Introduction – What is Paralysis
Paralysis occurs quite commonly in small animals.
There are a myriad of reasons that can lead to paralysis. In animals that are quadripeds (4-legged), “paralysis” usually describes the inability to mobilize the backlegs (hindlegs) of an animal. Tetraparalysis occurs when the animal is unable to move all of its four legs.
Paralysis is a more extreme state compared to paresis. In the latter case, the animal is still able to somewhat mobilize its backlegs. Despite still managing to move its backlegs, the execution is usually not perfect. In other words, an observer may note that a paretic patient to be “stumbling”, “walking as if it were drunk”, “swaying side-to-side”. Note the backlegs of the German Shepherd in the photo below. Its back-feet are knuckled over as it walks and the backlegs are brought together to provide extra support for its unsteady state.
Is paralysis a death sentence? No. Not always. If you get your pet checked out with a veterinarian immediately, the chance of not having to suffer the effects of paralysis for a lifetime can be dramatically reduced.
What to do when your pet is paralyzed?
Once your realize your pet cannot walk, first clarify this:
- Which leg(s) cannot be used?
- Identify backleg
- Is it one backleg? Or –
- Both backlegs?
- Identify frontleg
- Is it one frontleg? Or –
- Both frontlegs?
- Is it one backleg + one frontleg?
- Identify backleg
The next step is to keep your pet calm and still. Do not encourage walking, running nor jumping. Minimize your pet’s activity to zero as best as you can. Further movement will harm your pet’s ability regain mobility.
Third step is to bring your pet to your nearest veterinarian, or to a referral center as quickly as possible.
How to identify paralysis, paresis or just abnormal walking?
There are several stages that precede true paralysis. Very often, an animal is described as “walking as if drunk”, “swaying from side to side”, “tripping over”. Signs are plentiful, but the more subtle signs are best to be interpreted by your veterinarian. However, you should be able to pick up obvious abnormality in the way your pet walks. Here is a video:
Understand what your vet says: Diagnostic Methods
It is essential that you bring your pet (cat or dog or any other animal) to see a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Several basic diagnostic tests should be performed in order to best determine the cause of your pet’s walking problem. You could expect that a neurological examination be performed by the veterinarian. That means, a very comprehensive body check where your pet’s reflexes, legs, back, neck and head are checked. In addition, images of your pet’s problem area which was identified by the preceding neurological examination should be taken. Images may be generated by several methods, including:
- CT Scan
The type of imaging performed will depend on what questions are asked. For example, x-rays are particularly useful for examining bone structures. Myelography focuses on the nerve system in particular the spine. MRI examines predominantly examines the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, spinal nerves). CT Scan is better suited to bones, joints and other soft tissues. It does not provide as sharp an image as an MRI image.
Surgery, other treatments or euthanasia?
There are two sets of decisions to make and it requires you and your veterinarian to work things out together. The veterinarian’s responsibility is to make the appropriate diagnosis and provide the appropriate recommendations followed by the best course of treatment. Your responsibility is to quickly decide whether you can afford the best care possible (mentally, physically & monetarily) that is available to your pet:
You need to think and decide quickly:
- What is the (Most likely) cause of your pet’s paralysis?
- soft tissue strain or sprain
- cruciate ligament injury
- vascular stroke
- intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- other nerve damage
- heart problem
- With a basic idea of what the problem is and what it takes to manage this problem, can you afford to pay for the treatment and aftercare? If you can afford treatment, which treatment can you afford?
Treatment methods are usually classified under two categories:
- Conservative / alternative
Aftercare management includes but not limited to:
- Laser therapy
- Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
- Hyperbaric Chamber Therapy
- Massage Therapy
- Wheelchair fitting
Each method of management has its advantages and disadvantages, therefore there is no definitive answer to you as the reader here. However, by reading this article, you are suppose to gain an insight into the questions to ask your veterinarian and the expectations you should have after discussion with your veterinarian and with your family.
Look at the what you can afford, the long term outcome – to help you decide
Paralysis is not straightforward. It is important that you understand the consequences in order to make the best decision for yourself and for your pet.
Paralysis not only causes your pet to not be able to walk properly, it has other knock-on effects that begins to show up at a later stage. Some of these effects are directly related to surgery and may wane away if you manage your pet’s recovery properly. Some effects will never go away but some veterinarians can guide you in managing such problems.
You have to be clear in what you wish for your pet because the pet itself cannot tell you their thoughts. Some questions you must ask yourself and your family in deciding whether to treat and which method of treatment for your pet:
- Can I accept my pet not ever to walk again?
- If my pet cannot walk even after treatment, can I actually carry my pet?
- Can I handle my pet – does my pet usually bite?
- Is my pet good with taking medicine? (Pills, liquids)
- Does my pet accept to be handled (body wiping, massage, cleaning)
- Does my home have space to enclose my pet?
- Do I have extra hands at home to help? (family members, helpers)
- Can I afford the pet’s first round of treatment? (surgery, conservative treatment, medications)
- Can I afford the follow up? (recheck revisits, follow up x-rays, medications, travel costs, wheelchair fitting)
- Can I spare money to let my pet go for rehabilitation therapy? (Acupuncture, Massage, Physiotherapy, Hydrotherapy, Laser therapy)
There are more than 10 factors that will affect your decision in treating your pet’s condition. Paralysis is not a death-sentence and should not be viewed as such. However, it is essential that you carefully consider issues such as time, patience, resources and space while deciding the best method to help your pet cope with its condition. Your pet may be permanently disabled whether treatment can be given. You have to be realistic about its future and its welfare.
The next blog will focus on the different available types of treatment and rehabilitative strategies that can help your pet, be it to to regain total mobility, or to cope with immobility.