Paralysis In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Alsation dog on beach with mobility wheels to replace its paralyzed legs in Cornwall, England.

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Paralysis in dogs happens when the central nervous system’s ability to coordinate the body’s movements is diminished or completely lost. The area of dogs’ bodies most commonly affected by paralysis are the hind legs, though several other parts of the body, including the facial muscles, the front legs, or the muscles that control defecation and urination, may be affected depending on which nerve pathways are interrupted. Normally the brain, spine, nerves, and muscles work together, which allows dogs to move as they should. Damage to the nerves that carry messages between the brain and the body can cause the complex paths of communication to break down, resulting in paralysis. All cases of paralysis in dogs, even rare cases of temporary paralysis, are a cause for concern and warrant a vet visit. If you see the signs of paralysis in your dog, consult your veterinarian right away for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of paralysis in dogs.

Symptoms Of Paralysis In Dogs

Paralyzed dog walking with a pet walker

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The symptoms of paralysis in dogs can vary depending on the cause and which nerve communication pathways are damaged. The rear legs are the most commonly affected part of the body in dogs that suffer from paralysis, but several other parts of the body can be affected, too. If you see any of the following symptoms in your dog, consult your veterinarian right away.

  • Inability to move back legs or all four legs
  • Dragging rear legs when walking
  • Signs of pain in neck, spine, or legs
  • Inability to control urination or defecation
  • Constipation
  • Inability to urinate at all
  • Inability to blink
  • Discharge or irritation of the eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Dropping food from the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Head tilting
  • Weakness
  • Abnormal eye movement (ataxia)
  • One eye looks larger than the other
  • Loss of throat or voice control
  • Vomiting or regurgitating
  • Respiratory problems
  • Loss of muscle mass

Causes Of Paralysis In Dogs

Chocolate learning how to walk again. Taken at Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

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There are several conditions that can cause paralysis in dogs. Anything that interrupts communication between the brain and body can lead to a loss of coordination and inability to move. Some breeds are more likely to be affected by paralysis than others. Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and dogs that have long backs and are low to the ground are more at risk of suffering intervertebral disc disease, a condition where ruptured vertebral discs put pressure on the spinal chord. Boxers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, and Welsh Corgis are genetically predisposed to degenerative myelopathy, a slow acting disease that attacks the nerves in senior dogs and causes hind leg paralysis. Here are several other factors that can lead to paralysis in dogs.

  • Dermacentor tick bite (“tick paralysis” caused by the neurotoxin in the saliva of female ticks)
  • Meningitis
  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Discospondylitis
  • Slipped discs
  • Spinal infection, inflammation, or injury
  • Spinal or vertebral deformation
  • Polymyositis
  • Polyneuritis
  • Neosporosis
  • Severe exposure to pesticides or insecticides (those that contain organophosphates)
  • Embolus (blocked blood flow to the spine)
  • Aortic embolus (blocked blood flow to the hind legs)
  • Central nervous system tumors or cancer
  • Botulism
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolism (part of a spinal disk breaks off and blocks blood flow)

Treatments For Paralysis In Dogs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 27: A dog receives acupuncture at a pet treatment center on August 27, 2017 in Shanghai, China. A pet treatment center uses acupuncture and smoking wormwood to relief pains in bodies of dogs and cats in Shanghai. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Treatment for paralysis in dogs depends on the cause of the condition. Some cases can be resolved with surgery. This may be an option when there is nerve damage or if tumors are present, but this is determined on a case-to-case basis. Acupuncture, massages, stretches, and heat therapy may be prescribed to aid recovery.

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Some fungal and bacterial infections can be treated with drugs and antibiotics. Tick paralysis is usually resolved when the tick is removed, and antibiotics may also be prescribed. Other conditions require complicated treatments and physical rehabilitation, and sometimes an affected limb must be amputated. In some cases, all that can be done is symptom management. Pain medication may be prescribed, and a catheter may be inserted to allow a dog to empty the bladder. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce some inflammation, and slings or dog wheelchairs may prevent affected limbs from dragging. Recovery can vary a lot depending on the cause of the paralysis and the dog’s individual response to treatment. It is important to follow veterinary guidelines for care and monitor the dog’s condition and progress.