Paresis in Cats: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

icon March 15, 2024

What is Paralysis in Cats?

Paralysis in cats refers to the loss of voluntary muscle function and control in one or more parts of their body. It can occur suddenly or develop gradually over time, and it may affect a cat's limbs, tail, or even their entire body.

Paralysis can result from various underlying causes, including injuries, nerve damage, spinal cord disorders, infectious diseases, tumors, and certain metabolic conditions. 

Some Common Symptoms of Paralysis in Cats Include:

  • Inability to move the affected body part(s)
  • Dragging or limping of limbs
  • Loss of reflexes in the affected area
  • Loss of sensation or feeling in the affected area
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control (if the paralysis affects the lower back or hind limbs)
  • Pain or discomfort in the affected area (if the paralysis is caused by an injury or inflammation)

Cat paralysis

What is the Difference Between Paresis and Paralysis in Cats?

Paresis and paralysis are both conditions that involve a loss or impairment of muscle function in cats, but there is a distinction between the two:


Paresis refers to a partial loss of muscle function or weakness in a specific body part or limb. It is often characterized by a decreased ability to move or control the affected area. Cats with paresis may have difficulty using the affected limb or may exhibit a limp or dragging of the limb while attempting to move. The muscle weakness in paresis is typically milder than in paralysis, allowing some limited movement and muscle function.

Scoot the cat's hind legs paralyzed


Paralysis, on the other hand, refers to the complete loss of muscle function and control in a particular body part or limb. Cats with paralysis are unable to move the affected area voluntarily, and there is a total absence of muscle strength and coordination. The affected limb or body part is typically completely limp and unresponsive.

In summary, paresis is a partial loss of muscle function or weakness, while paralysis is a complete loss of muscle function and control. Paresis allows for some limited movement and muscle activity, whereas paralysis results in the inability to move the affected area at all.

Cat Paralysis

What Causes Paralysis in Cats?

Paralysis in cats can have various causes, and determining the underlying reason is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Here are some common causes of paralysis in cats:

1. Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

The spine is composed of multiple bones with disks (intervertebral disks) located in between adjacent bones (vertebrae). These discs serve as shock absorbers and provide cushioning between the vertebrae, allowing flexibility and movement of the spine.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a condition that affects the intervertebral discs located between the bones (vertebrae) of the spine. 

In IVDD, the intervertebral discs can degenerate or become damaged, when the discs degenerate or herniate, they can put pressure on the spinal cord or the spinal nerves, leading to compression and subsequent neurological symptoms. Depending on the severity and location of the disc disease, cats may experience different degrees of pain, weakness, paresis (partial loss of muscle function), or even paralysis. The neck and lower back regions are commonly affected.

2. Genetic or Congenital Conditions

Some cats may be born with genetic or congenital abnormalities that affect their nervous system, leading to paralysis. Here are some examples of such conditions:

Lysosomal storage diseases

Lysosomal storage diseases are a group of genetic disorders characterized by the accumulation of substances within cells due to enzyme deficiencies. These substances can build up in the nervous system, leading to progressive neurological symptoms, including paralysis. Examples of lysosomal storage diseases in cats include feline GM1 gangliosidosis and feline Niemann-Pick disease.

Neuroaxonal dystrophy

Neuroaxonal dystrophy is a hereditary condition that affects the nervous system, causing degeneration of nerve cells and their axons. This condition can lead to progressive weakness, ataxia (loss of coordination), and paralysis in affected cats.


Syringohydromyelia is a congenital condition characterized by the formation of fluid-filled cavities (syrinxes) within the spinal cord. These syrinxes can compress the spinal cord, leading to neurological deficits and paralysis. 

- If the age is over 8 years, the cancer and blood supply are normal and the cat is paralysed, which version is the result of brand preference

- Gangliosidosis GM1/GM2 - Siamese, Burmese, Korat and Domestic Shorthair cats
- Spinal cavernous disease/myelodysplasia - Isle of Man and Isle of Man crossed with sacrococcygeal or sacrococcygeal dysplasia
- Sphingomyelopathy (Niemann's disease) - Siamese, Balinese, and Domestic Shorthair cats of unknown "idiopathic" origin
- Axonal dystrophy - Siamese cats and domestic Shorthair cats.

3. Feline Thromboembolic Disease

Feline thromboembolic disease, also known as saddle thrombus or aortic thromboembolism, occurs when a blood clot forms and blocks a major blood vessel, typically at the point where the aorta branches to supply the hind limbs. It can cause sudden hind-limb paralysis and severe pain.

Common diseases that cause blood clots are:

Cats with underlying heart conditions, particularly hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), are at an increased risk of developing feline thromboembolic disease. In HCM, the heart muscle becomes thickened, which can disrupt blood flow and promote blood clot formation.

Abnormal blood flow patterns, such as turbulence or stasis, can contribute to blood clot formation. These abnormalities may be caused by various factors, including heart disease, heartworm disease, or other circulatory disorders.

Heartworm Disease In Cats

4. Infections and Inflammatory Conditions

Infections like abscesses, bacterial or viral diseases (such as feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus), or inflammatory conditions like meningitis or encephalitis can lead to paralysis if they affect the nervous system.

