Cats Paralysis - Full, Partial & Laryngeal Paralysis

If your cat has lost their ability to move their back legs, all 4 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 South Charlotte 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 damaging or pinching the nearby nerves
  • Inflammation around the spine placing 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 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 ascertain whether your cat has experienced a fall or other traumatic injury such as a car accident that could have caused injury 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.

Laryngeal Paralysis

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 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 causing 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 even when at rest
  • A raspy, or hoarse sounding voice 

In more advanced cases, pet parents may notice 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 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 may involve oxygen therapy, external cooling (cats with laryngeal paralysis overheat quickly), sedation, and possibly intubation to temporarily assist with breathing.

Once your cat's condition is stabilized your vet will discuss 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 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 struggling to breathe, or unable to walk? Contact us right away or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital for urgent care.

A cat wheelchair can help your cat to regain mobility if they are suffering from permanent partial paralysis, South Charlotte vet

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