Coonhound paralysis (polyradiculoneuritis) in dogs

Coonhound paralysis (polyradiculoneuritis) in dogs

What is Coonhound paralysis?

Coonhound paralysis is a form of polyradiculoneuritis. Since the exact reason behind this health problem remains unknown, it is commonly referred to as acute idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis. (Idiopathic = Disorder without known cause.) What we do know is that the disease is somehow associated to racoon bites, and that the symptoms are caused by an auto immune reaction. Coonhound paralysis only occurs in dogs that have previously been sensitized ("allergic") to certain antigens, and these antigens are most commonly proteins from the saliva of a racoon. When the dog is bitten a second time, the immune system of the body runs amok. In a dog suffering from Coonhound paralysis, there is an immune mediated inflammation of nerves and nerve roots. The immune system of the dog will attack the body’s own neural tissue instead of protecting it.

Despite thorough research, no toxins have ever been identified in raccoon saliva and Coonhound paralysis is therefore probably not a reaction to a toxin. Experts have also searched in vain for any micro-organisms present in racoon saliva that could cause Coonhound paralysis.  

Hind leg weakness, decreased reflexes, and paralysis are common signs of Coonhound paralysis in dogs. It should be noted that only a very limited amount of all dogs bitten by racoons develop Coonhound paralysis. It appears as though this disease only affects dogs, not cats.

Coonhound paralysis symptoms in dogs

The symptoms of Coonhound paralysis will normally start showing a few days after a racoon bite. The dog will show hind leg weakness and decreased reflexes, and then gradually become increasingly paralysed. As the Coonhound paralysis progresses, the affected dog will lose control of its bladder. In severe cases, the dog can also lose control of its breathing.

Dogs that receive supportive care will normally recover within 4-6 weeks. Most dogs survive Coonhound paralysis if they receive proper treatment, but respiratory paralysis can cause fatalities.  

Coonhound paralysis vs. rabies

Raccoon bites can not only lead to Coonhound paralysis; racoons are also known carries of rabies. The symptoms of Coonhound paralysis are sometimes very similar to initial signs of rabies and it is therefore very important to let a qualified veterinarian determine the exact cause of your dog’s problem.

Coonhound paralysis treatment for dogs

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for dogs with Coonhound paralysis. In addition to this, a dog that has suffered from Coonhound paralysis in the past show an increased risk of developing the symptoms again if it is exposed to raccoon saliva again.

A lot of dogs overcome Coonhound paralysis on their own, as long as they are cared for in the mean time. An affected dog can for instance need fluid therapy to prevent dehydration, hand feeding to prevent malnutrition, and a suitable bedding to prevent pressure sores. Some dogs with Coonhound paralysis need respiratory support.

Since the dog can develop urinary problems, catheters can be necessary. Another important aspect of Coonhound paralysis care is to prevent urine scald.

Physiotherapy is necessary to retain mobility and circulation of muscles and joints, and it will also prevent muscle wasting. 

In severe cases, it can take up to 12-16 weeks for a dog with Coonhound paralysis to regain limb control. Some dogs never recover, while others only recover partially. There are however also a lot of dogs that reaches a full recovery. Dogs with respiratory problems have a very poor prognosis. 

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