Paralysis: First Aid

December 31, 1994 (published) | July 10, 2018 (revised)

Paralysis is the inability to voluntarily move a part or parts of the body. The paralyzed part (legs, neck, etc.) may be rigid or stiff or, more commonly, relaxed and flaccid. Severe pain can often accompany paralysis, and treating for pain is an important part of the overall therapy, regardless of cause. For some cases of paralysis, you may need a referral to a specialist in neurology or surgery to maximize the chance that your pet will walk again.

What to Do

  • Calm the pet. If necessary, cover with a blanket. 
  • Muzzle the pet in order to transport her to the veterinary hospital. 
  • Transport the pet using one of the techniques described. 

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not assume she won't bite. 
  • Do not encourage the pet to move about. 
  • Do not medicate her with over-the-counter or prescription medications unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian. 
  • Do not delay evaluation by a veterinarian. This is an emergency.

The inability to walk can develop suddenly (with or without a history of injury) in dogs due to the rupture of an inter-vertebral disc, especially in certain breeds like the Dachshund. The ruptured disk causes swelling and inflammation of the spinal cord and severe cases often need surgery immediately. Paralysis of this type should be considered an emergency and your veterinarian or an emergency facility should be consulted immediately.

Paralysis can also be associated with traumatic episodes such as falls, being struck by a motor vehicle, spinal cord tumors, or fights with other animals. When paralysis is associated with trauma, fractures or instability of the spine should be suspected. It is extremely important to immobilize the spine before and during transportation.

Paralysis is a serious matter but many patients can hope to walk again with the right treatment. A considerable investment on the part of the pet owner in terms of time, effort and money may be required. Many patients will need help with physical therapy, walking and bodily functions (such as urination) for several weeks after the injury. Your veterinarian or specialists can help you make decisions on the right treatment plan to get your pet back to health as soon as possible.

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