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Dog Paralysis

Dog Paralysis: What are the Signs and Recovery

Dog paralysis is a complete or partial inability to move one or more limbs. The condition occurs when the nervous system and muscles are unable to communicate properly. 

Signs of paralysis in dogs include inability to move, dragging the legs, knuckling, an immobile tail, urinary issues or incontinence, fecal incontinence or constipation, muscle atrophy, and Horner’s syndrome. 

Common triggers of paralysis are spinal cord trauma, disc diseases, infectious conditions, and spinal cord tumors. Sudden paralysis in dogs hind legs is caused by Wobbler syndrome, ticks, autoimmune problems, and degenerative myelopathy. 

The treatment for dog paralysis is medical or surgical. Physical or rehabilitation therapy is a vital part of the treatment. 

Some dogs recover fully, while others stay paralyzed. The prognosis for paralysis in dogs varies based on the underlying neurological disorder and the promptness of the treatment. 

What Are the Signs of Paralysis in Dogs?

The signs of paralysis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Inability to Move: Partial or complete inability to move one or more legs is a clear sign of paralysis in dogs. The inability starts in one leg and then progresses. 
  • Dragging the Legs: Dragging the legs is more common in the hind legs and is linked to an aortic embolus, which causes impaired blood flow to the limbs. 
  • Knuckling: Dogs with paresis or paralysis knuckle or trip over their paws. Knuckling is when dogs walk on top of their feet instead of on their paw pads. 
  • Immobile Tail: Loss of tail mobility is associated with paralysis of the hind legs. 
  • Urinary Issues or Incontinence: Some dogs with paralysis do not urinate because they are unable to take a proper urinating position, while others drip urine without control and become incontinent.  
  • Fecal Incontinence or Constipation: Paralyzed dogs lose bowel control and are fecal incontinent or have difficulty defecating since the paralysis prevents them from squatting.  
  • Muscle Atrophy: Muscle atrophy develops when the dog starts losing muscle tissue in the weak or paralyzed leg. 
  • Horner’s Syndrome: Horner’s syndrome occurs on the same side of a paralyzed front leg and includes a droopy upper eyelid, small pupil size, and visible third eyelid. 

Why do some Dogs have Sudden Paralysis?

Some dogs have sudden paralysis because of acute nerve tissue inflammation, infection, injury, or damage. 

Paralysis occurs when the nervous system does not work correctly, causing miscommunication between the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. 

The paralysis is complete or partial, depending on the severity of the miscommunication. Partial paralysis is medically termed paresis. 

Sudden paralysis affects one or more limbs based on the location of the neurologic damage. Paralysis of all four limbs is called tetraplegia. 

Is Dog Paralysis a Type of Neurological Disorder?

No, dog paralysis is not a type of neurological disorder. Paralysis is a symptom of an underlying problem and not a disorder. 

The nervous system analyzes information and sends signals with instructions to the muscles. Paralysis develops when the signaling pathways between the brain and muscles are damaged.

Disrupted communication is caused by a neurological disorder, which clinically manifests as a partial or complete inability to move. 

Can Dogs Recover from Paralysis?

Yes, dogs can recover from paralysis. The chances of recovery depend on the type and severity of the underlying neurological condition. 

Dogs with mild neurological issues recover with proper treatment. The presence of significant nerve damage is a poor prognostic factor. 

The nervous tissue regeneration process is lengthy and challenging. Nerves heal slowly, at a rate of one inch per month. 

Some dogs with more substantial nerve damage improve and regain strength in their legs, while others remain permanently paralyzed. 

Can Autoimmune Disease Cause Temporary Paralysis?

Yes, an autoimmune disease can cause temporary paralysis in dogs. Autoimmune-induced dog paralysis occurs when the immune system attacks its nerve tissues. 

An example is acute fulminating myasthenia gravis, a severe subset of generalized myasthenia gravis (MG) that triggers weakness and paralysis in all legs. 

An autoimmune disease in dogs causing similar temporary paralysis is acute canine idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis (ACIP), commonly known as coonhound paralysis. 

What Causes Paralysis in Dogs?

