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Tumbling Puppy Syndrome in Beagles

More properly known as neonatal cerebellar cortical degeneration (NCCD), tumbling puppy syndrome is a disease that occurs in a few different breeds including the Beagle. It is usually apparent at around three weeks of age and can vary widely in severity. Mildly and moderately affected dogs can live relatively normal lives provided a bit of care is taken with their surroundings. In the most severe cases though, the dog cannot walk or maintain balance for any length of time resulting in humane euthanasia.


The symptoms of tumbling puppy syndrome begin to appear at about three weeks of age as the puppies begin to learn to walk. Affected puppies tend to have an odd and exceedingly clumsy gait. They may stumble or fall more often than their peers, hold their head at a tilted angle, move in circles, or lean as they walk. The disease is sometimes called drunken puppy syndrome for the way the dog moves.

In the early stages, it can be difficult to identify as many puppies are initially clumsy. But a normal puppy will begin to develop more co-ordination and a better sense of balance as he grows. An affected puppy will remain clumsy with frequent falls, particularly when moving quickly. A mildly affected dog may only stagger or fall when moving at a run and be otherwise fine. The disease is not progressive and the symptoms will not worsen. Provided that the Beagle is able to move about with comfort and no so completely hampered by his lack of balance that he cannot regain his feet when he falls, he can go on to live a fairly normal life. Care must be taken to avoid situations like rough ground, holes in the ground, stairs, and other obstacles that pose a hazard if he falls or may put his balance further off than it already is.

Because the symptoms are similar to some other health issues including inner ear problems, vestibular issues, and hydrocephalus, it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Your veterinarian may conduct a number of tests to rule out other diseases. Because there is now a gene test for NCCD, you can make use of that to get a definitive diagnosis.

Breeding Implications

It has been shown through research that NCCD is an autosomal recessive inherited disease. This means that a dog must have two recessive copies of the gene, one from each parent, to have NCCD. A dog can be a carrier, which means they do not have the diseases but do carry one copy of the recessive gene that can be passed on to their offspring. This means that if a carrier is bred to another carrier or an affected dog, they can produce affected puppies.

Obviously dogs that have NCCD should not be used in any breeding program. With there now being a gene test available that can identify carriers, there is absolutely no excuse for producing an affected puppy. With careful management, breeders can replace carrier dogs with non-carrier offspring over time. This can lead to the complete eradication of the diseases if breeders work at it. Unfortunately, there are always some breeders that care less about the dogs and more about the money. These breeders are less likely to make use of health testing and may continue to produce affected puppies, perpetuating the problem.

When purchasing a Beagle puppy, always ask for proof of testing of the parents of your puppy, especially if you intend to eventually breed your dog. A good breeder will be able to provide proof of testing and provide a written health guarantee.

Photo credit: -meryl-/Flickr

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).