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Although many mobility conditions progressively worsen over time, sometimes canine paralysis can occur suddenly. Where it seems like overnight, a previously healthy dog wakes up and is completely unable to walk. There was a time not so long ago when a diagnosis of paralysis would automatically mean euthanizing your dog. Thankfully, the opinions are changing, and it is much more common to see paralyzed dogs living their best lives, running and playing in wheelchairs!
Sudden paralysis and mobility loss can be terrifying for a pet parent and you may not know what to do, here’s what to look out for:
Symptoms of Canine Paralysis
A dog is considered paralyzed when they are unable to move one or more of their limbs. Hind leg paralysis is the most common form of sudden paralysis in dogs. The signs and symptoms of paralysis in dogs can occur quickly, here are a few of the most common indicators:
Inability to flex leg joint
Inability to bear weight on leg
Dragging limb or limbs
Unable to wag or move tail
Drooping eyelids and dropping food from the mouth
In addition to the mobility loss in its leg, a paralyzed dog can also lose control of its bladder and bowels. Normally, a dog’s spine, brain, nerves, and muscles work together, in a paralyzed dog there has been a disruption somewhere in the dog’s nerves. How your dog is impacted depends on where the disruption occurred.
There are many ways a dog can become paralyzed. Many dog breeds have a genetic predisposition to illnesses that cause paralysis, such as Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) or Degenerative Myopathy (DM), traumatic injuries such as falls or abuse can cause the loss of mobility, as well as old age illnesses such as arthritis.
Paralysis doesn’t only occur in older dogs. It’s even possible for a dog to be born paralyzed. Paralysis can occur in one, two, or all legs. Dogs showing signs of paralysis, such as: dragging limbs, weakness, pain, or inability to walk properly, need to be treated by their veterinarian immediately. Depending on the cause, immediate treatment may mean a better recovery.
Paralysis and leg weakness can affect both your dog’s front and rear legs. The cause of the paralysis can vary greatly depending on the limb it affects.
Front Leg Paralysis
Commonly caused by damage to nerves in the neck or shoulder, or the radial, median or ulnar nerves in the leg.
Rear Leg Paralysis
Most often, sudden paralysis impacts a dog’s hindquarters. Hind leg paralysis is most commonly caused by nerve damage in the tailbone or lower back or in the tibial, femoral peroneal, or sciatic nerve in the rear leg
Inability to move any limb. Tetraplegia is full paralysis in all four legs at the same time.
Paresis occurs when a dog is only partially paralyzed. They are able to move, but can not move easily.
Although, most often a dog’s legs are paralyzed paralysis can also occur in other parts of the body, including the facial muscles.
Seek immediate medical attention If your pet is experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Conditions Effecting Canine Mobility
There are many conditions that can cause a dog to become paralyzed, here are some of the most common canine mobility conditions:
Fibrocartilagnious Embolism (FCE)
Viral disease (Distemper or Rabies)
Injury or trauma
Exposure to pesticides
Intervertebral Disk Disease
Paralysis in dogs is usually caused by a problem in the spine or brain. Spinal compression, herniated discs, and nerve problems can all disrupt the communication between a dog’s spine and brain. When the nerves are unable to function normally, dogs will lose the ability to walk, stand, and control their legs.
Can a Dog Recover from Hind Leg Paralysis?
In many canine paralysis cases, a dog can recover the use of its back legs, but there are a lot of factors that go into determining this. How long it takes for a dog to recover from hind leg paralysis will vary. Some paralyzed dogs will recover very quickly and only be hospitalized for a short period.
However, a dog that is left paralyzed and has significant nerve damage will be a much slower recovery process. Nerves regenerate slowly and heal about 1 inch every month. Regaining full use of their back legs is possible, but the severity of the injury, whether it impacted the spines, nerves, or muscles, how quickly the dog receives treatment, and the location of the injury or spinal damage.
While some nerve damage can resolve over many weeks or months. Giving your dog massages, applying heat, and stretching the tendons will help keep them healthy while the nerve regenerates. Acupuncture, laser therapy, and hydrotherapy have also been shown to be helpful in rehabbing paralyzed limbs and may be prescribed, as well as anti-inflammatory medications and steroids to reduce inflamed nerves.
