Paralysis in Dogs – How to Take Care of a Tetraparetic Dog

Reviewed By Julie •  Updated: 01/08/21 •  9 min read
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The development of paralysis in a dog can be one of the scariest medical issues to deal with. Many pet parents fear the loss of movement means their pup has come to the end of their life. Euthanasia may seem like the only thing that can be done. However, that may not be the case depending on your dog’s condition. There are things you can do to help your fur baby if he should develop partial or complete paralysis.

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In this article, we’re going to take a look at paralysis in dogs, some of the causes, and how to take care of a tetraparetic dog.

Paraplegia in Dogs

Dogs can become paralyzed for many different reasons. Some dogs may develop paralysis over time, while others may experience sudden paralysis. Paraplegia is when a dog can’t move his rear legs, while tetraplegia is when a dog can’t move all four legs. Paralysis, in general, is caused when your fur baby’s central nervous system is not able to send messages to the brain. When there’s some type of disruption between the nerves and the brain, then a dog can lose the ability to coordinate his movements. When it comes to canine paralysis, it’s most often the hind legs that are affected. However, other parts of the body may also become paralyzed, such as his face muscles, muscles that control urination and defecation, his front legs, etc. It just depends on which nerve signals are disrupted.

Dog Lower Motor Neuron Disease

Paralysis in dogs can be caused by lower motor neuron disease. Lower Motor Neuron Dysfunction (LMND) takes place when any part of the motor neurons become diseased. Motor neurons are a type of nerve that works to carry messages from the spinal cord to the brain. There are both upper and lower motor neurons. Upper neurons are found near the brain stem, while lower motor neurons are located in the spinal cord. When the motor neurons become diseased or damaged, any part of the nervous system can be affected, including the muscles of the limbs. Issues with lower motor neurons may show up as muscle weakness in a dog’s legs, or as complete paralysis, as is the case in a tetraparetic dog.

The dog may in the beginning only show slight symptoms such weakness in the limbs, with low muscle tone and poor reflexes. Over time, or all of a sudden, a dog can develop complete paralysis.

Causes of Tetraplegia in Dogs

There are many reasons a dog can become paralyzed in all four legs. Tetraparesis dog causes may include:

Being injured: such as being hit by a car or some other type of traumatic injury.

Tick bites: this is the leading cause of paralysis in dogs, which is caused by neurotoxins injected into the bloodstream when a tick bites your fur baby. The toxin spreads and can bring on sudden neuron paralysis, which causes dog sudden paralysis. This form of paralysis can be caused by one or more ticks.

Congenital diseases: such as IVDD (Intervetebral Disc Disease). This condition is more common in dogs with short legs, such as Daschhunds. However, IVDD can affect any dog. This condition develops when the discs, jelly-like cushions between the vertebrae, are damaged or ruptured. The ruptured material causes the spinal cord to be pressed, which can lead to paralysis.

Bacterial infections: including rabies, meningitis, distemper can cause paralysis if the bacteria reach the brain. The infection can be spread from other animals or if your dog eats something infected with the bacteria.

Malignant tumors: if your fur baby develops a tumor somewhere along the spinal cord, this can also cause paralysis. This type of condition is usually life-threatening.

Snake venom: some snakes carry strong venom that can cause paralysis in dogs.

How is Tetraplegia in Dogs Diagnosed?

Any signs of muscle weakness or sudden paralysis in your fur baby need to be checked by a veterinarian. The vet will do a complete exam of your dog, asking questions about his health and recent onset of symptoms. They’ll also ask if your dog has experienced an incident that could have caused the paralysis, including an injury, etc. Your vet will pay special attention to your dog’s movements, noting reflexes and whether or not your pup can feel pain in all four of his legs or whether he has any sensitivity in his legs. The vet may also want to run lab tests to help check for infections, have an X-ray done to look for issues with the vertebrate in your pup’s spine, etc.

He may also order a special type of X-ray called a myelogram to view the spinal cord, or he may choose to perform CT scans, MRIs, and possibly a biopsy.

