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Paralysis in Cats

Paralysis in cats is scary for pet parents and requires emergency veterinary attention. Today, our Bonita Springs vets discuss the different types of paralysis in cats, including laryngeal paralysis—a type of paralysis that affects your feline friend's ability to breathe. 

Cat Paralysis

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

Complete paralysis leaves your cat completely unable to move all 4 legs, tail, or other parts, 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.

Why Complete or Partial Paralysis in Cats Occurs 

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), which consists of their brain and spinal column. 

When the movement signals are blocked from reaching the appropriate limb, your cat is unable to properly move. Which parts of the body are affected by paralysis depends on where the damage to the central nervous system has occurred. 

Common Causes of Paralysis in Cats

There are a number of ways that damage can occur to your cat's spinal column 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 that 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 a period of time
  • 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

How Paralysis in Cats is Diagnosed

When diagnosing your cat's condition, your veterinarian will work with you to determine what is causing the damage to your kitty's central nervous system.  Your vet will request a recent history of your cat's symptoms,  and ask you questions about 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, pain response. Further diagnostic testing, such as X-rays or a CT scan will likely be recommended if the cause of the paralysis isn't immediately obvious.

Treating Paralysis in Cats 

Treatment for complete or partial paralysis in cats will depend upon the cause of the paralysis and the likelihood of whether the condition is causing permanent or temporary paralysis.

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.

It is important for pet parents to understand that cats with full or partial paralysis will require considerable home care. 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 in Cats

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 requiring 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 

Advanced and more severe cases can 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 veterinarian right away or head to the nearest animal emergency hospital.

Treating Cat Laryngeal Paralysis

Your veterinarian will begin by working to stabilize your cat's condition. This stage could 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 vet will talk to you about the next steps. Laryngeal paralysis does not go away 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 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.

Is your cat experiencing paralysis? At Southwest Florida Veterinary Specialists we provide 24/7 emergency services. Contact us or bring your pet in for expert veterinary care

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