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Dandy-Walker Syndrome in Dogs: Causes, Signs, and Treatment (in 2023)

Medically reviewed by Dr. Irish on 9 Jan 2023

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time, but it can be worrying if your puppy isn’t developing the way he or she should. You expect your puppy to be playful, energetic, and able-footed. But what if that’s not the case?

If your puppy can’t seem to walk straight or seems unusually uncoordinated, he or she may have something called Dandy Walker syndrome, a neurological illness. In this post, we’re going to cover the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for this condition.

Please keep reading to learn more about this condition and how you can support your pet’s well-being.

Breeds at Risk

Dandy-Walker syndrome is a rare, congenital brain abnormality that affects the development of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination.

It can occur in any breed, but these breeds seem to be more affected:

  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxers
  • Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzus
  • Irish Setters
  • Toy Fox Terriers

Other dogs that may be at risk include Australian kelpies, the cocker spaniel, and Kerry blue terriers.

What Exactly is Dandy-Walker Syndrome in Dogs?

Dandy-Walker syndrome, also known as Dandy-Walker malformation, is a rare and serious neurological disorder that affects the brain. This congenital brain malformation involves the cerebellum. The cerebellum is an area in the back of the brain that coordinates movement.

Puppies with dandy-walker syndrome, or dandy-walker-like-malformation, may show signs from as early as 5 to 6 weeks of age.

See below for signs of dandy-walker syndrome in dogs.

dandy walker syndrome can affect french bulldogs

Conditions Directly Related to Dandy-Walker Syndrome

Dandy-Walker Variant

There is a milder form of Dandy-Walker syndrome that is less severe and may not cause as many problems.

The main features of the Dandy-Walker variant include an enlarged fourth ventricle and an underdeveloped or missing roof of the fourth ventricle.

Inferior Cerebellar Hypoplasia

Inferior cerebellar hypoplasia occurs when the lower part of the cerebellum (called the cerebellar hemisphere) doesn’t develop as it should.

Congenital Brain Malformations

Congenital brain malformations are caused by the brain not developing the way it should. These genetic conditions are present at birth.

Clinical Signs of Dandy-Walker Syndrome in Dogs

Dandy-Walker syndrome is typically diagnosed in puppies between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months, but it may also be detected in older dogs.

Clinical signs may vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some dogs may have only mild symptoms, while others may be more severely affected.

Clinical signs, described more fully below, include:

  • tremors
  • rolling or leaning to one side
  • involuntary eye movements
  • high-stepping gait

Dogs with dandy-walker syndrome are still able to learn as well as any other dog.

Tremors (Intention tremor)

Intention tremor is one of the most common signs of Dandy-Walker syndrome. It happens when a dog tries to do something, like reaching for food or trying to walk and may involve the head, legs, or both.

It may cause the dog to appear unsteady or uncoordinated.

Rolling or leaning to one side

Dogs that are unable to maintain their balance may appear to lean or stumble to one side. If you see your dog doing this it’s important to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. Dogs that suddenly lose their sense of balance could signal a serious medical emergency.

Involuntary Eye Movements

Abnormal eye movements, also known as nystagmus, refers to rapid, involuntary eye movements that can occur in any direction. These movements may be horizontal, vertical, or rotary, and they may be constant or intermittent.

In dogs with Dandy-Walker syndrome, abnormal eye movements may be caused by problems with the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination.

Abnormal eye movements can be difficult to notice in dogs but can sometimes be detected by a veterinarian.

High Stepping Gait

Dogs with dandy-walker syndrome may appear to take exaggerated steps. For example, when walking they may lift their paws a little higher in the air than what would be normal.

Other clinical characteristics of Dandy-Walker syndrome in dogs may include:

  • a wide-based stance
  • an unsteady gait
  • difficulty standing or sitting

Some dogs may also show signs of cerebellar dysfunction, such as an inability to coordinate their movements or problems with balance and coordination.

dandy walker syndrome in dogs

What is Dandy-Walker Complex?

Dandy-Walker complex is often used to describe cases of Dandy-Walker syndrome that are more severe or have more widespread abnormalities in the brain. It’s not a separate condition but is a term used to describe a particular set of brain abnormalities.

Diagnosing Dandy-Walker Syndrome

The diagnosis of Dandy-Walker syndrome can be challenging, as the condition is rare and its symptoms may be similar to those of other neurological disorders.

The following medical tests may be performed to make an accurate diagnosis:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

One of the main tools used to diagnose Dandy-Walker syndrome is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

This test uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the brain and other structures inside the body.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A complete blood count (CBC) is a routine blood test that is used to measure the number and types of cells in the blood.

This test may be ordered to check for any underlying health problems or infections that may be contributing to the dog’s symptoms.

Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Analysis

Another test that may be used to diagnose Dandy-Walker Syndrome is a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis.

This test involves taking a sample of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and analyzing it for any abnormalities.