5. Trauma

Injuries, such as fractures, dislocations, or spinal cord trauma, can lead to paralysis. Falls, car accidents, or physical trauma from fights with other animals are examples of traumatic incidents that can result in paralysis.

6. Tumors and cancer

Tumors in or near the spinal cord or nerves can cause paralysis if they compress or invade the surrounding structures.

7. Toxins

Botulism is caused by the consumption of undercooked or spoiled food


Tick bites

Remove Ticks from Cats

How Veterinarians Diagnose Paralysis in Cats

The veterinarian will begin by discussing your cat's medical history, including any recent injuries, illnesses, or changes in behavior or mobility. And will evaluate muscle strength, reflexes, sensation, and coordination in the affected areas. They will also examine your cat's posture, gait, and any signs of pain or discomfort.
For a more accurate diagnosis of the cause, more advanced imaging methods, such as magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography, can provide detailed images of the spine, brain, or other affected areas to help identify problems such as spinal cord compression or tumors.

Treating Complete & Partial Paralysis in Cats

The main treatment aims to eliminate or treat the underlying cause. Here are some general treatment options that may be considered:

  • If the paralysis is caused by an inflammatory condition, infection, or certain metabolic disorders, the veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, or specific medications to manage the underlying condition.
  • If it is a spinal condition, surgery may be required.
  • If it is a toxin, such as a tick, then the cat needs to be dewormed regularly.

Ticks in Cats

  • Cats with paralysis may experience pain, especially if the underlying cause is related to nerve damage or inflammation. The veterinarian may prescribe pain medication or recommend other pain management strategies to keep the cat comfortable.

Tragically Paralyzed Kitten Improves With Physical Therapy

  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques can help cats regain or improve their mobility and function. This may involve exercises, massage, range of motion activities, and hydrotherapy. A professional veterinary physical therapist can design a tailored rehabilitation plan for your cat.
  • Depending on the nature of the paralysis, assistive devices such as wheelchairs, slings, or harnesses may help support mobility and allow the cat to move around more easily. These devices can provide support to the affected limbs and enhance the cat's quality of life.

Cats Paralysis

Possible Complications

Complications associated with paralysis in cats can vary depending on the underlying cause and the duration and severity of the paralysis. Here are some potential complications that can arise:

Pressure sores and skin infections: Cats with paralysis may have difficulty changing positions or relieving pressure on certain areas of their body. Prolonged pressure on specific points can lead to pressure sores (also known as decubitus ulcers or bedsores) and skin infections. These complications can be painful and may require additional medical treatment.

Urinary and fecal incontinence: Paralysis can affect the normal function of the urinary and gastrointestinal systems, leading to urinary or fecal incontinence. Cats may have difficulty controlling their bladder or bowel movements, which can result in accidents and the need for frequent clean-up and management strategies.

Urinary tract infections: Cats with urinary incontinence are at an increased risk of developing urinary tract infections. Incomplete emptying of the bladder and the presence of urine pooling can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.


What Causes Sudden Paralysis in Cats?

Sudden paralysis in cats can be caused by various factors, some of which include:

  • Accidents or traumatic injuries
  • Spinal cord tumors
  • Spinal fractures
  • Spinal infections
  • Stroke
  • Toxins or poisonings
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)

Can Tick Cause Paralysis in Cats?

Yes, ticks can cause paralysis in cats. This condition is known as tick paralysis. Tick paralysis occurs when certain species of ticks attach themselves to a cat and release a neurotoxin into their bloodstream. The neurotoxin affects the cat's nervous system, leading to a progressive paralysis that typically starts in the hind limbs and moves forward.

Tick paralysis is more commonly seen in areas where certain tick species, such as the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) or the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), are prevalent. However, it can occur in any geographic location where ticks carrying the neurotoxin are found.

The symptoms of tick paralysis typically develop within a few days to a week after the tick attaches itself to the cat. These symptoms may include weakness, difficulty walking, loss of coordination, and eventually, full paralysis. The paralysis can ascend from the hind limbs to involve the front limbs, and in severe cases, it can even affect the muscles involved in breathing.

RelatedTicks in Cats

When to Euthanise a Paralysed Cat?

Cats that are completely paralysed and unable to move any of the affected limbs may face additional challenges in daily activities and have a reduced quality of life.
If the symptoms of paralysis are pain related, the cat is unable to relieve or pain control is ineffective and the cat is unable to eat, drink, use the litter tray and groom properly, then the cat's overall mental and emotional health will be affected and the cat's quality of life is being reduced in addition to the pain associated with the paralysis. And most importantly consider the finances of providing ongoing care for a paralysed cat, the costs associated with specialist medical treatment, assistive devices and long-term care can be high and this is where euthanasia may be an option to prevent the cat's ongoing suffering.

Can Worms Cause Paralysis in Cats?

There is a specific type of worm called the lungworm (Aelurostrongylus abstrusus) that can infect cats and, in rare cases, lead to respiratory issues and potential paralysis. Lungworms primarily reside in the lungs and bronchial passages of infected cats, and their presence can cause inflammation and damage to the respiratory system. In severe cases, this can result in respiratory distress and affect the cat's ability to breathe properly.



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