What is Paralysis Due to Spinal Cord Lesion?
Paralysis due to a spinal cord lesion can range from mild to severe, or complete, and can affect one or all limbs depending on what part of the spine it is located. If your cat is suffering symptoms of paralysis you should seek immediate veterinary care, as a quick response will often provide the best chance at recovery for your pet.
Your cat’s spinal cord is responsible for a variety of structural and neurological functions that are essential to your pet’s movement and daily activities. The term, “lesion” can refer to any trauma caused by injury, tumor, ulcer, bruise or other damage. When a lesion occurs on your cat’s spine, this can interrupt the normal communication between nerves and the brain, leading to varying levels of paralysis.
Symptoms of Paralysis Due to Spinal Cord Lesion in Cats
While severe cases of paralysis from spinal cord lesions may be easy to identify, subtle signs could indicate minor or early injury and should also be watched for. Symptoms may include:
- Irregular gait
- Freezing or inability to move limbs
- Leg spasms
- Lack of response when limbs are stimulated, pinched, or manipulated
- Unusual stumbling or clumsiness
Causes of Paralysis Due to Spinal Cord Lesion in Cats
Paralysis and spinal cord lesions, in general, can have a variety of underlying causes. Any injury to the spinal cord may result in a lesion. Some of the most common of these causes include:
- Traumatic injury, such as from impact or a large fall
- Degeneration from severe arthritis
- Congenital (genetic or inherited) disorders
- Fungal infections
Diagnosis of Paralysis Due to Spinal Cord Lesion in Cats
Diagnosis of your cat’s paralysis due to a spinal cord lesion will require your vet to identify the underlying condition that has caused the lesion. Because there is a large variety of diseases and injuries that could be the culprit, your veterinarian may need to perform a wide range of tests in a format known as a differential diagnosis to help narrow down the ultimate cause. Your observations of your cat’s behavior before the visit will help your vet in determining the approximate onset. Basic information such as your cat’s age, their current diet, and whether they have recently suffered any injuries or falls will be especially important.
Your cat’s diagnosis will begin with a thorough physical exam. During this exam, your vet will attempt to assess the severity of the paralysis. They may manipulate your cat’s individual legs and monitor their response to outside stimuli. One of the most common methods of doing this is by inducing a pain reaction in your cat and gauging their reaction. Your vet will commonly perform this with a small, sterile needle. They will gently poke your cat in various areas of their extremities to determine whether they are able to feel pain in that limb or if the sensation is missing or muted. While this does call for causing your cat some discomfort, the actual pain level is minimal and very short.
Next, your vet will want to run a full series of blood and urine tests to check for various infections that may cause paralysis. The definitive diagnosis for paralysis due to spinal lesions will be imaging tests. Your vet may order an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI. In each of these tests, images of your cat’s spine will be taken and any abnormalities of the area or surrounding tissues will be identified. Your cat may need to be mildly sedated for these tests so that they remain still for clear image capturing.
Treatment of Paralysis Due to Spinal Cord Lesion in Cats
Treatment of paralysis due to spinal cord lesions will depend on the underlying cause in your cat. In the case of a confirmed infection, antibiotics or antifungal drugs may be administered to help combat the disease. For degeneration or injury, your vet may administer prednisone or similar steroid drugs in combination with anti-inflammatory and pain relievers which may aid in the speed of recovery. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove invasive tumors, although these types of growths are often not operable due to their location.
Recovery of Paralysis Due to Spinal Cord Lesion in Cats
Your cat’s chances at recovery will depend on the cause of the spinal cord lesion and the severity of the condition. In cases of treatable causes, your cat will need physical therapy support and a restful home environment as they recover the use of their limbs. If paralysis is partial and permanent, your cat may live a normal and happy life with some modifications of their lifestyle, such as removing access to certain areas of the house where they may have difficulty navigating. If your cat is treated with steroids or other drugs, they will need frequent follow up with your vet to confirm proper liver and organ function as these drugs can be taxing on the system.