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Key takeaways

Paralysis is the complete loss of the ability to move or feel a part of the body. It can affect any or all limbs of the body, the face, or the vocal cords, and may be acute or chronic.

  • Paralysis in a cat is an immediate medical emergency requiring prompt veterinary intervention
  • Saddle thrombus is a condition of particular concern in cats that causes sudden, painful paralysis of the rear limbs
  • Paralysis can also be caused by various other conditions including trauma, nerve damage, infection, and tumors
  • Determining the root cause of paralysis requires diagnostic tests, including physical examination, blood work, and diagnostic imaging
  • Prognosis is fair to poor depending on the root cause.
  • Paralysis can be confused for weakness, collapse, or syncope (fainting)
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A closer look: Paralysis in Cats

Paralysis is an uncommon symptom in cats and is typically associated with conditions affecting the nervous and/or circulatory systems.

Paralysis can occur in various parts of a cat's body, including their face, vocal cords (laryngeal paralysis), and limbs.

Paresis is a term used to describe partial paralysis, but once the cat is completely unable to move or feel the affected body part, that’s defined as paralysis.

Paralysis can be further be classified by:

Acute or chronic onset: did the paralysis occur suddenly (acute) or did it slowly develop over time (chronic)?

Affected area: a cat can suffer from monoplegia (paralysis of one limb), paraplegia (paralysis of hind limbs), or tetraplegia (paralysis of all limbs), facial paralysis, or laryngeal paralysis.

Possible causes

Risk factors

Certain breeds of cats and cats with heart disease (often undetected) are at risk for saddle thrombus. This condition, also known as FATE (Feline Aortic Thromboembolism), results when a clot cuts off the blood supply to one or both rear legs. Sudden, painful paralysis results.

Sudden paralysis of any type is considered a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention to best determine the root cause and course of treatment.

Testing and diagnosis

A cat presenting with paralysis usually requires the following diagnostics to determine cause, possible treatment, and prognosis:

  • Physical Examination: a thorough physical examination, including checking reflexes and pulses, helps narrow down potential causes for the paralysis.
  • Blood work: this provides useful information about the pet’s overall health and can provide clues about potential sources for the paralysis.
  • Diagnostic imaging: x-rays, CT scan or MRI imaging are performed to determine if injury or blood clots are the reason for the paralysis.
  • Fluid analysis: Microscopical analysis of cerebrospinal fluid can provide evidence for infectious or cancerous causes of paralysis.

Treatment of the paralysis involves treating the underlying cause. Surgery, blood thinners, antibiotics, or other medications may be indicated. Not all types of paralysis can be reversed, and in some cases (such as saddle thrombus), euthanasia is warranted.

Similar symptoms

Associated symptoms

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