The causes of paralysis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Spinal cord injuries are a widespread cause of paralysis in dogs. Fractures and luxations are the top two injuries and are associated with bite wounds, car accidents, and gunshot wounds. 
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD): IVDD is a degenerative disc condition in which a disc slips and presses on the spinal cord. The condition is common in Corgis, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers. 
  • Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE): Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) is a spinal stroke type in which a tiny piece of an intervertebral disc breaks, enters the bloodstream, and blocks the blood supply to a portion of the spine. Labrador Retrievers, Bernese Mountains Dogs, and Miniature Schnauzers are at a high risk of FCE. 
  • Coonhound Paralysis: Coonhound paralysis, medically called acute canine idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis (ACIP), is a progressive condition that causes inflammation of nerves in the dog’s body. The origin of the disease is complex and includes close contact with raccoon saliva, the bacterium Campylobacter, and autoimmune factors. 
  • Infectious Diseases: Dog paralysis is caused by infectious agents, including bacteria (Clostridium botulinum), viruses (distemper), fungi (Aspergillus), and parasites (Neospora caninum) in some cases. 
  • Toxins: Organophosphate insecticide poisoning is one of the most common toxicoses resulting in paralysis. The paralysis has an acute onset and is considered an emergency. The chemicals are found everywhere, from lawn products to insect repellents. 
  • Spinal Cord Tumors: Spinal cord tumors are relatively rare and, when developing, form as meningiomas. The benign tumors are slow-growing but cause neurological problems when they start pressing on the spinal cord. 

What Treatment Options Exist for Paralysis in Dogs?

The treatment options that exist for paralysis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Pain Medications: Pain medications are essential for keeping the dog comfortable until the specific treatment yields results. 
  • Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: Anti-inflammatory medications like carprofen and prednisone reduce swelling and other signs of inflammation, such as pain. 
  • Muscle Relaxants: Medications that relax the dog’s muscles, such as methocarbamol, are beneficial in some cases of paralysis. 
  • Surgery: Surgery is recommended for dogs with brain or spinal cord tumors. Surgical correction helps with complex cases of intervertebral disc disease. 
  • Cage Rest: Cage rest is imperative for dogs undergoing paralysis treatment to allow the nerves and muscles to heal. 
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy or rehabilitation starts following the cage rest period. The exact form of physical therapy is determined based on the dog’s needs. 

How Does Paralysis Typically Affect a Dog's Hind Legs?

Paralysis typically affects a dog’s hind legs through damaged nerve roots in the lower back, tailbone, or lumbosacral plexus. 

The lumbosacral plexus is a complex network of nerves between the hind leg and spinal cord. A dog’s hind leg’s femoral, sciatic, peroneal, and tibial nerves are susceptible to damage and injury. 

The dog loses the ability to flex its joint, bear weight on the affected leg, and feel pain or exhibit reflexes based on the nerve damage location. The muscles in the paralyzed hind leg wither or lose mass within a few days. 

What Are the Common Signs of Recovery for a Paralyzed Dog?

The common signs of recovery for a paralyzed dog are listed below. 

  • Voluntary Limb Movement: Some degree of voluntary limb movement is a good prognostic sign. 
  • Increased Pain Sensation: A slight increase in the pain sensation in the affected limb is a sign of recovery in paralyzed dogs. 
  • Returning Spinal Reflexes: The return of spinal reflexes within the first month or two of the paralysis indicated possible recovery. 

Owners must accept that if the dog is now showing signs of recovery, the paralysis is permanent. The next step is to evaluate the dog’s quality of life and discuss options with the veterinarian. 

How Can You Identify Signs of Nerve Damage in a Dog's Back Legs?

You can identify signs of nerve damage in a dog’s back legs based on clinical signs. Dragging the leg, paw knuckling, and loss of sensation are telltale indicators. 

The veterinarian identifies signs of nerve damage by checking the dog’s spinal reflexes. The five main reflexes are the sciatic, patellar, cranial tibial, gastrocnemius, and withdrawal. 

The reflexes suggest the presence of nerve damage and its location. Further tests are needed to determine the underlying cause, for example, nervous system tumors or pinched nerves. 

What Causes Sudden Paralysis in Dogs' Hind Legs?

The causes of sudden paralysis in dogs’ hind legs are listed below. 

  • Wobbler Syndrome: Wobbler syndrome is a debilitating neurological condition affecting the spine in the neck region. The exact cause is unknown, but the problem is prevalent in Doberman Pinschers and manifests with partial or complete paralysis that starts in the hind legs and progresses to the front limbs. 
  • Degenerative Myelopathy: Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a non-painful and slowly progressing destruction of the spinal cord. The condition causes hind limb paralysis on one side of the body. DM is widespread in German Shepherds, Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
  • Tick Paralysis: Tick paralysis is a fast-progressing condition that starts in the hind legs and progresses to the front legs and respiratory muscles. The disease is caused by neurotoxins present in the saliva of American dog ticks and Rocky Mountain wood ticks.

How Is Back Leg Paralysis Treated in Dogs?

