Paralysis in Dogs

Summary

Paralysis is the lack of ability to voluntarily move one or more parts of the body. It may or may not be accompanied by loss of sensation.

Paralysis causes the affected section of the body to go stiff or, more commonly, limp. It is the consequence of disruption in the central nervous system’s ability to communicate with the brain.  While it is usually the limbs that are afflicted, paralysis can affect any part of the body and is caused by an array of conditions. 

Causes for paralysis in dogs include injury and trauma, neurological conditions, tick toxicity, rabies, and cancer. 

Typical diagnostic work-up for paralysis includes a physical examination, blood tests, and neurological examination to ascertain the root cause of the paralysis and determine course of treatment. Diagnostic imaging is also often necessary. 

Canine paralysis varies in severity and is a sign of an array of conditions, and if left untreated can lead to death. Therefore paralysis must always be treated as an emergency and immediate veterinary attention is required.

Guidelines

Paralysis in dogs is not common, but is always a serious concern as many conditions that cause paralysis are life-threatening.

Some breeds of dog are predisposed to conditions that may lead to paralysis, such as intervertebral disc disease and degenerative myelopathy.

Possible Causes

Paralysis is brought about by a wide range of conditions, including

• Spinal cord injury • Tick paralysis • Intervertebral disc disease • Degenerative myelopathy

• Infectious diseases like botulism, rabies, discospondylitis and meningoencephalitis • Blood clots

• Exposure to toxins • Cancer or tumors

Canine hypothyroidism sometimes causes paralysis of the facial nerve on one or both sides. 

Laryngeal paralysis is part of a degenerative condition common in older dogs, particularly large breeds.

Risk Factors

Paralysis affects different parts of the body and varies in severity from partial to total paralysis. The different classifications of paralysis include: 

• Paresis, or partial paralysis

• Front leg paralysis: front leg paralysis is commonly caused by nerve damage in the neck or front legs 

• Rear leg paralysis (Paraplegia): rear leg paralysis is commonly caused by nerve damage in the lower back, or in the rear legs 

• Front and rear leg paralysis (Tetraplegia): tetraplegia or full paralysis is commonly caused by an embolus, tick bites, or congenital disease

Canine paralysis can occur suddenly or develop over time.

Testing and Diagnosis

A dog presenting paralysis requires the following diagnostics:

• Physical examination: reflex test, and test to ascertain the ability to feel pain in all four legs. 

• Diagnostic imaging: such as MRI, myelogram, and CT scan

• Blood work and fluid samples taken from around the spine, can show changes suggestive of the underlying condition. 

Treatment varies widely and is targeted at the root cause, but may include surgery in many cases.  Viral and fungal diseases have poor recovery rates, as there are no treatment options for viral infections and fungal infections are difficult to cure.

In the case of tick paralysis, recovery depends on how quickly the ticks are removed from the dog and severity of the paralysis.

Similar symptoms

Paralysis may be mistaken for the following more common symptoms:

• weakness • lethargy • collapse • ataxia

Myasthenia gravis is a severe chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the destruction of communication between nerves and muscles resulting in severe weakness and fatigue which can be confused with paralysis.

Associated Symptoms

Dogs suffering from paralysis may present a number of additional symptoms, including but not limited to:

• Inability to urinate • Urinary incontinence • Constipation • Fecal incontinence • Abnormal gait 

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