In order for our bodies (or in this case our dogs' bodies) to move, the brain, spine, nerves and muscles all have to work together. Nerves transmit signals from the brain to the body and vice versa. If there is a glitch in the system somewhere, then the messages won't make it to their destination and you (or in this case your dog) won't be able to move. This is when a dog is paralyzed.
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I know this is an extremely basic explanation, but just bear with me. Any type of trauma that affects the nerves in your pet's body can effect his ability to move. Sometimes, the damage is extensive (like to his vertebrae) and full paralysis will be experienced. Other times, the damage is mild and there may still be some use of the limbs.
Breeds that are more prone to developing conditions that cause canine paralysis include:
- Basset Hounds
- Welch Corgis
- German Shepherds
- Irish Setters
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
Seeing your dog unable to move is a terrifying and emotional experience. While I hope you never have to go through this, there are a few things you should know to be prepared in case the worst were to happen. If you find your dog unable to move, here are five things you should do right away to help make sure you take the best care of your friend.
5 Things to Do if Your Dog is Paralyzed
1. Stay Calm and Don't Move Him
While this is probably the most impossible thing on this list, it’s really important that you don’t freak out and lose your mind when you see your dog in a paralyzed state. Do not panic and concentrate. You have to be able to think clearly and analyze the situation, or you could make a wrong move and cause more damage.
Do not move your dog. Right now, the worst thing you could do is pick up your pooch and try to get him to move or otherwise affect his body.
Just like when a human gets injured, we are told not to move them in case they have a spinal or neck injury; the same goes for dogs. Often, when the dog is paralyzed, the state of paralysis is caused by some sort of trauma or serious injury, and you have to figure out what that is before you can take any next steps.
2. Check Your Dog from Top to Bottom
Pay attention to what is happening with your dog. If your Fido is conscious, try to keep him calm by talking while you explore his skin and fur from head to toe. If someone else is with you, have that person work alongside you so you can get the job done faster. When your dog becomes paralyzed suddenly, time is of the essence.
While trauma and injury can cause your dog to be paralyzed, another very common reason for that are bites from snakes, other animals and also common parasite bites, especially from ticks, which is well- known as tick paralysis.
Look for any bumps, cuts, bulges, and especially bug bites or ticks. If you find any bugs or ticks, remove them immediately and then call the vet (properly). Make sure you take note of what the bug or tick looks like, in case there is venom the vet needs to be aware of.
You also need to put the pest in a resealable zipper baggy. Bring it with you to your veterinarian's office in case they want to send it to the lab for testing.
If you don’t find anything, call the vet and ask how to carry your dog to the car without causing further damage. If there’s nothing indicating what is wrong, you don’t want to hurt your furry friend on the way to get help.
3. Don't Give Your Dog Anything
Your first instinct may be to give your dog water to help him recover, but that is a wrong thing to do. Do not give you pet any treats or water. If your dog is paralyzed, his throat may not work well, and he won’t be able to swallow anything. He may also be having trouble getting sufficient oxygen, and that would only make the situation worse.
The reason for your dog's paralysis could be some sort of restriction on his breathing pathways, such as Laryngeal paralysis affecting your dog's larynx. The only thing you must do at this point is to bring the dog to the vet immediately, if you can. Even if you’re trying to cheer him up by giving him a treat, it’s just not a good idea. You want to make sure that you don't do anything to restrict his airway any further.
4. Drive to Vet Emergency Hospital
I’ve always wondered why they don’t have animal ambulances. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a pet emergency such as dog paralysis, the last thing you want to do is load your pooch into your car and drive over bumpy roads to the animal hospital.
This is especially true if you live in a rural area, which could mean an hour or more drive while you're upset and worried about canine companion. So if your dog is paralyzed, that would be the time. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you’re going to have to do.
Try to recruit someone to help you if you are alone when the paralysis occurs and help secure your dog in a car. You really shouldn't be driving yourself when you're in a nervous state unless it's the last option. And wouldn't it be nice if someone could drive you and while you sit with your Fido and do your best to calm him down?
Remember to call ahead to make sure the vet knows you’re coming and can get your dog in to be seen right away. Drive as slowly and as carefully as you can, especially if you’re alone. Your dog can’t balance himself like usual, and you don’t want him getting injured. Using a dog car seat belt may or may not work in this case, depending on the situation.
5. Let the Vet Work
It’s important that your vet can get your dog into an X-ray machine right away, and they will also do complete lab tests for blood and urine to make sure your dog’s levels are normal (they probably aren’t, given the paralysis).
While it’s emotional to leave your dog’s side at such a time, it’s really important that you let the tech and the vet do their job. So when your dog is paralyzed and you've just taken him to the vet, it's time to relax a little and give yourself a breather. The professionals will sort the situation out properly.
After the Diagnosis
Depending on what is actually going on with your dog, your veterinarian will have a number of different recommendations for you. Dog paralysis can happen for a number of reasons: it can be epilepsy and seizures, Lyme disease, infection, poisoning/toxicity, snake or parasite bites, a slipped disc or disc disease, and plenty of other reasons.
The vet will give you a treatment plan for your dog, and if the dog is going to recover from the paralysis, you will get to take him home soon. Once you get him home, you’ll have a lot to do to help your dog get better.
Especially for dogs who had a slipped disc or even Lyme disease, physical therapy can help him gain his strength and agility back.
Much like humans, physical therapy can happen a couple of times a week and can go on indefinitely until the effects of the paralysis have been worked out.
This is a really cool, fairly new therapy that some veterinarians offer for their animal clients. Because swimming is a great for dogs, no-impact activity, it helps animals who were recently paralyzed learn how to move again without the risk of falling, or putting pressure on his painful joints and bones.
Often, you can even get in the water with your dog, making it a nice experience for everyone. You may need the help of a professional at first, but once you learn the basics of water therapy for dogs, you can continue this using your own dog swimming pool.
Who doesn’t like a massage? For paralyzed pooches, a massage can stimulate blood flow and muscle growth in the areas that are affected, and can help relieve a little bit of the pain that comes from nerve re-growth.
You can take your dog to a doggy spa that performs these massages, or watch a video online about how to give your dog a massage. The videos will probably give you a much needed laugh, as well.
Most dogs are paralyzed in their hind legs, making it really hard for them to walk and hold themselves up. Once they gain a little bit of strength, they might be able to hold themselves up, but walking is difficult.
To help with this, use a long towel or sheet and put it under your dog's belly. Hold the ends as you walk (think of a stork holding a baby).
This way, your dog can propel himself with the front legs, without allowing the back legs to wobble. This will help build strength in the front legs as well.
Dog paralysis is terrifying for both you and your Fido. It’s important to know that you’re going to have to commit a lot of time and energy (and possibly money, so hopefully you have dog insurance) into helping your furry family member get better.
Depending on the cause of paralysis, it often means that it’s going to take more than you realize. Being patient is going to help you get through, and it will help your dog get better.
While it’s really, really scary and hard to get through, the one thing that helped me the most was being thankful that my friend was still here. Knowing that I get to spend all this extra time with him made every minute of caring for his condition worth it.