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Health Topics  >  Neurological  >  Paralysis

What is paralysis in dogs?

There is not a much scarier sight than your dog being suddenly unable to walk or even get up. Paralysis is the loss of muscle function, and it occurs when there is a disruption in the communication between those muscles and the brain (most often due to an issue somewhere along the spinal cord). Unfortunately, it happens more commonly than we’d like to see in veterinary medicine, and some breeds are particularly prone.

Pro Tip: The most common type of paralysis in dogs occurs in the back legs, all four legs or facial paralysis (where one side appears droopy or flaccid).

The most common type of paralysis that owners will see is paraplegia – the inability to move the back legs. Your dog may be able to stand only in the front end and appear to drag their hindlimbs behind them. In some cases, rather than true paralysis, dogs will have paraparesis, which means that their legs are very weak but still have some degree of motion. 

In some rarer cases, a dog may have tetraplegia, meaning all four limbs are affected. Dogs with tetraplegia will not be able to stand at all. Similarly, a dog with tetraparesis will have all four limbs that may still work but be very weak.

Facial paralysis in dogs

We commonly think of paralysis as affecting a dog’s limbs, but it can also affect their face. Facial paralysis in dogs is a unique condition where one side of the face appears droopy or flaccid.

Depending on the cause, paralysis can appear suddenly or occur more gradually. It can sometimes be progressive, meaning that it starts as weakness and progresses to full on paralysis over a number of hours or even months. 

Some causes of paralysis are painful for dogs. They may have a hunched back or cry out in pain. Others are completely painless and the only symptom is an inability to move. 

Half of this dog’s face was paralyzed from a traumatic injury (source: Animal Hope via the dodo)

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