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Paralysis in Cats: Causes & Treatment

Paralysis in cats occurs when a cat is unable to move one or more legs. Laryngeal paralysis refers to a different condition entirely in which a cat's upper airway seizes up leaving them unable to breathe. Both types of paralysis require immediate emergency attention. Here, our Argyle vets explain more.  

Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis

There are two categories of paralysis that can affect your kitty's ability to move properly: complete paralysis and partial paralysis.

Complete paralysis leaves your cat completely unable to move all four legs and their tail, whereas partial paralysis (paresis) is a lack of full control over an individual body part.

Although complete paralysis will be obvious (and alarming) for pet parents to spot, paresis is typically characterized by symptoms such as weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching, or reluctance to move. If you notice symptoms of paralysis in your cat you should bring them to the nearest pet emergency room for immediate veterinary care.  

Why Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats Occurs 

Complete and partial paralysis in cats occurs when signals from the brain asking a body part to move are interrupted due to damage to the cat's central nervous system (CNS), located within the spinal column.

When the movement signals are blocked from reaching the appropriate limb, your cat is left unable to move properly. Where the damage to the central nervous system occurs dictates which body parts are affected by paralysis.

Common Causes of Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis

There are a number of things that can damage your cat's nervous system and lead to partial or full paralysis, including: 

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

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 vet will request a recent history of your cat's symptoms, whether their symptoms came on suddenly or gradually, and whether there have been any fluctuations in the severity of your cat's symptoms.

A full physical examination will be performed, including gentle manipulation of the affected limb/limbs, and testing to determine whether your cat has a pain response. Often, further diagnostic testing such as a CT scan or X-ray will be required. 

Treating Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats

Treatment for complete or partial paralysis in cats will depend on the underlying cause of the condition and whether or not your cat is experiencing temporary paralysis or permanent. 

If an infection is the cause of your cat's complete or partial paralysis treatment will include antibiotics to fight the infection. If an injury is causing your cat's paralysis anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to help reduce pressure on the spinal column. If the cause of the paralysis is a tumor, surgery or other cancer therapies may be recommended. 

It is important for pet parents to understand that cats with full or partial paralysis will require considerable home care. In some cases, treatment may not be possible Your vet will take the time to discuss how best to help your kitty, as well as your cat's prognosis and best next steps.

Laryngeal Paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis is very different from full or partial paralysis. This equally serious condition is a disorder of the upper airway that occurs when the cartilages of your cat's larynx do not open and close normally during respiration resulting in gradually intensifying breathing difficulties.

In the early stages, laryngeal paralysis in cats is characterized by a noise that is created when the walls of the airway do not open as normal when your cat breathes in. As the condition becomes more severe the walls of the windpipe may be drawn inward as your cat breathes in, which then causes a narrowing of the windpipe and in some cases total blockage leading to suffocation.

Signs of Cat Laryngeal Paralysis

This is a very serious condition that requires urgent veterinary care. If your cat is showing any of the following symptoms it's time to head to the vet for an examination.

  • Increased panting
  • Panting even when at rest
  • A raspy, or hoarse sounding voice 

More severe and advanced cases may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Obvious signs of working hard to breathe (sides moving in and out with effort)
  • Anxious or panicked facial expression
  • Chest vigorously expanding and contracting to breathe
  • Panting with lips pulled back as if smiling and tongue out
  • Noise when your cat is breathing
  • Tongue darker red or purple
  • Reluctance to be touched or handled

If your cat is showing any of the symptoms above, urgent veterinary care is required! Contact your vet right away or head to the nearest animal emergency hospital.

Treatment for Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

Your vet's first priority will be to stabilize 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 temporarily assist with breathing.

Once your cat's condition is stabilized your veterinarian will discuss the next steps with you. 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 not suitable for your cat. 

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.

Is your cat showing signs of paralysis? Argyle Veterinary Hospital offers emergency care during our clinic hours. Contact us or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital right away.

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