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Canine, Feline, Exotics/Wildlife

Meet Our Specialists

To understand and treat your pet's master control unit

Neurologic conditions do not discriminate: they can steal the quality of life from people and our pets. Many of the same brain, spinal cord, nerve, and muscle problems that affect humans also prey on our companions. The underlying causes can result in a variety of conditions, including epilepsy, concussions, ruptured discs, spinal cord injuries, head trauma, and brain tumors. Many of these conditions can be treated – some with drugs, others with surgery.

An animal's nervous system is responsible for sending, receiving, and processing nerve impulses throughout the body. All the organs and muscles inside your pet's body rely upon these nerve impulses to function, which is why some people liken the nervous system to a master control unit. Sense organs provide the nervous system with information about the environment by means of such senses as sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, pressure, and pain. Nerves are connected throughout the whole body to the brain. They carry the information throughout the body in the form of electrochemical signals called impulses. These impulses travel from the brain and spinal cord to the nerves located throughout the body. Veterinary neurologists at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals have trained in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders, including diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles.

The Cornell University Hospital for Animals’ board-certified veterinary neurologists and neurosurgeons are experts in managing neurologic disorders. They have access to specialized equipment that includes an MRI and the most advanced CT scanner and work closely with specialists throughout the hospital to ensure comprehensive care, from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation and post-operative care. Our state-of-the art diagnostics and imaging options enhance our abilities to diagnose difficult and complex diseases.

Advanced techniques:

  • MRI, CT (including 3-D image reconstruction), ultrasound
  • Electrodiagnostics for diagnosis of neuromuscular disease
  • Cerebrospinal fluid tap for the diagnosis of encephalitis, neoplasia
  • MRI-guided stereotactic brain biopsy (Brainsight)
  • CUSA Ultrasonic tissue ablation system for tumor excision
  • Intra-operative ultrasound
  • Muscle and nerve biopsy
  • Serology for diagnosis of auto-immune conditions such as masticatory myositis
  • Comprehensive treatment of non-infectious encephalitis, including administration of chemotherapeutics such as Cytosar
  • Pre- and post-operative treatment of refractory pain with intravenous infusion of fentanyl, dexmedetomidine, ketamine, and/or lidocaine
  • Spinal and intracranial surgery, including treatment of complex malformations/neoplasia

Neurology medical conditions

Neurologic conditions that may affect companion animals

Cornell's veterinary neurology service diagnoses and treats a variety of neurologic conditions.

Arachnoid Cyst Atlantoaxial Joint Instability Brain Tumors
Cerebellar Disorders Chiari Malformation Deafness
Degenerative Myelopathy Epilepsy Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis
Head Trauma Hydrocephalus Lumbosacral Disease Metabolic Brain Disorders
Myasthenia Gravis Myositis Necrotizing Encephalitis
Neuropathies Neurotoxins Polyneuropathy
Spinal Trauma Tremor Syndromes Vestibular Disease
Wobbler's Syndrome

Arachnoid Cyst:

Cerebrospinal fluid filled cysts that arise from an abnormal development of the arachnoid membrane that covers the brain surface. They may occur over the surface of the brain around or around the skull base. Most arachnoid cysts are discovered incidentally because of a CT scan or MRI obtained for another reason and do not require treatment. On occasion however, some arachnoid cysts enlarge and put pressure on adjacent neural structures such as the optic nerves, brainstem or cerebral cortex and require surgical drainage. This treatment is usually quite effective.

Atlantoaxial Joint Instability:

Atlantoaxial instability is a condition in which the first two cervical (neck) vertebrae are not firmly attached. Normally, the atlas (the first cervical vertebra) and the axis (the second cervical vertebra) are attached by a group of ligaments. They are further stabilized by a prominence on the axis called the dens that protrudes into a hole in the atlas. Pets with congenital atlantoaxial instability are born without ligament support to their atlantoaxial joint, and may also be born without a dens. Trauma to the neck can also cause tearing of the ligaments or fracture of the dens, resulting in atlantoaxial instability.

Brain Tumors:

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of cells within the brain, which can be cancerous or non-cancerous (benign).

Cerebellar Disorders:

A condition in which there is a deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function of the cerebellum; manifestations of cerebellar dysfunction include dysmetria, gait ataxia, and muscle hypotonia. Cerebellar disorders have numerous causes, including congenital malformations, hereditary ataxias, and acquired conditions. Symptoms vary with the cause but typically include ataxia (impaired muscle coordination). Diagnosis is clinical and often by imaging and sometimes genetic testing. Treatment is usually supportive unless the cause is acquired and reversible.

