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What is Canine Paralysis?

By Debra Durkee
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Canine paralysis occurs when a dog loses his or her ability to walk and move. It happens for a number of different reasons, can be permanent or temporary, and may or may not be able to be fixed with surgery. Although the causes can be varied, it is vital to get the dog to a veterinarian when showing signs of paralysis.

One of the most common causes of canine paralysis is a ruptured disk in the spine. When a disk ruptures, it interferes with the nerves and signals sent throughout the dog's body and, depending on the location of the disk, can mean partial or complete paralysis. Whether it is a slow, age-related degeneration or an injury that causes the rupture, surgery is often an option. Although there is typically a long recovery process for the dog after he or she undergoes surgery, there is a good chance of not just relieving pain but of also regaining some or all of the function lost because of the injury. Some small breeds, such as the Pekinese and poodles, are more susceptible to this kind of paralysis.

Canine paralysis can also occur when a dog is bitten by a tick. There is venom in the bite of the tick that causes weakness and a change in basic bodily functions such as breathing, regulation of body temperature, and coordination. The hind legs are typically the first to display signs of paralysis, which will eventually spread not only the front legs but to internal organs as well. Symptoms can take up to a week to manifest themselves after the dog is bitten, but removing the tick quickly can lessen the severity of the paralysis. If a dog is showing signs of canine paralysis, check the ears, face, and feet for ticks; if present, use tweezers to carefully remove them in one piece.

Spinal damage can cause permanent canine paralysis. Severe trauma that injures the spine usually results in paralysis from the site of the injury and back; a dog that has suffered such a trauma will generally require special care for the rest of his or her life. This can include regular bathing as well as problems with dry skin, scrapes, and bladder infections. Many times, the healthy muscles of a partially paralyzed dog will try to compensate for the difficulties in moving and walking; if the forelegs and shoulders of a dog with canine paralysis are healthy, fitting him or her with a cart to allow some sort of freedom is often a viable option. Many times, dogs with this type of partial paralysis can still lead long and fulfilling lives.

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