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What are Paralysis?
Paralysis in cats occurs when your pet is unable to control or move its legs or some other portion of the body. Complete paralysis involves the complete lack of ability to move legs, neck, tail or other bodily parts. Partial paralysis, also called paresis, is the lack of full control over the body which may occur as weakness, lethargy, twitching, or extreme slow motion.
Paralysis in your cat, even if temporary or partial, is always an indication of an underlying condition or injury. You should seek immediate veterinary care if your cat displays symptoms of paralysis as this condition may lead to death or serious, permanent injury if not treated promptly by a professional.
Symptoms of Paralysis in Cats
Symptoms of paralysis in your cat may range from subtle to obvious depending on the underlying cause of the condition. Symptoms may occur suddenly (acute paralysis) or escalate over a long period of time. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Inability to use or move portions of the body including neck, head, tongue, legs, tail or back
- Improper or stumbling gait
- Cat stepping on its own toes
- Difficulty breathing
- Uncontrolled twitching
- Extreme slowness of moving distinguishable from lethargy
- Lack of or delayed reaction to pain or other stimulus to legs, body, or affected area
- Difficulty eating or drinking
- Inappropriate urination
- Dribbling of urine
Causes of Paralysis in Cats
Paralysis in cats occurs when some portion of the structures that support the central nervous system have become damaged. A complicated pathway of nerves are encased within the spinal column of your cat. These nerves then connect the nerves in the brain to the nerves in the other portions of the body, allowing communication from the brain to the limbs, organs and other structures. When this communication is damaged, paralysis can occur. The location of paralysis can indicate which area of nerves has become damaged. Causes of damage can include:
- Traumatic injury
- Infection in bones or tissue near spine
- Slipped discs in back that pinch or damage the nearby nerves (can occur when cat jumps from heights)
- Inflammation in muscles surrounding the spine which places pressure on nearby nerves
- Tick paralysis caused by tick bites
- Tumors in the spine or brain which place pressure on the nerves
- Malformation of spine or vertebrae
- Certain chemicals or toxins that can permanently or temporarily cause nerves to cease to communicate (botulism is a common toxin)
- Embolism which inhibits proper blood flow to affected limb
Diagnosis of Paralysis in Cats
To diagnose paralysis in your cat, your veterinarian will need a thorough physical history of your cat. Of especial importance will be any recent injuries, trauma, falls or other high impact events that could have caused damage to your cat’s spinal cord. It will be important to document the approximate onset of symptoms, whether paralysis occurred gradually or all at once, and whether there is any fluctuation in the severity of the symptoms over time.
During the exam, your vet will pay careful attention and document thoroughly the severity of the paralysis and in which areas it is occurring. Your vet may attempt to manipulate each individual limb and may also encourage movement by positioning limbs in awkward positions in order to determine if your cat will move them back. Your vet may also use gentle probing, or potentially a fine needle, to determine whether your cat has any pain response. Attempting to elicit a pain response is a sensitive procedure and should only ever be conducted by a professional veterinarian.
Basic diagnostic tests such as blood and urine panels will help your vet determine whether there is an underlying infection that may be causing inflammation. Your vet may also take a sample of spinal fluid, if an infection is suspected.
The most definitive test for paralysis will be an MRI, CT scan or X-ray, which will allow your vet to see any damage to the structures around the spinal nerves. This may be done with or without contrast. Contrast refers to a type of dye that can be injected into your cat’s spinal area. This dye will respond differently to X-ray waves, allowing for additional detail in images.
Treatment of Paralysis in Cats
Treatment of paralysis in your cat will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Suspected infection will be treated with antibiotics. In many cases, nerves can regrow or repair with time and proper care. If your vet diagnoses an injury which your cat will heal from over time, they may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pressure in the spinal area. They will also advise you on the proper home treatment.
Cats should never be left in the same position for more than two hours and my need assistance in manually emptying their bladder and bowels. Nutrients may need to be administered intravenously or through a feeding tube. In some cases, heating pads and light massage may encourage blood flow to the affected area which can encourage healing and growth. Gentle manipulation of muscles will also help minimize any atrophy, which will get your cat back on their feet more quickly once they have healed.