Chiari Malformation:

The Chiari is a malformation of the hindbrain, or brainstem associated with myelomeningocele, and can cause hydrocephalus and other symptoms. The cerebellum may be elongated and drop down along the lower brainstem, through the case of the skull and into the cervical canal: the fourth ventricle may be elongated and enter the cervical canal.


Degenerative Myelopathy:

Degenerative myelopathy is progressive rear limb weakness or paralysis.

Degenerative Disc Disease:

Degenerative disc disease is typically associated with aging. As you age, your discs, like other joints in the body, can degenerate (break down) and become problematic: that's a natural part of growing older as your body deals with years of strain, overuse, and maybe even misuse.


A disorder of the central nervous system characterized by loss of consciousness and convulsions

Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis:

GME is an acute, progressive inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS) of dogs. GME is a common differential for dogs that are affected by focal or diffuse neurological diseases. An inflammatory disease like GME can cause severe and often irreversible damage to the CNS. Consequently, a better understanding of the disease is essential.

Head Trauma

Hydrocephalus Lumbosacral Disease

Metabolic Brain Disorders:

Metabolic brain diseases are associated with biochemical disturbances and abnormalities in chromosome structure. They affect the way the brain functions and are also known as encephalopathy, acquired metabolic brain disease or acquired metabolic encephalopathy.

Myasthenia Gravis:

This is a disorder affecting the space between the nerve and the muscle (neuromuscular junction) that results in transient motor weakness of the face and limbs.The disease that interrupts the way nerves communicate with muscles. There is no treatment for the congenital form. The acquired form, which is an autoimmune disease, is treated medically with immunosuppressive agents.


Inflammation of muscle tissue.

Necrotizing Encephalitis:

Any encephalitis in which extensive brain necrosis occurs.


This refers to diseases or injuries affecting nerves or nerve cells.


Neurotoxins are natural or artificial toxic substances that affect nerve tissues.


Spinal Trauma

Tremor Syndromes:

Tremors are a neurologic movement disorder characterized by involuntary fine rhythmic tremor of a body part or parts.

Vestibular Disease:

The vestibular system senses the position of the head and body in space, in relation to gravity and movement. This helps animals maintain balance and coordinate eye movements with movement of the head. The receptors for the vestibular system are located in the inner ear, adjacent to the hearing receptors. Vestibular information is processed in the lower portion of the brain in the brainstem and cerebellum. Therefore a problem in the inner ear or one in the brain can affect the vestibular system. The phrase "vestibular disease" is a general term referring to any abnormality of the vestibular system, although some people use this term to mean idiopathic vestibular disease.

Wobbler's Syndrome:

Wobbler’s syndrome encompasses a number of cervical vertebral abnormalities. These include vertebral malarticulation/malformation, disk extrusion, articular facet hypertrophy, and ligament hypertrophy. Two types of “Wobbler’s syndrome” exist. One is exemplified by the older Doberman pinschers where the disease is characterized by ventral compressive lesions of the caudal cervical area from ligamentous hypertrophy and disk (usually anulus) protrusion. Younger, large breed dogs such as the Great Dane, have a similarly named disease, but with a differing pathophysiology. In this instance, disease of the dorsal articular facets predisposes to hypertrophy of the associated joint capsule and ligaments, resulting also in spinal cord compression. Similar-type compression is rare in older dogs.

What to Expect During Your Appointment

Your scheduled visit to the Neurology Service at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals will begin with your checking in at the reception desk. Following completion of a small amount of paperwork, you will be greeted in the waiting room by one or two students currently on their Neurology rotation, and brought with your pet to a private examination room.

The student(s) will then inquire about your pet's history. This experience is invaluable to the education and development of our students, and we appreciate your patience and understanding in allowing these future veterinarians to interact with you and your pet. 

The student(s) will then excuse themselves with your pet to perform a physical and neurologic examination, and consult with a neurology resident and the Chief neurologist on service regarding their recorded history, examination findings, and recommendations for case management. A neurology resident will then accompany the student(s) back to your examination room and, after introducing themselves, will discuss their findings and recommendations for management of your pet's case.

Following this appointment, your pet may be discharged with you for either future diagnostic testing or for at home-care. Alternately, you may elect for your pet to stay at the CUHA for diagnostic testing and/or treatment. Given our schedule and, at times, interaction with other services’ schedules in the care of your pet, diagnostic testing may be performed either during the afternoon of your appointment or, at times, the following day. Tests requiring anesthesia, such as magnetic resonance imaging, are often performed the day after a pet’s appointment. Please understand that our primary concern is the well being of your pet and that, although we will always strive to minimize the duration of your stay, we do not wish to compromise patient care, and this may take some time.

