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Full, Partial, and Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

In cats, complete or partial paralysis refers to the inability of your cat to move one or more body parts. On the other hand, laryngeal paralysis in cats is an upper airway disorder that impairs your cat's voice and ability to breathe normally. Our Norristown veterinarians discuss these life-threatening conditions in detail.

Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis

There are two categories of paralysis that can affect your kitty's ability to move properly; complete paralysis and partial paralysis.

Complete paralysis leaves your cat completely unable to move all 4 legs, tail, or other parts, whereas partial paralysis (paresis) is a lack of full control over an individual body part.

While complete paralysis will be obvious (and alarming) to pet parents, paresis is typically characterized by weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching, or aversion to movement.

Why Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats Occurs 

Complete and partial paralysis occurs when the signals from the brain instructing a body part to move are disrupted due to damage to the cat's central nervous system (CNS), which is located within the spinal column.

Your cat will be unable to move properly if movement signals are not routed to the appropriate limb. Which body parts are affected by paralysis is determined by the location of the damage to your cat's CNS.

Common Causes of Complete & Partial Cat Paralysis

There are several ways that damage can occur to your cat's spinal column including:

  • Trauma such as a car accident, fall, or fight
  • Infection in bones or tissue near the spinal column
  • Slipped discs that damage or pinch nearby nerves
  • Inflammation around the spine that places pressure on nearby nerves
  • Tick paralysis is a condition caused by neurotoxins found in the saliva of ticks, transferred to the pet when the tick latches on for some time
  • Tumors in the spine or brain which place pressure on nearby nerves
  • Malformation of the spine or individual vertebrae
  • Nerve damage caused by poisons or toxins such as botulism
  • Obstruction of an artery restricting proper blood flow to the affected body part

Diagnosing Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats

When diagnosing your cat's condition, your veterinarian will consult with you to determine whether your cat sustained a traumatic injury, such as a car accident, that resulted in a spinal column injury. Your veterinarian will request a recent history of your cat's symptoms, whether they began suddenly or gradually, and whether the severity of your cat's symptoms has fluctuated.

A full physical examination will be performed, including gentle manipulation of the affected limb/limbs, and perhaps a test to determine whether your cat has a pain response. Further diagnostic testing may be required possibly including X-rays.

Treating Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats

Treatment for complete or partial paralysis in cats will depend on the cause of the paralysis and the likelihood of whether it is a temporary condition that your cat will be able to recover from.  

If an infection is the cause of your cat's complete or partial paralysis, treatment will include antibiotics to combat the infection. If an injury has resulted in your cat's paralysis, anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to help relieve pressure on the spinal column.

Pet owners must understand that cats who are completely or partially paralyzed will require extensive in-home care. Your veterinarian will spend time discussing the best way to assist your cat, as well as the cat's prognosis and appropriate next steps.

Laryngeal Paralysis

A cat with laryngeal paralysis is very different from full or partial paralysis. This equally serious condition is a disorder of the upper airway that occurs when the cartilages of your cat's larynx do not open and close normally during respiration resulting in gradually intensifying breathing difficulties.

Laryngeal paralysis in cats is initially identified by a noise made when the airway walls do not open normally when your cat breathes in. As the condition worsens, the walls of your cat's windpipe may narrow and, in some cases, completely block, resulting in suffocation.

Signs of Cat Laryngeal Paralysis

This is a very serious condition that requires urgent veterinary care. If your cat is showing any of the following symptoms it's time to head to the vet for an examination.

  • Increased panting
  • Panting even when at rest
  • A raspy, or hoarse sounding voice 

More severe and advanced cases may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Obvious signs of working hard to breathe (sides moving in and out with effort)
  • Anxious or panicked facial expression
  • Chest vigorously expanding and contracting to breathe
  • Panting with lips pulled back as if smiling and tongue out
  • Noise when your cat is breathing
  • Tongue darker red or purple
  • Reluctance to be touched or handled

If your cat is showing any of the symptoms above, urgent veterinary care is required! Contact your vet right away or head to the nearest animal emergency hospital.

Treatment for Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

Your veterinarian's priority will be to stabilize your cat's condition. This stage may include oxygen therapy, external cooling (cats with laryngeal paralysis can rapidly become overheated), sedation, and possibly intubation to temporarily assist with breathing.

Once your cat's condition has been stabilized, your veterinarian will discuss the next steps with you. Laryngeal paralysis does not resolve spontaneously. However, a surgical procedure called Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization, or "Tieback," has demonstrated promising results in the treatment of cats suffering from laryngeal paralysis. In this surgery, one side of the airway is tied back to allow for a more free flow of air into the lungs.

Other surgical options may be recommended if a Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization is not suitable for your kitty.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is experiencing difficulties breathing contact our Norristown vets right away, or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital for urgent care. 

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Trooper Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients in Norristown. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of your animal companions. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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