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.
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
- Abnormal Gait
- 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.
Common Causes of Paralysis
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
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:
- Neurological conditions
- Musculoskeletal conditions
- Degenerative Myelopathy
- Cancerous Tumors
- Fibrocartilagnious Embolism (FCE)
- Viral disease (Distemper or Rabies)
- Injury or trauma
- Exposure to pesticides
- Intervertebral Disk Disease
- Spinal injury
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?
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.
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.
Depending on the severity and cause, surgery may slow down the effects or even correct your pet’s paralysis. Tumor removal, amputations and spinal surgery to correct nerve damage are just a few possible surgical solutions. Immediate medical care and early diagnosis can be key to getting your dog back on its feet as quickly as possible.
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.
In many paralysis cases, most of the care will be done at home. Your Veterinarian will help you to make a plan to properly care for your dog. Restricting your dog’s mobility through creating rest is common, especially in cases of spinal disease.
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
Paralyzed dogs require special care and support in order to heal and stay active. Whether the paralysis is temporary or permanent there are many assistive devices available to help make your life easier and get your dog moving again.
A lightweight, denim sling that gently wraps around the center of your dog’s body. Allowing you to gently lift and support your pet. Perfect for post-surgical support.
A perfect lifting harness for pet’s needing support in both the front and rear legs. This is a great option for supporting rear leg amputees.
This harness is also ideal for assisting pets on stairs.
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.Dr. Nicole Cohen, DVM., DABVP.