Treating Your Pet’s Sudden Paralysis

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
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Weakness
  • 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

Tetraplegia

Inability to move any limb. Tetraplegia is full paralysis in all four legs at the same time.

Paresis

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.

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Walkin’ Left Rear Harness
dog wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
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Walkin’ Drag Bag

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)
  • Ticks
  • Injury or trauma
  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Intervertebral Disk Disease
  • Spinal injury
rear dog wheelchair

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.

Surgery

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.

Medications

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.

Canine Rehabilitation

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.

Supportive Care

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.

dog support sling

Support Sling:

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.

dog lift harness

Lift-n-Step Harness:

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.

walkin' wheels dog wheelchair

Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair:

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Hello,
    My 3 year old Japanes spitz suddenly can not walk – suddenly the hind legs have given up. She cannot stand on her own. How can i help her so as to be mobile and be able to pee/poop at least? Her appetite is also down. Took her for an xray – nothing in the spine, nor vertebrae.
    I am really scared as i have had her from birth….
    Please advise me what to do…
    Regards from Kenya

    • Hi Shemina, I’m so sorry to hear about your pup. It sounds like your dog might benefit from the support of a wheelchair. The Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair will support her hind end from underneath, allowing her to stand, walk, and pee or poop on her own. Please contact us at 888-253-0777, we would be happy to help answer your questions!

    • I have had the same problem with my Doberman. I suddenly notice he is standing leges braced for a minute or two, then looks confused about what happened and is fine. It has happened 5 times over 3 years with no apparent cause. Otherwise he is very active, runs fast and jump in and out of my suv with ease.

      • Hi Eowyn, If you need a shoulder strap I would recommend using the Lift-N-Step Harness, this harness will support your dog’s entire body and allow him to go to the bathroom freely. If you have any questions, please call us at 888-253-0777

  2. I have a 8 or 9 year old chihuahua that has recently lost the ability to use his back 2 legs. I want to take him to the vet but, I DO NOT HAVE ANY MONEY in order to take him in though.

    I really NEED HELP HERE IF SOMEONE CAN OFFER ANYTHING IT WOULD BE MUCH APPRECIATED!

    I LIVE IN LEVITTOWN, PA BY THE WAY!!

    I NEED HELP FAST I AM NOT JOKING HERE I’M DEAD SERIOUS

    PHONE – 856-883-5998

  3. Hi Jason
    Im sorry your pupper isn’t doing well. Although i have never tried to get funds through a grant I do know there are grants available. First try calling a local animal shelter, ask the question are there any Chihuahua rescues locally…even if it’s far get name call ask them if they know of available organizations that can help. Check some rescues on Petfinder ask them. Even try calling a veterinarian.college, sometimes they are very reasonable and a good lesson for students to see. There’s also Waggle.com i think it’s like GoFundMe for pets. I know some grants are breed specific, keep asking until you find what you need. Some of the local pet stores are aware of rescues keep reaching out. Nothing but love tail wags and milk bone kisses from long island’s Pittie-ful 4 pack and human treat dispenser. Best of luck.

  4. I have a jack russell who just turned 10, 2 days ago he woke up and can no long walk his back legs are frozen in place what can I do? I don’t know what to do .

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