Intervertebral disc disease and aortic thromboembolism are the most common causes of acute paralysis in dogs and cats presenting to an emergency clinic

14 Nov 2020

Rossi, G., Stachel, A., Lynch, A. M., Olby, N. J.

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Acute paralysis is a common presentation in small animal emergency clinics, but the aetiological prevalence has not been reported. Knowledge of diagnosis frequency aids prioritisation of differential diagnoses, facilitates resource planning and clinical trial design.


Medical records from NC State Veterinary Hospital Emergency Room were searched over a five-year period to identify cases presenting with acute non-ambulatory paraparesis or paralysis. Signalment and diagnosis category were extracted.


Acute paralysis was the presenting problem in 845 of 21,535 (3.9 per cent) dogs and 66 of 4589 (1.4 per cent) cats admitted over this period. Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) was the most common cause (608 of 845; 72 per cent) in dogs, followed by vascular disease (34 of 845; 4.0 per cent). Other diagnostic categories accounted for the remaining 20 per cent. Dachshunds were the most common breed (263 of 845; 31.1 per cent), then Labrador retrievers (57 of 845; 6.7 per cent). In cats, aortic thromboembolism (ATE) was the most common diagnosis, occurring in 40 of 66 (60.6 per cent), followed by IVDD (7 of 66; 10.6 per cent). Other diagnostic categories accounted for 30.3 per cent. Six of 845 (0.7 per cent) dogs and two of 66 (3 per cent) cats were categorised as pseudoparalysis with a non-neurological diagnosis.


IVDD and ATE are the overwhelming causes of acute paralysis in dogs and cats, respectively, with approximately 28 per cent of dogs and 40 per cent of cats having a different diagnosis.