CT Scan

A computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to produce detailed images of the brain and other structures inside the body. A CT scan can help identify the specific brain abnormalities associated with Dandy-Walker syndrome..

Differential Diagnosis

A differential diagnosis is a process of ruling out other conditions that may be causing the dog’s symptoms.

Follow-Up Examinations

Follow-up examinations, including MRI or CT scans, are an important part of the diagnostic process for Dandy-Walker syndrome. They can help confirm a diagnosis and mark progression over time.

Treatment Options for Dogs with Dandy-Walker Syndrome

The specific treatment plan for a dog with Dandy-Walker Syndrome will depend on the severity of the condition and the specific needs of the dog.

Basic Functions

Supportive care may include providing fluids and nutrition, controlling seizures, and managing any other underlying health problems.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy may help improve mobility and function. Typically, this involves exercises to strengthen the muscles and improve coordination, as well as techniques to help the dog adapt to any limitations caused by the condition.

Supportive Care

Supportive care is an important aspect of treatment for Dandy-Walker syndrome. This may include providing the dog with a special diet, administering medications to control seizures or other symptoms, and providing assistance with activities of daily living such as toileting and grooming.

Special Needs

Dogs with Dandy-Walker syndrome may have special needs that require ongoing care and support.

Pet owner should work closely with their veterinarian to develop a treatment plan that meets the needs of their dog and helps to improve their quality of life.

Causes of Dandy-Walker Syndrome in Dogs

The specific cause of the condition is not fully understood, but is thought to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including:

Canine Herpes Virus

One potential cause of Dandy-Walker Syndrome in dogs is the canine herpes virus (CHV), which is thought to be transmitted to the developing fetus during pregnancy.

Autosomal Recessive Inheritance

Dandy-Walker syndrome may also be inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. In order to develop this condition, a dog must inherit two copies of the genetic mutation (one from each parent).

Dogs with only one copy of the mutation are called carriers and may not show any signs of the condition, but they can pass the mutation on to their offspring.

Genetic Component

There is a strong genetic component to Dandy-Walker syndrome, and certain breeds of dogs may be more at risk for developing the condition.

Basset Hounds, Beagles, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, and Saint Bernards are among the breeds that may be more likely to get Dandy-Walker Syndrome.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors:

Environmental factors such as exposure to toxins or certain medications during pregnancy may also contribute to the development of this syndrome.

Other factors: Other factors that may contribute to the development of Dandy-Walker Syndrome in dogs include abnormal brain development, problems with brain function, and other underlying health conditions.

dandy-walker syndrome in dogs

Can Dandy-Walker Syndrome Be Prevented?

There is no known way to prevent Dandy-Walker Syndrome in dogs. However, there are some steps that pet owners can take to reduce the risk of their dog developing this condition.

Genetic testing

One way to reduce the risk of Dandy-Walker Syndrome in dogs is to undergo genetic testing for the condition. This can help to identify any genetic mutations that may be associated with Dandy-Walker Syndrome.

Genetic disease

Breeders have a responsibility not to breed dogs with known medical conditions, like Dandy-Walker syndrome.

Life Expectancy of a Dog with Dandy-Walker Syndrome

The lifespan of a dog with Dandy-Walker syndrome can vary greatly depending on the severity of the condition and the availability of supportive care. Some dogs with mild forms of the condition may live relatively normal lives, while others with more severe forms may have shortened lifespans.

Summary

Dandy-Walker syndrome is a rare but serious disease that can happen to any kind of dog. It is a genetic disorder that can cause ataxia, tremors, and difficulty walking.

The length of time a dog with Dandy-Walker syndrome lives can vary a lot depending on how bad the condition is and how much help is available.

If a pet parent suspects that their dog may have Dandy-Walker syndrome, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible and work closely with a veterinarian to manage the care of their pet.

With proper care and management, it is possible for dogs with Dandy-Walker syndrome to live happy and fulfilling lives.

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References

Bernardino, F., Rentmeister, K., Schmidt, M. J., Bruehschwein, A., Matiasek, K., Matiasek, L. A., Lauda, A., Schoon, H. A., & Fischer, A. (2015, February 10). Inferior Cerebellar Hypoplasia Resembling a Dandy-Walker-Like Malformation in Purebred Eurasier Dogs with Familial Non-Progressive Ataxia: A Retrospective and Prospective Clinical Cohort Study. PubMed Central (PMC). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0117670

Lim, J. H., Kim, D. Y., Yoon, J. H., Kim, W. H., & Kweon, O. K. (2008, June 1). Cerebellar vermian hypoplasia in a Cocker Spaniel. https://doi.org/10.4142/jvs.2008.9.2.215. https://doi.org/10.4142/jvs.2008.9.2.215

P. (n.d.). Congenital and Inherited Cerebellar Disorders in Animals – Nervous System – Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/nervous-system/congenital-and-inherited-anomalies-of-the-nervous-system/congenital-and-inherited-cerebellar-disorders-in-animals

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