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Cat Paralysis

Paralysis in cats is a serious and concerning condition that can significantly affect their quality of life. Understanding the causes, recovery potential, and treatment options is crucial for any cat owner, whether the condition is temporary or more permanent. This blog post discusses cat paralysis, including cat laryngeal paralysis, to provide comprehensive insights into this challenging health issue.

Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis

Two categories of paralysis can affect your cat's ability to move: complete paralysis and partial paralysis.

Complete paralysis leaves your cat unable to move all four legs, its tail, or other parts. In contrast, partial paralysis (paresis) results in a lack of full control over an individual body part.

While complete paralysis will be obvious and terrifying for pet parents to notice, paresis is typically characterized by weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching, or reluctance to move.

Why Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats Occurs 

Complete or partial paralysis in cats occurs when signals from the brain that control movement are interrupted due to damage to the cat's central nervous system (CNS), which is located within the spinal column.

When these signals are blocked from reaching a particular limb, a cat may not move that body part properly. The location of the damage to the cat's CNS determines which specific body parts are affected by paralysis.

What causes sudden paralysis in cats?

Paralysis in cats can be caused by various factors, ranging from injuries to underlying health conditions. Some common causes of sudden paralysis in cats include:

  • Trauma such as a car accident, fall, or fight
  • Tumors in the spine or brain which place pressure on nearby nerves
  • Slipped discs that damage or pinch nearby nerves
  • Inflammation around the spine places pressure on nearby nerves
  • Tick paralysis is a condition caused by neurotoxins found in the saliva of ticks, transferred to the pet when the tick latches on for some time
  • Obstruction of an artery restricting proper blood flow to the affected body part
  • Infection in bones or tissue near the spinal column
  • Nerve damage caused by poisons or toxins such as botulism
  • Malformation of the spine or individual vertebrae

Can a cat recover from paralysis?

The possibility of recovery from cat paralysis largely depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Some cats experience temporary paralysis and can recover fully with appropriate treatment. For example, cats with minor trauma or those affected by a reversible toxin might regain full function after medical intervention.

However, in cases where the paralysis is due to severe spinal cord injury or chronic neurological diseases, the prognosis may be less favorable. It's essential to consult a veterinarian to determine the specific cause of the paralysis and to discuss the potential for recovery.

Diagnosing Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats

When diagnosing your cat's condition, your veterinarian will work with you to ascertain whether your cat has experienced a traumatic injury, such as a car accident, that may have resulted in an injury to the spinal column. Your veterinarian will ask for a recent history of your cat's symptoms, including whether they developed suddenly or gradually, and if there have been any fluctuations in their severity.

A complete physical examination will be performed, including gentle manipulation of the affected limb/limbs and perhaps a test to determine whether your cat has a pain response. Further diagnostic testing may be required, possibly including an MRI, CT, or X-rays.

How do you treat a paralyzed cat?

Treating a paralyzed cat involves addressing the underlying cause and providing supportive care to maintain their quality of life. Here are some general steps in treating a paralyzed cat:

  • Medical Intervention: Depending on the cause, treatment might include anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, or anticoagulants. In cases of laryngeal paralysis, surgical intervention may be necessary.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical rehabilitation can help maintain muscle tone and improve mobility. This may include exercises, hydrotherapy, or acupuncture.
  • Assistive Devices: For cats with permanent paralysis, mobility carts can help them move around more easily.
  • Supportive Care: It is crucial to ensure the cat has a comfortable environment with accessible food, water, and litter boxes. Regular monitoring and assistance with grooming and hygiene may also be necessary.

Specifics About Cat Laryngeal Paralysis

Cat laryngeal paralysis is when the muscles that control the larynx (voice box) become paralyzed. This leads to breathing difficulties and changes in vocalization, which can be particularly distressing for both the cat and the owner.

Causes of Cat Laryngeal Paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis in cats can be caused by nerve damage, trauma, or idiopathic reasons (unknown causes). It can also be a part of a broader neuromuscular disorder.

Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

  • Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise or stress
  • Changes in the cat's meow or loss of voice
  • Gagging or coughing, especially when eating or drinking
  • Labored breathing or noisy respiration

Treatment of Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

Your vet's priority will be stabilizing your cat's condition. This stage may involve oxygen therapy, external cooling (cats with laryngeal paralysis can overheat very quickly), sedation, and possibly intubation to assist with breathing temporarily.

Your veterinarian will discuss the next steps once your cat's condition is stabilized. Laryngeal paralysis will not clear up on its own. However, a surgical technique called Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization or “Tieback” has produced promising results in treating cats with laryngeal paralysis. In this surgery, one side of the airway is tied back to allow air to flow more freely into the lungs. 

Other surgical options may be recommended if a Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization is unsuitable for your kitty.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you worried your cat is showing signs of paralysis? Contact our Mooresville emergency vets right away.

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