Tetraplegia Treatment for Dogs

It’s horrible when your dog is paralyzed. You may even believe your dog’s life is finished if he’s not able to do the things he enjoys. However, treatment can help, along with the use of assistive devices. Depending on your dog’s diagnosis, he may be able to enjoy his favorite daily activities and even regain some movement. Once your vet makes a diagnosis, and makes an assessment of the severity of your pup’s paralysis, then he’ll be able to create a treatment plan. Again, treatment options will depend on the cause of the paralysis and its severity, but treatment may include:

If your precious pup’s paralysis has been caused by an infection, then the vet will immediately begin treating your dog with the correct type of medication, though your fur baby may also need surgery. The vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatories to relieve inflammation in nerves that may be swollen. IVDD is usually treated surgically, however. Medications may also be given if your dog’s in pain. For tumors, surgery may be required, but it depends on the type of tumor and its location. Hydrotherapy is often used for dogs after surgery for paralysis. The muscles are activated through water pressure. Other therapies may include heat/cold therapy to relax your pup and help relieve pain. Magnetic therapy is also sometimes used to relieve pain and help with muscle relaxation. Another therapy that can be helpful is electrical stimulation of muscles and nerves, which also works to increase blood flow.

As you can see, there are many possible treatments for your fur baby. You’ll need to expect that he may need to stay in the hospital for a long time, so he can be monitored and receive treatment until he can walk. When you bring your fur baby home, the vet will send along a treatment and recovery plan to follow.

How to Manage Your Dog’s Paralysis at Home

It is possible that with treatment, your dog can regain the use of his legs; however, some dogs may recover enough to be healthy, while still suffering from paralysis. In this case, there are still things you can do to help him have a full, long, healthy life in spite of the paralysis. Let’s take a look at ways you can help manage your fur baby’s paralysis at home:

Orthopedic bed: to help take the pressure off your pup’s joints and keep the joints from developing ulcers (much like human bed sores), you can purchase an orthopedic bed. Look for a bed that includes a liner and ensure the entire bed is washable. Make sure to keep it clean with regular washings.

Assistive devices: there are many types of wheelchairs/carts and harnesses designed to help dogs who are paralyzed. If you’re an enterprising person, you may even be able to make a dog wheelchair at home. Wheelchairs help dogs to get around; if your pup can move his front legs, then a wheelchair may be just the thing to get him up and around again. In addition to wheelchairs for dogs, you’ll also find a wide variety of harnesses that can help get your precious pup up and around again. The harnesses have a handle, which allows you to hold up your dog’s back end as he walks on his front legs. Before choosing a wheelchair or harness for your dog, be sure to consult with your vet first. They will be able to recommend the best types that will be suitable for your dog’s condition. Using the wrong assistive devices could cause more harm to your dog, so check with the vet first.

Regular grooming: since your fur baby’s paralyzed, he probably won’t be able to groom himself. So, you can help him feel better and stay clean by grooming him regularly. He’ll also love the extra attention! And don’t forget your dog will still need to be bathed. He’ll need to have a bath about once a week. In between baths, you can clean him with baby wipes or even use dry pet shampoo to keep his skin and fur clean. You’ll want to make sure the shampoo is one that moisturizes to help keep your dog’s skin from drying out. And remember to keep his nails trimmed, too!

Physical therapy: can help your dog maintain his muscle tone and flexibility. Your vet, or a physical therapist, who specializes in PT for dogs, can show you how to perform the range of motion exercises he’ll need. In addition, daily massage can help improve blood flow and help to soothe sore muscles.

Managing bladder issues: your precious pup may be unable to urinate on his own, in which case you’ll need to help him. The vet will show you how to empty your dog’s bladder. Another helpful idea is to use doggie diapers to help avoid potty messes. Another note—urine can burn your dog’s skin, so be sure to wipe and clean any urine that get on his skin as soon as possible.

Taking care of your paralyzed fur baby can be a lot of work; however, with the right care it’s possible to keep him happy and healthy for some time, with your vet’s help. It’s important to follow your vet’s treatment and care instructions closely so you and your pup can get the most out of life and have more time together.

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Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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