Back to Client Info Index

Polyradiculoneuritis (coonhound paralysis)

Understanding Your Pet's Medical Diagnosis

What is coonhound paralysis?

Coonhound paralysis is an acute neurologic disorder in dogs affecting the nerves controlling the muscles of the fore- and hind limbs, the muscles of the neck, and the muscles that control breathing and barking.

What causes coonhound paralysis?

Coonhound paralysis is suspected to be associated with an overstimulation of a dog's immune system, which may be secondary to contact with a raccoon (and especially raccoon saliva) or another stimulating agent such as a vaccination, a viral respiratory infection, or a viral or bacterial gastrointestinal infection.

What are the signs of coonhound paralysis?

Signs will begin 7 to 14 days after contact with a raccoon or other stimulating agent. Initially, affected dogs have a stiff-stilted gait in all limbs that rapidly progresses to various degrees of limb and body weakness, or even paralysis. Voice loss or voice change is also a common early sign. Occasionally, dogs develop weakness of the facial muscles. This will consist of drooping lips, sagging eyes, and an expressionless face. Breathing difficulties may develop in severely affected dogs and, on occasion, this can lead to a complete inability to breathe. Signs progress for 4 to 5 days (occasionally up to 10 days) before the disease stabilizes. However, most dogs will not show immediate improvement in strength at this time. Muscle weakness or paralysis will continue for several weeks and perhaps for up to 4 months. During this time, affected dogs will lose considerable weight due to general muscle wasting.

Despite severe signs of weakness (or even paralysis), most dogs remain in good spirits and continue to be responsive to their guardians, even being able to wag their tail. Affected dogs will also be able to eat and drink normally if given the opportunity and will be able to urinate and defecate However, some dogs may be unwilling to perform these tasks in the first few days of the disease.

How is coonhound paralysis diagnosed?

Coonhound paralysis has classic clinical and neurologic signs that are often recognized by your veterinarian after a neurologic examination is performed. No routine blood tests are available to confirm this disease. Your veterinarian may recommend more sophisticated tests to confirm a diagnosis of coonhound paralysis that can only be performed by a neurology specialist. These include electrical testing of your dog's nerves and muscles, muscle and nerve biopsy, and a spinal tap.

How is coonhound paralysis treated?

Unfortunately, no specific drugs are available to treat coonhound paralysis. High doses of immunoglobulins may shorten the disease course, although they have yet to be proven in dogs and are expensive. Excellent nursing care and physiotherapy are the best treatment. Dogs need frequent turning and a thick, padded bed upon which to lie. The bedding must be constantly kept clean of urine and feces. This will help prevent pressure sores and urine scald. Physiotherapy in the form of passive limb movements and swimming (when your dog becomes a little stronger) are essential to help stimulate muscle strength and movement as well as to limit the degree of muscle wasting.

What is the prognosis of animals with coonhound paralysis?

The prognosis is good to excellent, with most dogs going on to full recovery. Severely affected dogs may have mild, permanent neurologic deficits. The most important thing for the guardian of a dog with coonhound paralysis to remember is that the dog may take up to several months to recover from coonhound paralysis. Unfortunately, dogs do not build up resistance to recurrence of this disease if reexposed to the same offending agent.

Polyradiculoneuritis is characterized by paralysis that begins in the hindquarters and moves forward, eventually involving the entire body. The disorder was first observed in coon dogs and thus is called "coonhound paralysis." The cause of this disease is unknown, but about half the affected dogs are bitten or scratched by a raccoon 1-2 weeks before the paralysis appears.

Most dogs with coonhound paralysis recover fully, though a few develop permanent wasting (atrophy) of some muscles. Mildly affected dogs recover within a few days, while dogs with severe cases may take several months.

No immunity results from the disease, and recovered dogs may be affected again at a later date.


Important Points in Treatment

1. Treatment in the early stages of paralysis usually requires hospitalization and intense supportive measures. This includes feeding the dog by artificial means, maintaining eliminations, providing physical therapy for the muscles, and preventing infection. Your dog will be discharged when treatment can be successfully maintained by you at home.

2. You may have to hand-feed and water your dog in some cases.

3. Exercise: Start exercising your dog as soon as it can stand. Initially, exercise periods should be short and frequent: 3-5 minutes, 4-5 times daily. Gradually increase the exercise periods to 15-20 minutes.

4. Environment: Keep your dog on warm, soft bedding while it is incapacitated. If "bed sores"develop, apply padding to protect those areas.

5. Additional instructions:

Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:

* Your dog's paralysis returns or worsens.

* Your dog cannot urinate or have a bowel movement.

* Your dog develops body sores.

* Your dog's general health changes.