Paralysis can affect cats in a number of ways – full paralysis (also called leg paralysis), partial leg paralysis, and laryngeal paralysis. Today, our Brighton veterinary team explains more about paralysis in cats, including the signs and treatment of these serious conditions.
Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis
There are two categories of paralysis that can affect your kitty'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 an inability to completely control an individual body part.
Although complete paralysis will be obvious (and alarming) for cat caretakers to spot, paresis is typically characterized by symptoms such as weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching, or reluctance to move.
Causes Behind Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats
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 your cat's CNS is located dictates which body parts are affected by paralysis.
Common Causes of Leg 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 (caused by neurotoxins found in the saliva of ticks, transmitted to the pet when the tick latches on for a period of time)
- Tumors in the spine or brain exerting 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 Leg Paralysis In Cats
When diagnosing your cat's condition, your veterinarian will work with you to verify whether your cat has experienced a traumatic injury (e.g. a car accident) that could have injured their 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 pet's symptoms.
A full physical examination will be performed, including gentle manipulation of the affected limb/limbs, and may include a test to determine whether your cat has a pain response. Further diagnostic testing may be required potentially including ultrasound or digital X-rays.
Treating Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis
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 condition 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.
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 that impacts the upper airway which occurs when the cartilages of your cat's larynx don't open and close normally during respiration. Untreated, this leads to 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
Laryngeal paralysis in cats 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
- Raspy or hoarse-sounding vocalizations
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 quickly expanding and contracting to breathe
- Panting with lips pulled back as if 'smiling', with tongue out
- Noise during your cast's respiration (breathing)
- Tongue dark red or purple
- New or increased 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 has been stabilized your vet will talk to you about what to do next since laryngeal paralysis does not resolve on its own. There is potentially promising news, however – there is a surgical technique called Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization or 'Tieback' that has produced favorable 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 pet.
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.