Recovery of Paralysis in Cats
Prognosis for recovery in your cat will depend on the severity and cause of the condition. In some situations of severe damage or paralysis, it may be unlikely or impossible for your cat to heal. In cases of permanent paralysis, you and your vet will discuss the appropriate measures given your pet’s quality of life.
In instances that healing and recovery is possible, it will be vitally important to follow all schedules for medications and physical therapy. Due to the complexity of supportive care for cats suffering from paralysis, an extended hospital stay may be advised if you are not able to keep up with the necessary timing of care required at home.
Recovery from any paralysis will be slow and lengthy, but generally, you should begin to see improvement over the course of 1-2 months. Frequent follow-up with your vet will also be important to your cat’s long term health.
Cost of Paralysis in Cats
Paralysis can be an expensive treatment in cats and can range from $500.00 to $4000.00 depending on the cost of living and severity of your Cat's paralysis. On average, the national cost of treating paralysis in cats is $1400.00.
Paralysis in Cats Treatment Advice
Paralysis Questions and Advice
More or less the whole body is paralyzed , can't walk easily about 2 months,temp. normal,appetite & eating also normal. What type of treatment we can give ? We have given Inj. Neurobion, Multivitamin+Multi nutrition syp. and Syp.Barbit .Am I right? or what we can do now ? I'm a vet. this treatment I given today. but I want good suggestion from you Thanks.. My web.www.petcareclinic-bd.com
Dr Khan, as you are aware there are many causes for paralysis; have you performed any x-ray of the spine? With myelography? To look for lesions or instability that may be compressing the spinal cord leading to paralysis. Other causes of paralysis may be due to infections, tick paralysis, poisoning or tumour; I feel that further diagnostic tests would be required like x-ray (as previously mentioned) and blood tests (to look for an anomalies in the results). Treatment you have administered is phenobarbital and B vitamins which may help in some cases, but other cases would require treatment based on the outcome of further tests. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Our cat was operated yesterday (sterilisation). After she came home she was still a little bit dizzy. I looked away for a moment and then I saw her downstairs. I don't know for surely but I think she had fallen down. At that time everything seemed right. But in a couple of hours we checked up on her but she couldn't feel her behind legs and her tail. She also can't control her peeing. We took her to a vet and she got some shots against swelling (medrol, metacam). We took her home and settled her between pillows and brought warm water. Now it is the next day. She still doesn't feel her legs. The vet checked her again and did a rentgen scan and said that her spine isn't broken. They said that they assume that one of her nerves (on her spinal cord) is being encumbered by a small swelling. Is it possible that her legs are paralyzed because of a swelling? What do you think asumming on my description? So the vet said that if she doesn't move her legs till Monday we will have to think about euthanasia. We really love our cat so please tell us your opinion about our treatment and what can we do besides that. Sincerely, Domen.
Swelling can cause paralysis as pressure in the right place can render limbs paralysed. Your Veterinarian has prescribed steroids to decrease inflammation and a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug to try to reduce the swelling. If the spinal has no anomalies, it is a positive sign (in general); give the prescribed medication time to work, if after a few days Nori hasn’t regained use of her legs, a choice has to be made about offering her nursing care (carrying and cleaning her etc…) and euthanasia. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Hello. Yesterday I wrote to you about my cat. Now I have some more questions. The vet is giving her steroids. How long does it usually take for the cat to show any signs of improvement. She has been paralyzed for 2 days now. Her hind legs are also getting more harder (if you feel them) and paws are not so pink anymore(they are getting purple). Is that the sign that it will never get better? Did you ever experiance anything like that in your career? If you did, did cats get better or worse? She also doesn't feel if her vet pokes her with a niddle. Is it posible that a swealling causes that? Sincerely Domen.
The problem with these types of cases is that the severity and response to treatment isn’t the same for every cat. Improvement (if any) will be slow, even if the swelling decreases the damage to the nerve may take a while to resolve if at all. The hardening of the limbs is probably due to muscle spasms and the change of colour of the paws could be due to poor circulation because of the lack of venous drainage due to muscle rigidity. I cannot comment on the prognosis as I haven’t examined Nori. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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The statements expressed are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified by your local veterinarian.