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Cat Paralysis - What You Need to Know

What is cat laryngeal paralysis? How is it different from full or partial paralysis in cats? Our Westminster vets answer these questions and more about the types of paralysis that can profoundly impact the health and well-being of our feline friends.

Different Types of Paralysis in Cats

It can be somewhat confusing, but there are a few types of paralysis that can strike our feline family members and each has its own unique characteristics.

First, there is the type of paralysis that affects your cat's ability to walk. This type of paralysis falls into four categories: temporary, permanent, full and partial.

The second type is laryngeal paralysis. This type of paralysis seriously impacts your cat's ability to breathe normally.

Below we look at the symptoms and treatments for each of these types of paralysis in cats.

Complete & Partial Paralysis

Complete paralysis leaves your cat completely unable to move their legs, tail, or other parts of their body. Partial paralysis (paresis) 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 Occurs 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 in 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 Cat Paralysis

Signals from the brain to your cat's body can be blocked by damage to your kitty's spinal column caused by any of the following:

  • 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: 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 providing 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 on the cause of the paralysis and the likelihood of whether it is a temporary paralysis 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 Cat

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 breathing this results in gradually intensifying breathing difficulties.

In the early stages, a cat with laryngeal paralysis will begin making a distinct sound when breathing, or may develop a raspy meow. The sound 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. This causes 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 stable 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 veterinary 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 feline friend showing signs of paralysis? Contact our Westminster vets to book an emergency appointment!

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