Acute polyradiculoneuritis in dogs

Acute Polyradiculoneuritis (Coonhound Paralysis) in Dogs

Overview of Acute Canine Polyradiculoneuritis (Coonhound Paralysis)

Acute polyradiculoneuritis is a widespread disorder of the peripheral nervous system with a sudden onset. The brain and spinal cord comprise the central nervous system, whereas the nerves leaving the spinal cord comprise the peripheral nervous system. It is a disease that causes damage to the nerves themselves, as well as to the myelin, which is a specialized substance that surrounds many nerves and allows for rapid transmission of nervous impulses.

The cause of polyradiculoneuritis is unknown, but it is believed to be an immune mediated or autoimmune process, which is associated with inflammatory cells (white blood cells) attacking the nerves. The immune system normally protects against infection by attacking organisms that are foreign to the body. In immune mediated diseases, the immune system targets and destroys its own cells, in this case the nerves.

This is the most common inflammatory peripheral nervous disorder in dogs. It is most commonly seen in hunting dogs following exposure to raccoons, hence the alternative name of coonhound paralysis. There are no specific breed or sex predispositions. It can also be seen in dogs without previous exposure to raccoons. Adult animals are generally affected. A similar disease process has been described in the cat, but this is very rare.

What to Watch For

Symptoms of acute polyradiculoneuritis may include:

Diagnosis of Polyradiculoneuritis in Dogs

Treatment of Polyradiculoneuritis in Dogs

Home Care and Prevention

Continued supportive care. Recovery may take weeks to months. The affected dog may require assistance with eating and drinking. Physical therapy is necessary several times a day and the dog should be kept clean.

Avoid exposure to raccoons. Dogs that have had one bout of polyradiculoneuritis may develop it again, so it is imperative to avoid re-exposure in these cases.

In-depth Information on Acute Polyradiculoneuritis (Coonhound Paralysis)

In normal dogs, electrical signals travel from the brain down the spinal cord and then follow the path of individual peripheral nerves. The nerves branch and supply the muscles of the body. When the electrical signal reaches the muscle, it results in muscle contraction and movement. Therefore, widespread diseases of the peripheral nervous system cause muscular weakness and in severe cases, paralysis.

Dogs with polyradiculoneuritis often begin showing signs of weakness one to two weeks following raccoon exposure, although the disease has been reported in animals with no history of exposure. Something in the raccoon’s saliva is thought to initiate the damaging immune response. Weakness most often starts in the hind legs and the dog’s bark may also be noticeably weaker than normal. Signs generally worsen over a period of about 10 days, although however complete paralysis can occur within 24 hours in rapid cases. In these cases, there is also a larger risk that respiratory muscles will become paralyzed and the dog will not be able to breathe.

Other diseases that cause similar clinical signs include:

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

In-depth Information on Therapy

There is no specific treatment for polyradiculoneuritis. Most dogs recover over a period of 3 to 6 weeks, but some animals may take many months to recover, or may never recover completely. The most important aspect of treating these patients is to provide ample supportive care. Treatment consists of:

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Acute Polyradiculoneuritis

Optimal treatment for your dog requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your dog does not improve over the expected time frame.

This disease generally follows a long course. Once the dog is stable, much of the supportive care will be done at home. This can be a real challenge, especially in large dogs. If supported in an upright position, most dogs can drink and eat on their own. To avoid the risk of inhaling their meals, it’s imperative to keep your pet upright while eating and drinking. Additionally, offering water frequently is important to prevent dehydration.

Infections associated with the respiratory tract, skin and urinary tract are possible concerns in bedridden patients. Signs to watch for that may be an indicator of infection include cough, nasal discharge, labored breathing, rashes or irritated skin, blood in the urine or apparent straining to urinate. Any of these symptoms should prompt a call to your veterinarian.

Follow-up care with your veterinarian allows assessment of improving neurologic function. Additionally, infection may be discovered earlier if your pet is evaluated by your veterinarian at regular intervals during the illness.

Relapses or recurrence of disease are not uncommon, so dogs that develop disease following raccoon exposure should be retired from hunting.