Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs

Coonhound paralysis in dogs, or idiopathic acute polyradiculoneuritis, is a progressive neurological disease that can cause total paralysis in all of your dog's legs. It is one of the most common dog nerves disorders in the U.S. It's named "Coonhound paralysis" because early cases of the disorder occurred in hunting dogs, and vets once believed the condition was caused by raccoon bites. Let's learn more about this debilitating neurological condition.

Coonhound Paralysis Explained

Coonhound paralysis is the common name for idiopathic acute polyradiculoneuritis, a neurological condition that affects dogs of all breeds, ages and genders. Vets once believed that this condition occurred only in hunting dogs, and that it was spread by raccoon bites. Though veterinary medicine now knows this assumption to be false, the disease continues to be commonly known as coonhound paralysis.

Vets still don't know exactly what causes coonhound paralysis. They believe this may be an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and damages the peripheral nerves at the base of the spinal cord. Some vets continue to believe that exposure to raccoon saliva can increase your dog's risk of coonhound paralysis. However, this disease is now known to occur in dogs who have never been bitten by a raccoon.

Symptoms of Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs

Coonhound paralysis is an acute condition, meaning symptoms often appear suddenly. The first symptoms include weakness of the hindquarters and hoarseness of bark. The disease progresses rapidly and can lead to total paralysis of all four legs, muscle loss and wasting. 

Dogs with coonhound paralysis retain their ability to feel physical sensations, including pain. They often continue to drink, eat, and relieve themselves as normal, and many dogs with coonhound paralysis retain the ability to wag their tails. Symptoms worsen progressively for four to ten days after they appear, and then stabilize. Most dogs recover from coonhound paralysis without permanent neurological repercussions.

Diagnosing and Treating Coonhound Paralysis in Dogs

There is no specific test to check for coonhound paralysis, so your vet will make the diagnosis based on observation of your dog's symptoms. Your dog may need to visit a veterinary neurologist for diagnostic tests, including electrical stimulation of the nerves, biopsy, or a spinal tap.

There are no drugs available to treat this disease. Your dog may need 24-hour nursing care while he recovers, and may even need to be hospitalized at the beginning of his treatment. Physiotherapy is usually recommended during the recovery period, to help prevent muscle loss and muscle wasting due to inactivity. Your dog may take as long as four months to regain his strength and return to normal.

Most dogs recover from coonhound paralysis without lasting damage or long term ill effects. If permanent nerve damage occurs, it is usually mild. Permanent wasting of the muscles, or atrophy, can occur.

If your dog suffers from a bout of coonhound paralysis, you should know that he is not immune to future episodes. Coonhound paralysis in dogs can recur at any time.