When our companion animals begin to age any number of illnesses can strike. Usually the signs are subtle--maybe a hitch when they walk. One day, though, we notice the hitch has turned into a limp. Soon after, the dog may have trouble rising after resting. If paralysis sets in, there is cause for great concern. There are several causes of paralysis in an elderly dog.
You may think of arthritis as something only humans get. But our pets can suffer from the joint stiffness and pain the same as we can. Especially if the dog has been injured in the past, he will have a tendency toward arthritis in old age.
Arthritis in dogs comes on gradually over the course of months or even years. The symptoms are easy to miss in the beginning. Symptoms include a stiff gait, and trouble rising after resting for some time. Stiffness during cold weather is another symptom of canine arthritis. As the condition advances, the dog may become unsteady while walking, and lose range of motion.
Treatment by a veterinarian will include management of the joint pain and stiffness with supplements. Veterinarians also recommend that the dog take part in low-impact exercise on a daily basis--for instance, a brief walk or swim.
Because the symptoms mimic arthritis, Cushing's disease is often misdiagnosed in the older dog. Symptoms include many things that happen naturally to the geriatric dog: weight gain, hair loss, excessive urination and joint stiffness.
Cushing's disease is a condition caused by an overproduction in the dog of a hormone called glucocorticoid. This substance is produced by the adrenal glands, at the command of the pituitary gland. If something goes wrong in either of these glands, too much glucocorticoid will be produced, causing Cushing's disease.
Cushing's disease will usually occur in dogs of middle to old age. Both males and females of any breed of dog are susceptible. The most common symptoms of Cushing's include excess water consumption and urination, an increase in appetite, a bloated appearance and hair loss. In its advanced stages, the dog will have a decrease in muscle strength and appear to have extreme arthritis or paralysis in his hind quarters.
Although there is no cure for this disease, the dog can be treated for the symptoms. Treatment for Cushing's disease include both surgical and non-surgical remedies.
Tick bites are a very common cause of paralysis in dogs. Some varieties of ticks have a poison-like substance in their saliva. Early symptoms of a paralyzing tick bite include vomiting and lack of coordination in the dog's hind quarters.
If you have a large dog that exhibits signs of paralysis, ischemic myelopathy may be the cause. This condition is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries to the spinal cord. Ischemic myelopathy's onset is sudden and can affect one back leg, both back legs, all four limbs, or even just one side of the body. Diagnosis requires spinal x-rays and, possibly, an MRI.
There is no treatment for ischemic myelopathy. Most dogs do tend to recover within a couple of weeks. Some never recover.
Other Causes of Paralysis in Dogs
Poisons and infections may also cause paralysis in a dog. Degenerative spine disease is also something your veterinarian will consider.
If you are concerned about the health of your pet you are urged to contact your veterinarian.
Bob Macinnis/creativecommons.org, Daniel Southall/flckr.com, Steve_f/flckr.com, Cavin/creativecommons.org, Pontus Edinburg/sxc.hu
Based in the American Southwest, Bridget Kelly has been writing about gardening and real estate since 2005. Her articles have appeared at Trulia.com, SFGate.com, GardenGuides.com, RE/MAX.com, MarketLeader.com, RealEstate.com, USAToday.com and in "Chicago Agent" magazine, to name a few. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in creative writing.