If your cat has lost the ability to move their legs or another part of their body, they may be suffering from a type of paralysis. However, cats can also suffer from laryngeal paralysis which is actually a disorder of the upper airway. Our Lancaster vets explain more...
Understanding Paralysis in Cats
When it comes to the ability to move there are a couple of different types of paralysis that pet parents should be aware of.
Complete & Partial Paralysis
Complete paralysis which leaves your cat completely unable to move legs, tail, or other parts and partial paralysis (paresis) which is the lack of full control over a given body part. While complete paralysis will be obvious (and alarming) for pet parents to spot, paresis is characterized by symptoms such as weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching or reluctance to move.
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 the cat is unable to move. Where the damage occurs will dictate which body parts are affected by paralysis.
Common Causes of Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats
There are a number of ways that damage can occur to your cat's spinal column including:
- Traumatic injury (car accident, fall, fight)
- Infection in bones or tissue near the spinal column
- Slipped discs that damage or pinch nearby nerves
- Inflammation around the spine placing pressure on nearby nerves
- Tick paralysis (caused by neurotoxins found in the saliva of ticks)
- Tumors in the spine or brain that place pressure on nearby nerves
- Malformation of the spine or individual vertebrae
- Nerve damage caused by 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 vet will work with you to establish whether your cat has experienced a traumatic injury (e.g. being hit by a car), a fall or other damage to the spinal column. This will mean supplying your vet with a recent history of your cat's symptoms, whether they 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 perhaps a test to determine whether your cat has a pain response. Further diagnostic testing may be required possibly including a CT scan, MRI imaging or X-rays
Treating Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats
Treatment for complete or partial paralysis in cats will depend upon the cause of the paralysis and the likelihood of whether it is a temporary paralysis that your cat will be able to recover from.
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.
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.
Confusingly, laryngeal paralysis—while somewhat rare—is a serious condition that can also be seen in cats. However, laryngeal paralysis is a disorder of the upper airway that occurs when the cartilages of the 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 wheezing noise, 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, leading to a narrowing of the windpipe and in some cases total blockage leading to suffocation.
Signs of Cat Laryngeal Paralysis
Early signs of laryngeal paralysis in cats include:
- Increased panting (panting in cats is unusual and can be a sign of distress or illness)
- Panting even when at rest
- A raspy or hoarse-sounding voice
In more advanced cases, cat caretakers might observe one or more of 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 while breathing
- Tongue darker red or purple
- Newly developed 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.
Treating Laryngeal Paralysis In Cats
Your veterinarian's first priority is going to be ensuring your cat's condition is stable. This could involve oxygen therapy, external cooling (cats with laryngeal paralysis overheat quickly), sedation, and possibly intubation to assist with breathing.
Once your cat's condition is stabilized your vet will discuss next steps with you. Laryngeal paralysis will not resolve on its own, but a surgical technique called Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization or “Tieback” has produced promising results. 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.