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Key takeaways

Paralysis in dogs 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 limp and is caused by a 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
  • Causes for paralysis in dogs include injury and trauma, neurological conditions, tick toxicity, rabies, and cancer
  • Diagnostics include physical examination, imaging, blood tests, and neurological examination
  • Canine paralysis varies in severity depending on the underlying condition
  • Paralysis must always be treated as an emergency and immediate veterinary attention is required
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A closer look: Paralysis in Dogs

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

Possible causes

Paralysis is brought about by a wide range of conditions.

Risk factors

Paralysis in dogs is not common, but is always a serious concern as many conditions that cause paralysis are life-threatening. Paralysis must always be treated as an emergency and immediate veterinary attention is required

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

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

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.


PetMD Editorial - Writing for PetMD
Roger Gfeller, DVM, DACVECC; Michael Thomas, DVM; Isaac Mayo; The VIN Emergency Medicine Consultants - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Becky Lundgren, DVM - Writing for Veterinary Partner

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