Treatment Options for Sudden Paralysis
What do you do when your dog is unable to walk? How you help your dog to walk again will vary depending on your dog’s symptoms and their sudden paralysis treatment will vary depending on the cause. It is important to follow Veterinary guidelines to care for your pet and monitor their condition.
Not all paralysis is a permanent condition. Many joint and muscle issues can be helped with surgery and physical therapy. If your paralyzed dog has had a nerve-related injury, the recovery will depend on the nerve sheath condition and how far the injury is from where the nerve ends.
Following post-operative guidelines are iatrical for a successful recovery. Speak with your Veterinarian and make sure that your know what steps you need to follow after your dog’s surgery.
In cases of bacterial or fungal infections, the symptoms can be treated with drugs and antibiotics. If your dog is experiencing any pain, the Vet may prescribe pain medications as well. Create a medication schedule to ensure you don’t miss a single dose.
A recent study showed that certain drug therapies are effective in treating dogs paralyzed by IVDD or certain traumas. During this study, dogs involved in the medical trial showed improvement after their course of treatment was completed.
Your Veterinary Surgeon may prescribe acupuncture, stretching, massages, or working with a Canine Rehab Therapist as part of your dog’s recovery plan. The types of rehab therapy needed and the frequency will vary depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s mobility loss.
There are many different types of therapy including massage, acupuncture, stretching, laser therapy, structured exercise, and hydrotherapy.
Follow your Veterinarian’s plan closely until your dog is fully recovered. Administer the full course of prescribed medications even if your dog appears to be fully recovered. If you have any questions, always call your Vet.
Mobility Assistance for Your Pet
A paralyzed pet will have additional needs, luckily with a little assistance, they can go on to live a relatively normal life. Most importantly, your dog needs to be able to get exercise.
The first thing to pick up for your paralyzed dog would be a wheelchair! The rear wheelchair can help get your best friend up and mobile. They will be able to go out to the bathroom, go on walks, and play! The wheelchair can also prevent further injury, such as pressure sores and rubbing from dragging their weight.
Depending on if your dog is continent or not, doggie diapers may be helpful to keep your house free from urine and feces.
Finally, a lifting harness would be a great start to helping your paralyzed dog. A rear harness will help you get your dog up the stairs, into the car, outside for your dog to go to the bathroom, and around on short walks!
The key to caring for a paralyzed dog is ensuring you have all the right tools available. Paralyzed dogs require special care and support to heal and stay active. Whether the paralysis is temporary or permanent, many assistive devices are available to help make your life easier and get your dog moving again.
A dog wheelchair gives your dog independence, allowing them regain their mobility and get around freely. A great addition to your dog’s rehabilitation and recovery. Getting a dog back on their feet quickly can help promote healing.
Dogs that are fully paralyzed need to be fitted with a wheelchair. Some dogs with a condition like degenerative myelopathy may do best with a wheelchair. One of my German Shepard patients has degenerative myelopathy. He can rise from the ground on his own and walk a little bit unassisted, but he often drags his feet and will tire easily. He loves his wheelchair! My patient loves to run in a wheelchair on paved paths in the neighborhood. His owner still encourages him to use his back legs most of the time to help him work on his muscle strength and practice walking. However, time in the wheelchair allows him to feel free to experience the joy of movement that is easy and carefree.
While that is only a question you and your veterinarian can answer, there have been so many advancements in the way veterinary professionals are thinking about paralysis and the dog’s quality of life. The good news is that paralysis does not have to be an end-of-life decision. If your dog is happy and showing no signs of pain, there is no reason to euthanize your pup, and with just a little extra help from you, they are able to live normal, active lives!
Dog wheelchairs are an incredible tool that helps paralyzed pets regain their mobility and live normal, active lives. Dog mobility carts improve the quality of life for paralyzed and handicapped dogs around the world. Since 2001, Walkin’ Pets has helped change the lives and mobility of over 1.85 million dogs!