What are Coonhound Paralysis?
Coonhound paralysis is a serious, but highly survivable condition affecting dogs who have contacted raccoon saliva. Very rarely, this can occur even without contact from a raccoon. Experts are divided on the specific cause of this condition, but an improper immune system reaction to an irritant (such as raccoon saliva) is suspected, and usually occurs 7-11 days after contact. The condition begins as rear-leg stiffness and weakness, progressing to flaccid paralysis that in severe cases may affect all four legs and even some of the musculature associated with breathing. Some dogs are at a greater risk for this, including Coonhounds and Rottweilers. Contact a local veterinarian immediately if you notice any weakness or dragging of the hind limbs, as your dog needs to be monitored closely through the progression and recovery of the illness.Acute canine idiopathic polyradiculoneuropathy (ACIP) is an inflammatory reaction of the peripheral nervous system, causing ascending paralysis beginning at the back legs and progressing forward. This often, but not always, occurs in conjunction with a bite or contact from a raccoon.
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Symptoms of Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs
- Ascending flaccid paralysis beginning at the hind limbs
- Tiredness and slowed movements
- Facial and laryngeal weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Atrophy of muscle tone
- Decrease in facial muscle strength
- Increased pain sensations throughout the limbs
- Initiated by contact with raccoon saliva
- Initiated by unknown cause (idiopathic)
Causes of Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs
- Contact with raccoon saliva
- Autoimmune reaction to unknown irritant
Research is underway that may link coonhound paralysis to an autoimmune disorder, considering the fact that the nervous system and neural pathways are involved, the belief is that white blood cells are attacking the nerves which causes muscle failure.
Diagnosis of Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs
Owners who notice their dog’s hind limbs seeming abnormally weak should take their pet to the veterinarian’s office as soon as possible. Be prepared to give the veterinarian a detailed medical history including surgeries, medications and dietary information. Coonhound Paralysis is survivable but requires supportive care until the illness passes. Your dog may need to be put on a ventilator, so don’t delay in seeing a qualified provider. Tell the veterinarian if your dog has been off-leash in wooded areas, is allowed out at night alone, if you've seen or encountered wildlife in your neighborhood recently, or if your dog shows any signs of being scratched or bitten. These will help the veterinarian point the diagnosis in the correct direction swiftly.
Coonhound paralysis is relatively easy to diagnose, but during the early stages can be confused with symptoms from a protozoal infection such as toxoplasmosis or leishmaniasis. Tick paralysis, botulism, and tetanus cause similar neuropathy, but can be ruled out with a physical examination of the dog’s body, a blood test for infection, and bacterial cultures taken from any wounds present on the dog’s body. Often, an infected wound containing bacteria such as C. tetani can cause paralysis, but this is usually accompanied by fever and elevated white blood cell counts in the blood. Coonhound paralysis usually presents without a fever and with no abnormalities in the blood chemistry or urine.
Treatment of Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs
Coonhound paralysis is treated with supportive care. Essentially, if the veterinary staff can keep the dog breathing until the paralysis lifts, a full recovery can usually be made. Your dog may be admitted to an animal hospital for the duration of the illness, as severe cases will require your dog to be placed on a ventilator, given intravenous fluids and fitted with a urinary catheter until it is strong enough to urinate on its own. Upon recovering from the illness, your dog may be very weak due to lost muscle mass. It will require physical therapy and/or gentle care until it has returned to its former strength.
Recovery of Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs
Recovery from Coonhound paralysis is often a slow process, as the syndrome can persist for 2-3 months. Usually, the full paralytic effect is reached in 3-4 days of onset, so the veterinarian can decide whether the case is mild enough to be cared for at home, or whether your pet would be better served in an animal hospital. At home, providing a soft bed is essential, as your dog will spend the majority of its recovery time lying down. Help your dog turn over every few (3-4) hours to avoid pressure sores, and provide water close by. You may need to feed your pet by hand for part of the recovery period, and keep walks as short as possible, and only to let your pet urinate and defecate. A low wagon padded with blankets can be helpful to get them outdoors. Remember not to neglect or ignore your dog! It still needs attention and love, even if it can’t play.
Make follow-up appointments with the veterinarian every few weeks to check in on your dog’s condition. After the paralysis has lifted enough for your dog to begin walking and moving freely, limit exercise and reduce the supportive care gradually. Your vet can recommend physical therapy exercises for severe cases. Most dogs make a full recovery in 6 months or so, but a few will have some residual muscle weakness and will otherwise be healthy.
Coonhound Paralysis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a 10 month old mix breed 70 lb dog that has been suspected to have Coonhound paralysis. He has lost deep pain in the rear limbs. I have had DVM at second opinion tell me that dogs do not loose all deep pain from this.
