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Nerve "impulses" are the signals our brain sends down the spinal cord and down the nerve pathways from the spinal cord to our internal organs and limbs causing muscle groups to tighten up or relax.
It's an incredible system with millions of impulses affecting millions of cells in different parts of the body all going on at once in a highly organized (usually) manner.
But things can go wrong.
Things that can cause a slow down, partial blockage, complete blockage, or erratic behavior of these impulses include:
- brain lesions
- viral diseases
- diseases transmitted by ticks
- injuries from things like car accidents and gunshots
- neck injuries
- blood clots
- alcohol, anethetics, and drugs ... especially the type that people abuse
- chemical and electrolyte imbalances caused by other diseases such as kidney or liver disease or anemia.
And a bunch of toxins, nerve agents, pesticides, and poisons and venoms and mushrooms and toads and inhalant fumes.
It's all pretty interesting. But scary. Anything that causes damage or puts pressure, causes irritation, inflammation, or changes in the pH or chemistry of the fluid surrounding the nerve cells can cause anything from excruciating pain to total lack of feeling or ability to move.
Other possible symptoms of neural tissue damage include seizures, foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and erratic behavior.
But this page is about paralysis and a little about some of the diseases that cause paresis (partial paralysis)
If you're reading this page because your pet is suffering from paralysis, I hope it gets better soon.
Cardiology Heart disease in Cats, Cardiac Hypertrophy, Valvular disease, Cardiac Insufficiency, Congestive Heart Failure, Heartworm Disease, and a little history about the milestones in treating heart disease
Cats: general information page and directory of diseases and problems specific to cats including vaccine recommendations, leukemia, feline viral infections, feline upper respiratory disease and cats that just aren't feeling well.
The picture is a cross section of the spinal cord. I put this picture up not to scare you with anatomy but simply to demonstrate how well protected the spinal cord is from injury.. Nonetheless, this vital organ is susceptible to trauma, cancer, and disease.
Canine degenerative myelopathy is an incurable, progressive disease of the canine spinal cord. Onset is typically after the age of 7 years and it is seen most frequently in the German shepherd dog, Pembroke Welsh corgi, and Boxers. Initial symptoms are usually rear end weakness but as the disease progresses... the patient becomes more and more paralyzed. The cause is not well understood but we think it is genetic in nature and involves the body's own immune system turning on itself.
The German Sheperd above has degenerative myelopathy. The initial symptoms are usually rear end weakness to include knuckling over of the rear paws.
Polyneuropathy: a collection of diseases in dogs and cats involving the peripheral nerves
Birman Cat distal polyneuropathy - This is an inherited disorder of Birman Cats. Symptoms start at the age of 8 to 10 weeks, and include frequent falling and walking on the hocks.
Dancing Doberman disease - This primarily affects the muscles of the lower legs of Dobermans. It usually starts between the ages of 6 to 7 months. One rear leg will flex while standing. Then the other leg will flex. Dancing Doberman disease progresses over a few years to rear leg weakness and muscle atrophy. Most dogs retain the ability to walk but there is no known treatment.
Diabetic neuropathy - Diabetes can cause the nerves to dysfunction, especially in cats. The most common sign is rear end weakness and being down in the hocks.
Distal symmetric polyneuropathy - Symptoms include atrophy of the distal leg muscles and the muscles of the head, and rear limb weakness. Breeds typically affected are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, St. Bernards, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Collies and Labrador Retrievers.
Dysautonomia - This is primarily seen in cats and there seems to be an outbreak in dogs in Kansas and Missouri. Symptoms include vomiting, depression, not eating, weight loss, dilated pupils, third eyelid protrusion, sneezing, slow heart rate, and megaesophagus.
Giant axonal neuropathy - This is a rare disease in the German Shepherd Dog. It usually becomes evident between the ages of 14 and 16 months. Symptoms include rear limb weakness, muscle atrophy, and megaesophagus.
Hyperchylomicronemia or hyperlipoproteinemia - This a type of hyperlipidemia that is inherited in cats. Polyneuropathy is caused by stretching or compression of nerves near bone by fat or lipid deposits. It can cause a variety of neural symptoms including Horner's syndrome where there is pupil constriction and drooping of the eye lids and cheek muscles on one side of the face.
Coonhound paralysis- This is inflammation of the nerve roots (polyradiculoneuritis), and is similar to Guillain-Barré syndrome in humans. Coonhound paralysis seems to be associated with raccoon bites which is probably why coonhounds are most often affected. But this might not be true because other breeds get this disease too and many dogs with this problem haven't been anywhere near a raccoon. So there's a lot we don't know. But when associated with a raccoon bite, the symptoms start about 10 days after the bite, and symptoms include rear leg weakness progressing rapidly to paresis.. Treatment is proper nursing care, and the prognosis is good in mild cases.
Polyradiculoneuritis has also been seen one to two weeks after vaccinations in both dogs and cats.
It has also been associated with toxoplasmosis.
Rottweiler distal sensorimotor polyneuropathy - This is a disease of adult Rottweilers and causes different degress of paralysis of all four legs
Sensory neuropathies - These are inherited conditions in puppies and cause an inability to feel pain and a loss of proprioception. Self-mutilation is often seen. There are several breeds affected including Boxers, Longhaired Dachshunds, and English Pointers.
Spinal muscular atrophy - This disease is caused by the death of nerve cells in the spinal cord, and affects both dogs and cats...especially Maine Coon cats. There are several breeds affected including the Brittany Spaniel, English Pointer, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, and Cairn Terriers.
Tick paralysis - The cause of this type of paralysis is a neurotoxin in the saliva of certain species of ticks. The disease results in different degrees of paralysis and in North America dogs often quickly return to normal once the tick is removed. But for reasons not known, this same disease in Australia is much more severe and often results in death.
Toxic neuropathies - The most common causes are vincristine, thallium, and lead. Cats are especially sensitive to toxins.
Botulism - Botulism is very rare in dogs and cats and usually follows feeding on carrion. Symptoms include weakness, difficulty eating, acute facial nerve paralysis, and megaesophagus. Sadly, humans, horses and cattle are very susceptible to the bacteria that causes botulism.
Radiograph of a spinal cord tumor.
Strokes... blockages of the arteries to the brain... happen to dogs and cats as well as people. Symptoms include sluggishness, lack of bladder and bowel control, lack of balance, head tilts, blindness, loss of equilibrium, and some degree of paralysis.
On other pages about diseases affecting the brain or central nervous system: