What are Leg Paralysis?
When leg paralysis occurs in a cat, it is in need of urgent veterinary attention. Care should be taken when transporting the cat so as not to cause further impairment or injury.
The inability of an animal to move or feel one or more legs is referred to as leg paralysis. When motor and sensory function is only partially impaired, this is referred to as paresis. When function is completely impaired it is referred to as paralysis. The inability to move all four legs is tetraplegia, whereas paraplegia occurs when the animal cannot move two legs. Leg paralysis can be the result of several things that are not common in cats including trauma from a fall, accident or abuse, viruses, or tick bites.
Symptoms of Leg Paralysis in Cats
General symptoms of paralysis are:
- Loss of movement and/or loss of feeling in leg(s)
- Incontinence (urinary or fecal)
- Limb weakness (paresis) or inability to move (complete paralysis)
- Lack of pain response in the limb(s)
In addition, symptoms specific to the cause of the paralysis may be present as in the following situations:
- Dragging leg: radial nerve paralysis
- Cold limbs, absent or hard to discern pulse in groin: thrombosis (blood clot)
- Dilated pupils, coughing: tick paralysis
- Pain, reluctance to move: slipped disc or spine injury
- Swollen abdomen, weight loss, fever, labored breathing: feline infectious peritonitis
- Loss of appetite, lethargy: toxoplasmosis
- Neurological symptoms such as circling, tilted head, fixed pupils: stroke
Causes of Leg Paralysis in Cats
There are a variety of causes of paralysis in the limbs which result in a malfunction in the brain, spinal cord, or nerves that connect the central nervous system (CNS) to the legs. These include:
- Blood Clot: Thrombosis where the aorta joins with iliac arteries results in paralysis of both legs. Thrombosis in iliac artery of either leg can result in paralysis of that leg specifically
- Tick bite: Ticks bites can release neurotoxins into the cat, resulting in nervous system malfunction and paralysis.
- Stroke: Lack of oxygen to the brain destroys the part of brain controlling leg movement.
- Trauma: Broken pelvis, injured spine
- Cancerous tumor: Tumors in the brain or spine can impair CNS function.
- Slipped disk: puts pressure on spine
- Toxoplasmosis parasitic infection Usually is symptom-free in cats but can, in rare cases, cause nervous system impairment.
- Viral infection: Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
- Inflammation of the spine or CNS
- Infection of CNS
- Cryptococcus - fungal infection that can affect the CNS
- Nerve damage
Diagnosis of Leg Paralysis in Cats
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical and neurological exam. He or she will look for signs of trauma and check for pain response in the affected limb(s). They will look for tick bites and check for a weak or absent pulse in groin area that would indicate a thrombosis. Your vet will ask you for a complete medical history of your cat, including any possible accidents or environmental hazards.
In addition, a blood count and urinalysis will be performed to identify possible secondary causes such as infection. An x-ray or ultrasound may be ordered to provide images of the spine and brain, which may reveal tumors or inflammation. In the case of a suspected slipped disk a myelogram may be performed, which involves injecting dye and performing an x-ray to see where a slipped disk may be pressing on spine. If FIP is suspected, a test for FIP may involve taking a fluid sample from abdomen or taking a blood test depending on the type of FIP suspected.
CTs or MRIs are also useful tools to locate the source of nervous system malfunction resulting in paralysis.
Treatment of Leg Paralysis in Cats
Leg paralysis in cats is an urgent condition and requires veterinary treatment. Your veterinarian will provide supportive care such as hospitalization, intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy as appropriate. Steroids or anti-inflammatories to reduce spinal inflammation are commonly administered.
- Further treatment options for paralysis will vary depending on the cause. Various treatments include:
- Administration of antiserum to counteract neurotoxins released by a tick bite.
- Surgical removal of tumors causing nervous system impairment.
- Painkillers and surgery, if required, to repair trauma or injury causing nervous system impairment.
- Severe cases of toxoplasmosis may require antibiotics to kill the parasite causing CNS disorder.
- Thrombosis can be treated with clot-dissolving medications and painkillers but prognosis is guarded and euthanasia may be recommended.
- Massage therapy and physiotherapy for radial nerve paralysis may be beneficial.
In cases which paralysis is caused by FIP, there is a poor prognosis and euthanasia is usually recommended.
Recovery of Leg Paralysis in Cats
Prognosis and recovery will depend on the cause and extent of nervous system impairment that resulted in the paralysis. Massage and physiotherapy can be beneficial on a continuing basis. The animal should rest in a confined area without stimulation from other animals or exposure to hazards in its environment that could cause further injury.