Back leg paralysis is treated in dogs in the ways listed below. 

  • Medications: Anti-pain medications, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and muscle relaxants are used to manage the symptoms and support recovery. 
  • Surgery: Complicated causes of paralysis are managed surgically. The goal is to slow down the effects or completely correct the hind leg paralysis in dogs. 
  • Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation therapy includes various approaches for dogs with hind leg paralysis, such as hydrotherapy, structured exercises, massage, and stretching.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture uses fine needles to promote blood flow and support nerve regeneration. Its effect on nerve healing is promising. 
  • Laser Therapy: Laser therapy is a noninvasive method that uses lights with different wavelengths to promote tissue healing and nerve regeneration. 

What Home Remedies Can Help With Dog Paralysis?

The home remedies that can help with dog paralysis are listed below. 

  • Hygiene Maintenance: Keep the dog clean and pay attention to dripping urine. Use wet wipes to clean the dog’s genital area as urine and fecal droplets support the development of urinary tract infections. 
  • Position Changes: Switch the dog’s position several times daily to prevent decubital ulcers. Use healing balms such as Centella Asiatica and Aloe vera to help existing ulcers heal. 
  • Mobility Support: Support the dog’s movement with mobility aids such as harnesses, slings, or wheelchairs. Install ramps to allow easy access to higher surfaces. 
  • Joint Supplements: Consult the vet regarding joint supplements. Dogs with hind limb paralysis put extra pressure on their front legs and benefit from joint support. The modern pet market offers an array of options. 

Can a Dog Recover From Hind Leg Paralysis?

Yes, a dog can recover from hind leg paralysis. Milder nerve damage is treatable in some cases, resulting in recovery. 

Good prognostic factors for dogs with hind leg paralysis include voluntary limb movement, pain sensation in the affected limb, and return of spinal reflexes. 

The recovery period for dogs with neurologic disorders and hind leg paralysis is challenging and lengthy. Talk to the vet to make a management plan and carefully supervise the dog’s progress. 

Can Dogs Have Temporary Paralysis?

Yes, dogs can have temporary paralysis. Canine paralysis is not always a permanent condition. Medications, surgery, and physical therapy are helpful in many cases. 

For example, fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) or spinal stroke in dogs causes acute but, in most situations, temporary paralysis. 

The location of the nerve injury and the condition of the nerve sheath determine whether the paralysis is permanent or temporary. The nerve sheath is the myelin and connective tissue layer surrounding and protecting the nerve.  

How are Muscle Strains in Dogs Connected to Potential Paralysis?

Muscle strains in dogs are connected to potential paralysis if left untreated and in cases of complications. Unmanaged muscle injuries are prone to complications, including muscle rupture and, in severe cases, paralysis.  

Strains are traumatic orthopedic injuries affecting muscles or muscles and tendons. Tendons are bands of muscular connective tissue that attach muscles to bones. A muscle strain in dogs heals quickly if properly and promptly treated. 

What Type of Dog Breeds Are Prone to Paralysis?

The types of dog breeds that are prone to paralysis are listed below. 

  • German Shepherds: German Shepherds are predisposed to several conditions causing paralysis, such as degenerative myelopathy, Lumbosacral transitional vertebra, and degenerative lumbosacral stenosis. 
  • Dachshunds: Dachshunds are at a high risk of developing intervertebral disc disease and sustaining traumatic injuries to the spinal cord.
  • Doberman Pinschers: Doberman Pinschers are susceptible to spinal muscular atrophy and Wobbler syndrome, which cause paralysis. 
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgis: Pembroke Welsh Corgis have a higher-than-average risk of developing intervertebral disc disease and degenerative myelopathy. 

Does Paralysis Indicate a Bigger Health Risk for Dogs?

Yes, paralysis indicates a bigger health risk for dogs. The accompanying signs of paralysis are used as prognostic factors. 

For example, a paralyzed dog showing some voluntary movement has a good chance of healing. The presence of Horner’s syndrome in a paralyzed dog means the nerve is torn from its root, eliminating the recovery option. 

The underlying cause of paralysis is another important factor. Brain tumors in dogs are a bigger health risk than wobbler syndrome. 

Can CCD Cause Paralysis in Dogs?

No, CCD cannot cause paralysis in dogs. CCD, or canine cognitive dysfunction, is a condition similar to human Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. 

Canine cognitive dysfunction is age-related and occurs in older dogs. Confusion, decline in the senses, and reduced mental skills are standard for CCD. 

Some dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction are prone to falling over, swaying, tripping, or experiencing tremors, but they do not get paralyzed because of their aging brains.