a ball. A quick movement such as shaking the head may precipitate a brief dizzy spell where the dog stiffens, falls, and develops a rapid twitching of the eyes called nystagmus.

These tracings of a dog's front limb show the high-stepping (hypermetric) gait of an ataxic dog compared to the efficient movement of a normal dog.