Full, Partial, and Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

In cats, full or partial paralysis means that your cat has lost the ability to move one or more body parts. Laryngeal paralysis in cats, on the other hand, is an upper airway disorder that affects your cat's voice and ability to breathe properly. Our Sharpsburg veterinarians go over the details of these life-threatening conditions.

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.

Although complete paralysis will be obvious (and alarming) to pet parents, paresis is typically characterized by symptoms such as weakness, slow-motion movements, twitching, or aversion to moving.

Why Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats 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, complete and partial paralysis occurs.

When movement signals are not routed to the appropriate limb, your cat is unable to move properly. The location of the damage to your cat's CNS determines which body parts are affected by paralysis.

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 work with you to determine whether your cat has suffered a traumatic injury, such as a car accident, which could have resulted in a spinal column injury. Your veterinarian will ask for a recent history of your cat's symptoms, whether they appeared suddenly or gradually, and whether there have been any fluctuations in the severity of your cat's symptoms.

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

Pet parents must understand that cats with full or partial paralysis will necessitate extensive home care. Your vet will spend time discussing how to best help your cat, as well as your cat's prognosis and the best 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.

In the early stages, laryngeal paralysis in cats is distinguished by a noise produced 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 be drawn inward as he breathes in, causing a narrowing and, in some cases, total blockage, leading to 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

The priority for your veterinarian will be to stabilize your cat's condition. This stage may include oxygen therapy, external cooling (cats with laryngeal paralysis can quickly overheat), sedation, and possibly intubation to help with breathing temporarily.

Your veterinarian will discuss the next steps with you once your cat's condition has been stabilized. Laryngeal paralysis does not go away on its own. However, a surgical procedure is known as Unilateral Arytenoid Lateralization, or "Tieback," has shown promising results in the treatment of cats with laryngeal paralysis. One side of the airway is tied back in this surgery to allow 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 Sharpsburg vets right away, or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital for urgent care.