Full or partial paralysis in cats is a sign that your furry friend has lost the ability to move one or more parts of their body. However, laryngeal paralysis is a disorder that affects a cat's upper airway and impacts their voice and ability to breathe normally. In this post, our Mamaroneck vets talk about the causes and symptoms of full, partial, and laryngeal paralysis in cats.
Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats
There are two categories of paralysis that can impact your cat's ability to move properly, complete paralysis and partial paralysis.
Complete paralysis leaves your cat completely unable to move all 4 legs, tail, or other body parts, whereas partial paralysis (paresis) is a lack of full control over an individual body part.
While complete paralysis will be obvious (and alarming) for pet parents to spot, paresis is typically characterized by symptoms such as weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching, or reluctance to move.
When 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 as the result of 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 won't be able to move properly. The location of the CNS damage dictates which body parts are affected by paralysis.
Causes of Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats
Your cat's spinal column can become damaged in various ways, including:
- Inflammation around the spine that puts pressure on nearby nerves
- Trauma such as a car accident, fall, or fight
- Obstruction of an artery restricting proper blood flow to the affected body part
- Slipped discs that damage or pinch nearby nerves
- Malformation of the spine or individual vertebrae
- Nerve damage caused by poisons or toxins such as botulism
- Infection in bones or tissue near the spinal column
- 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 that place pressure on nearby nerves
Diagnosing Cats With Complete & Partial Paralysis
When diagnosing your cat's condition, your veterinarian will work with you to determine whether your cat has experienced a traumatic injury such as a car accident that may have resulted in an injury to the 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 cat's symptoms.
A full physical examination will be performed, including gentle manipulation of the affected limb/limbs, and maybe a test to determine whether your cat has a pain response. Additional diagnostic testing might be required which could include an MRI scan, CT scan, or X-rays.
How Complete & Partial Paralysis is Treated in Cats
The treatments used for complete or partial paralysis in cats will depend on 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, the 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 know that cats with full or partial paralysis will require considerable home care. Your vet will take the time to explain to you the best ways to help your kitty, as well as your cat's prognosis and next steps.
Laryngeal paralysis is very different from full or partial paralysis. This equally serious condition is a disorder of the upper airway that occurs when the cartilages of your cat's 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, which then causes a narrowing of the windpipe and in some cases total blockage leading to suffocation.
Signs & Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats
This is a very serious condition that requires immediate veterinary care. If your cat is displaying any of the following symptoms bring them to the vet for an examination:
- A raspy, or hoarse sounding voice
- Panting even when at rest
- Increased panting
More severe and advanced cases could result in these symptoms:
- Anxious or panicked facial expression
- Reluctance to be touched or handled
- Noise when your cat is breathing
- Chest vigorously expanding and contracting to breathe
- Panting with lips pulled back as if smiling and tongue out
- Obvious signs of working hard to breathe (sides moving in and out with effort)
- Tongue darker red or purple
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.
Treating Cats With Laryngeal Paralysis
Your vet's first priority will be to stabilize your cat's condition. This stage may 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 is stabilized, your veterinarian will talk to you about the next steps you should take. Laryngeal paralysis won't go away on its own. However, a surgical technique called Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization or “Tieback” has produced promising results in treating cats with laryngeal paralysis. In this surgery, one side of the airway is tied back to let air flow into the lung more freely.
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.