If outpatient testing is performed, you will most commonly be asked to return to discuss our findings and recommendations with you following testing. At this time you will meet with the neurology resident and the student(s) who received you and your pet, and discuss their findings and therapeutic recommendations. In some cases, therapy will be in the form of medication that you can administer at home. In others, your pet may require hospitalization for care and/or diagnostics, and the rationale and logistics of this recommendation will be discussed in depth upon your return. In the event that your pet requires a surgical procedure, the rationale, logistics, and risks associated with the procedure will be discussed at this time.

You will also receive a written description of our discharge instructions, outlining our findings and recommendations in more vernacular terms, either at the time of your departure or within 24 to 48 hours after leaving the hospital. You may request to have your discharge papers prior to leaving the hospital. We will strive to make sure that we have answered any and all questions that you may have prior to your departure, but we are also available for questions following discharge, should these arise. 

We look forward to seeing you and your pet soon!

Success Stories

Sir NogginSir Noggin Gets a New "Noggin"

Some say cats have nine lives. If so, Sir Noggin has cashed in several already. In August, he was a stray, rescued from Brooklyn traffic. At first glance, it appeared from a bump on his “noggin” that he had suffered head trauma. An MRI donated by Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Massachusetts, however, proved otherwise: He was born with an encephalocele, a condition rarely seen because animals usually die at birth or are euthanized.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, encephaloceles are “rare neural tube defects characterized by sac-like protrusions of the brain and the membranes that cover it through openings in the skull. These defects are caused by failure of the neural tube to close completely during fetal development.”

In Sir Noggin’s case, Dr. Curtis Dewey, associate professor and section chief for neurology at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, explains, the sac was filled with spinal fluid that had settled between the two hemispheres of his brain and was protruding from the skull. The fluid put pressure on the cat’s brain, causing him to appear depressed and lethargic after play.

Sir Noggin was referred to CUHA where Dr. Curtis Dewey, associate professor and section chief for neurology, believed the condition could be fixed. In what is thought to be the inaugural surgery to remove a feline encephalocele, Dewey removed the sac and all associated abnormal tissue, constructed a new meningeal layer using connective tissue to protect the brain, and built a new skull with titanium mesh and bone cement.

“Basically, we gave him a helmet,” said Dewey, explaining that he used a special drill to insert 13, 3-millimeter screws to hold the titanium plate in place. “The surgery was a success on several levels. Of course, it was a success for Sir Noggin and his family. Beyond that, though, we have learned valuable lessons that can be applied to future cases. Encephaloceles do not have to be a death sentence for animals.”

Greta Masters, who adopted Sir Noggin and has told his story on the Internet  (Sir Noggin on YouTube and on Facebook) has made two 10-hour road trips to Ithaca and expects to make a third trip for a follow-up visit. “He’s doing marvelously,” she said. “We are so pleased with all the help we received from Cornell and around the world.”

The cost of the surgery was supported with a gift from the Cornell Feline Health Center as well as gifts from more than 300 donors from around the world

RisaThe Day Risa Slayed the Dragon

Coyotes left her for dead. When Risa, an 11-year-old dachshund, was found on the forest floor, she was bleeding and in shock. Fearing the worst, Dan Evett and Janet Snoyer bundled up their long-time companion and brought her to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, where they met Dr. Jay Harvey, Dr. Heather Knapp-Hoch, and veterinary student Rosie Busayawatanasood ’10 in the emergency room. Thus began a week-long vigil – fraught with life and death decisions – that ended with tough-girl Risa defying the odds.

Risa had sustained multiple injuries: she had muscle damage in her neck, crushed vertebrae, internal bleeding, and had lost a good deal of blood. After a three-hour, two-surgeon operation, Risa was transferred to the ICU, where it was touch and go for several days.

“Despite the surgery, it was difficult for anyone to know if she would make it,” said Evett, who is a semi-retired archaeologist. “By the third day, though, there was reason to believe that she would come through the ordeal. But no one had any idea if she would be a dog or a dog invalid.”

After six days, Risa trotted into the waiting room, albeit a bit sideways as her coordination was still off, headed home with advice from the Hospital’s surgery, pain management and rehabilitation services. Dan, who took over physical therapy when Janet was out of town, turned therapy into a game and allowed Risa to direct the sessions, explaining that Risa showed him what she could do.

“The exercises that we recommended for Risa were designed to challenge without stressing her injuries or her attitude,” said Dr. Andrea Looney, senior lecturer and director of the pain management program. “She has made a remarkable recovery. Definitely a story of positive energy and sheer determination – from Risa, from her owners, and from Rosie, who saw opportunities to collaborate with services across the Hospital to speed Risa’s recovery.”

Related Info

American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
A specialty organization created to enhance animal and human health by advancing veterinary internal medicine through training, education, and discovery.

American College of Veterinary Surgeons
A specialty organization that certifies veterinary surgeons and provides a source of referrals to pet owners.