Paralysis in Cats

Summary

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. It 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, but paralysis can also be caused by various other conditions including trauma, nerve damage, infection, and tumors.

Determining the root cause of paralysis requires various diagnostic tests, including physical examination, bloodwork, and diagnostic imaging. Prognosis is fair to poor depending on the diagnosis of root cause.

Paralysis can be confused for weakness, collapse, or syncope (fainting)

Guidelines

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

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.

Possible Causes

There are a multitude of conditions that lead to paralysis in cats, including:

• Blood Clots: FATE, or saddle thrombus

• Trauma: Any type of injury that damages the spine can result in paralysis.

• Congenital/hereditary: Manx syndrome results in a shortened spinal cord and can lead to hind limb paralysis

• Cancer: Tumors in the brain or spine can cause damage leading to paralysis

• Infection: A middle or internal ear infection that affects the facial nerve can lead to facial paralysis.

• Poisoning: ingestion of bromethalin-based rodenticides can lead to weakness, muscle tremors and paralysis. Other toxins can also cause paralysis.

• Disk Disease: intervertebral disk disease puts pressure on the spinal cord which can result in paralysis.

• Infection: a variety of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can cause paralysis

• Parasites: certain species of ticks have neurotoxins in their saliva which can lead to tick paralysis in cats that have been bitten. 

Thyroid disease: can cause laryngeal paralysis in cats, but this is rare

Risk Factors

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 as:

• 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

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 fluid and cells collected from the spinal column 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 medication are indicated where appropriate. Not all types of paralysis can be reversed and in some cases (such as saddle thrombus), it is often fatal.

Similar symptoms

Paralysis is often confused for:

• Paresis (weakness, or partial paralysis) • LethargyCollapse • Syncopy (fainting)

Associated Symptoms

Paralysis is often accompanied by:

• Other evidence of severe injury • Neurological symptoms such as head tilt • Weakness

• Pain • Vocalization • Confusion • Loss of bowel and/or bladder control (in hind end paralysis)

• Change in tone of meow (laryngeal paralysis)

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