A Cat With Limb Paralysis

CatChannel veterinary expert, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, explains how a cat could become paralyzed.

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Q: Have you ever seen a previously healthy cat develop acute limb paralysis? She is a stray outdoor cat, at least 5 years old. She does not appear to be in any pain. No lesion is obvious.

A: It is difficult to answer your question based on the limited information in your letter, namely, whether the limb paralysis involves one, two, three, or all four limbs. For an outdoor cat, I would imagine trauma to be the most likely cause for sudden limb paralysis. Although no external lesion is obvious, a thorough exam by a veterinarian, with emphasis on the neurological system might elucidate the problem. Trauma involving the limb is often obvious; however, trauma involving the spine may show no external lesion.

A common cause for acute onset of rear limb paralysis is arterial thromboembolism, that is, a blood clot. Some cats develop a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This heart disorder increases the risk of developing a blood clot within the left atrium, one of the chambers of the heart. Occasionally, a piece of the clot will break off and travel down the aorta, and will lodge at the very end of the aorta, where it branches to supply blood to the rear limbs. Cats will become acutely paralyzed in the rear limbs. This is a painful, devastating condition, with a very guarded prognosis. The fact that this cat does not appear to be in any pain makes thromboembolism a less likely diagnosis.

I hope this cat is tame enough that you can catch her and see that she gets the veterinary attention that she clearly needs.

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A Cat With Limb Paralysis

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Reader Comments

Stacey    Chilliwack, BC

7/5/2012 11:51:22 PM

marcia the same thing is happening to my cat now, did you fined out what it was and how did you treat your cat??

Marcia    Baudette, MN

11/21/2009 10:46:03 PM

My cat just came down with rear limb paralysis. She is throwing up constantly the past hour. A few days ago I noticed that she was clumsy and stumbled with her back legs, now they don't work at all. She has been inside for a couple of days but she is an indoor/outdoor cat. Her surrounding are 100 acres of woods. She does not seem to be in pain and her front legs work just fine. I need some help in knowing what to do? Will she recover?

Sue    Mercer, WI

10/26/2009 9:22:55 AM

Very good article. Is there a site where one can find moblie devices for paralyzed cats?

Jamie    McAllen, TX

9/7/2009 4:32:58 AM

My mother's 2 year old cat suddenly developed partial paralysis in both rear limbs, but retained some renal function and reflexes, including in his tail. Upon examination, it was discovered he had been shot at least 3 times with a pellet gun over time. The last shot probably caused him to fall from the tree he lives in, creating spinal trauma. To think that a neighbor has taken continual pot-shots at an innocent animal who almost never leaves our yard and is extremely docile is nauseating and infuriating. He may never recover.

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