Carries (meant to type "carrying")
June 16, 2013, my 4 yr old, 70lb, lab/hound mix killed a raccoon. I found the raccoon (an early stage pregnant female) dead on our back porch & my dog had gotten bit under his chin. I cleansed the wound & it healed well. Ten days later I noticed he was hoarse when he tried to bark, then the dragging legs gait began. By June 30th, he was completely paralyzed. I mean completely! I knew what it was the vet confirmed & told it it would only get worse before it started to get better. His condition worsened to the point I had to be vigil about remoisturizing his eyes & covering them, due to eyelids not working properly. We rotated his body from side to sternum, to other side every hour to hour & 1/2, religiously, day & night, until he could roll himself over (45 days later). He couldn't eat or drink, so I made mush of his dry food & mixed with PURE canned pumpkin. I would put a little on his tongue & help him swollow with his head in my lap. I also gave him water by dripping on his tongue with turkey baster. Later, when he could hold his head up, I gave him ice cubes outside to lick. We dragged him every where with us on an indoor/outdoor dog bed or sheet & transported him outside on a hay hauler dolly. I would put him in the yard & squeeze his bladder to make him urinate & make him defecate by gently squeezing his back end. He was unable to move or lift his head for over 30 days. A vet 75 miles away heard about a dog having a live case of ACIP & offerred free laser treatment to see if it would help. I took him 2-3 times a week & we tracked the host moving up & down the spinal cord by him grimacing with his mouth. Our rat terrier also had intuition as to where the host was settle in his body. She would lay on him & not leave his side. He still could not bark or cry. He could sligthly whimper when he was uncomfortable or loosing circulation. I massaged him & worked him 5-6 times during the day, including once during night. I worked hard to listen to his breathing, & when it got labored, I would comfort him & move him more to avoid fluid from pooling in his lungs. We were very fortunate to avoid any pneumonia. I could tell when he needed it more often if his limbs were cold. His paws atrophied & curled inwards, so I worked on his paws, too. After 60 days, we incorporated water therapy in a round Priefert livestock water trough. I bought him a dog water vest with a handle on top. After 90 days of being paralyzed he stood for the first time & peed on his own for about 15 minutes. I had been laid off my job the winter before & was working at home, so I was very blessed to have that opportunity, because it took every moment of my time to take care of him. He never took any medication & we avoided multiple bladder infection issues by keeping diligent to laser his bladder and unrinary areas. He killed another raccoon May 2014 & had a replapse. I knew what to do immediately, when I found the dead raccoon (another early stage pregnant female). I started with laser therapy immediately & he was affected for approximately 30 days. He did not become paralyzed the second time, he dragged his legs & would have to sit or lay after walking a little distance & couldn't bark. He is now going to be 9 yrs old & is a happy dog. His diposition has changed toward defensiveness around strange dogs (he used to be extremely playful & friendly with other dogs), I attribute this to possible memory of his defenses being disabled. His digestive system is still partially paralytic & can only eat soaked dog food. I have to warm it, because if it's cold it causes some colic reaction. I also found that Purina's Fortiflora probiotic powder every morning on his food has drastically helped his digestive issues & vomitting. The majo side effect he suffers is advanced congestive heart failure due to his heart (major muscle) having to work so hard to keep beating. His heart enlarged over twice the size it should be. He almost died the summer following due to fluid build up on his lungs & heart. Although he also contracted a necroptic bacterial lung infection from killing a skunk & fecal matter being sprayed into his nose. Another story. He now takes heart medicine twice a day and does great. His weight dropped to approx 35-40lbs & he was skin & bones. Since his recovery he has maintained at 60+lbs. Don't give up & be ready to give an extremely intense amount of time to help recover. It is possible. I also believe the host that carrys this awful sickness is possibly mother nature's way of protecting the animal's fetuses during early developement stages during pregnancy. Kind of mother nature's way of warding off predators. From what I have been told, the host has never been seen or identified or certified as bacterial or viral. Unknown.
Thank you for your help.
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My dog looks like he is having trouble breathing. Like as if his airway is closing up and he has a lot of saliva coming from his mouth onto the blankets we have laid down for him. Our vet said he has coonhound paralysis but this is breathing problem is a new symptom and he seems to be getting worse.
Coonhound paralysis or acute idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis (as it occurs in dogs which didn’t come into contact with raccoons) is a disease which progresses over seven to ten days and in severe cases difficult and laboured breathing is one of the symptoms. There is no cure for this condition and therapy is centered around supportive care and physiotherapy during the course of the disease; with the onset of the respiratory symptoms, it would be best to revisit your Veterinarian for another check. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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