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What is Loss of Mobility?

Dogs can experience disorders, diseases, and injuries that leave them unable to move all or a part of their bodies. In some cases, these conditions can be painful, but in others, the immobility is accompanied by loss of sensation as well.

Animals that are unable to move usually require some special considerations for their care and specialized equipment is often required in order to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Canines may lose mobility for a number of reasons including injury, illness, and degeneration, but they may still be able to live a full life with the appropriate care and consideration.

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Symptoms of Loss of Mobility in Dogs

Dogs that have lost their mobility may develop several symptoms that are related to their inability to move correctly. Symptoms that should be watched for and addressed may include:

  • Bruising
  • Constipation
  • Inability to control bladder or bowel function
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin lesions (from dragging) 
  • Skin ulcers 
  • Stiffened joints
  • Urine scald

Types

There are several ways that immobilization or paralysis may present in animals. Loss of mobility may refer to the loss of control of the majority of the body, or it may refer to paralysis in just the hind limbs. Some conditions are degenerative in nature and will cause the animal to lose the ability to control their bodies over a long period of time while other conditions can cause the inability to move to appear almost instantly. Although the majority of these disorders lead to permanent loss of mobility, some, such as certain types of infection and inflammation in the central nervous system and tick bite paralysis, may be reversible and result in a full recovery.

Causes of Loss of Mobility in Dogs

There are many disorders that can cause a loss of mobility in dogs. Some of the more commonly seen conditions may include:

  • Cancer - The tumors that often form when cancer strikes can develop near the spine or on specific nerve bundles, inhibiting movement; this condition is usually gradual, with weakness showing before total paralysis sets in
  • Degenerative Myelopathy - This incurable disease is progressive and tends to strike certain breeds of dog between eight and fourteen years of age 
  • Infection or inflammation of the central nervous system - Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, and some parasitic infestations can find their way to the spine, muscles, or even the brain itself; inflammation can be triggered by genetic and immune-mediated disorders as well 
  • Injury of the central nervous system - Injuries that harm the central nervous system may cause paralysis, either through damage to nerves in the spinal cord or due to injury to the brain itself 
  • Intervertebral Disk Disease - Also known as a herniated, slipped, or prolapsed disc, this occurs when the fluid-filled discs that act as cushions between the bones of the spine become damaged; this can occur suddenly, or develop more gradually, and the symptoms frequently vary depending on where on the spine the damaged disc or discs are located

Diagnosis of Loss of Mobility in Dogs

If your canine companion is showing signs of distress when you bring them into their doctor, supportive care will be given right away even before diagnosis. Supportive measures are likely to include intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration as well as to correct any imbalances in the blood, and possibly supplemental oxygen. If the animal is experiencing any seizures related to central nervous system involvement, then antiepileptic medications may also be administered to control seizures. The diagnostic portion of your visit will begin once the animal is stabilized and will likely start with a thorough physical examination in order to evaluate the overall condition of the patient as well as to pinpoint the location and severity of the pain or paralysis. 

Several diagnostic tests will typically be ordered as well, including the standard complete blood count, urinalysis, and biochemical profile, although the examining veterinarian may also take samples of the synovial fluid in the joints or the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  The information from these tests may help to uncover if there are any infections or imbalances contributing to the animal’s trouble, and specialized imaging techniques such as computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging technology (MRI), and an x-ray aided by a special dye injected around the dog’s spinal cord known as a myelogram may be employed to better visualize the patient’s bones and joints, particularly along the spine.

Treatment of Loss of Mobility in Dogs

The treatment for disorders that lead to immobility depends greatly on the type of disorder that is causing the paralysis. Treatments that may occur at the veterinary clinic can include such diverse remedies as surgical intervention, administration of medications such as anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs, and therapeutic massage. With a few exceptions, these disorders tend to have lengthy treatments and the loss of mobility is frequently life-long. There are several things to take into consideration when caring for a pet who is either partially or fully immobile. 

  • Hygiene - It is crucial to ensure that the dog’s bedding remains clean and dry as many immobile dogs do not have full control of their bathroom habits; urine that remains in contact with the skin may cause urine scald
  • Muscle wasting and poor circulation - Dogs that are unable to exercise on their own may benefit from range of motion exercises, hydrotherapy, and therapeutic massage
  • Pressure sores - It is important to prevent pressure sores by providing soft, thickly cushioned beds to recline on and being sure to move the patient manually every few hours  
  • Respiration - It is particularly important to turn your pet frequently if they are unable to rise from lying on their side; dogs that are left lying on one side for too long are at risk for a collapsed lung
  • Temperature - Dogs that are immobile frequently have poor temperature control, and their environment should be kept at an appropriate temperature

Recovery of Loss of Mobility in Dogs

There are multiple therapeutic options that can help improve your pet's quality of life while they are immobilized, including:  

  • Braces - Specially designed braces can be used to stabilize an immobile limb or to help steady a weakened or paralyzed spine 
  • Hydrotherapy - Hydrotherapy is frequently used to help animals that have been rendered immobile as swimming can help prevent muscle wasting and poor circulation for dogs that have paralysis that is restricted to the back legs  
  • Physical Therapy - Physical therapy for canines can include range of motion exercises, massage, work with an exercise ball, and foot stimulation 
  • Slings and Harnesses - Dogs who are experiencing weakness or immobility of the hind legs may be assisted by specialized slings and harnesses that allow the person walking the dog to assist them by holding up their hind end 
  • Wheelchairs - Also referred to as dog carts, these wheeled devices allow dogs who are unable to walk due to paralysis or severe weakness of the back legs