What you need to know when your dog is Paralyzed

What your regular vet can do

Most people will go to their regular vet first. Please keep in mind that your regular vet is like your personal general practitioner. Once they have done some basic tests, they are supposed to refer you to a specialist - in the case of paralysis this would be a board certified veterinary neurologist (anything having to do with the spine, vertebrea, nerves, or brain) or if an injury to the hips or legs a board certified veterinary orthopedist (muscles & Skeleton).  

What are the tests that your regular vet can run?

  1. Xrays of the spine, pelvis (hips) and legs. Xrays can help determine if there is a fracture, a broken bone, dysplasia, a mass or damage to the spine/ vertibrea and sometimes disks (carteledge) 
  2. Tick Panel.  This is a simple blood test, regardless of what you may think, and what your vet may tell you, ticks are EVERYWHERE in the world at this point, from the coldest and wettest climates to the dryest and hottest climates. Tick Paralysis is one of the most common causes of paralysis and one of the most overlooked and mis-diagnosed by regular vets. It's also one of the simplest to cure, especially if your vet runs this simple test and catches it quickly.  (It can still be cured if your neurologist catches it later - but your vet should run this test.  We have seen many regular vets tell us they don't have ticks where they live or owners who have said they've never seen a tick on their pet and low and behold that is what is causing the paralysis so it's a very simple test worth running.  This kind of paralysis is caused by a bacteria actually and that is what they test looks for.  Tick Panels test for Lymes, Erlychia, Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever, etc - and you don't have to live in the regions where these diseases were found and named after to have them.  (more details coming soon)  
  3. Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Full Chemistry Blood Work - This is also a simple test just to see if there may be any other diseases or deficiencies that could be contributing to paralysis.  **PLEASE NOTE:  If your CBC does NOT show elevated white blood cells (WBC), this does NOT rule out a neurologic infection (like a meningitis, or similar) that would be contained within the spinal fluid / spinal chord. This system is contained in a sheeth and a spinal tap would be the only way to test the fluid to know if there was an infection and what kind of infection in the spinal column.  A Veterinary Neurologist is the only doctor who should be doing this test, if it's suspected.. but let your neurologist determine if it is. They have 8-10+ years of training in diagnosing and treating neurologic conditions. 

Please Remember Paralysis is not THE Illness, it's a symptom or result of another illness.  There are many causes of Paralysis, and if you don't find the right cause, you can't treat it properly.  Often you'll see people assume that all cases of paralysis are treated the same. They shouldn't be. An infection needs to be treated differently than a broken bone, than a crushed vertibrea, than Disk Disease, than Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), than a leision, than a mass, than a clot, than a bleed, than toxicity, than vaccination poisoning, than tick paralysis, etc..  Some diseases can progress rapidly, all can be treated, many can be cured or reversed, and a few can be at least slowed down or stopped in their tracks.  The most important thing though, wheter this is a new injury or an old injury is to get a proper diagnosis.  It's never too late for that!  Technologies like HBOT have reversed nerve damage in patients with nerve and brain damage that took place as long as 12 years prior the start of treatment.   Where there is a will, there is a way!

Why a Neurologist is necessary

This section is still in progress - Please see our page on finding a veterinary neurologist for more information for the time being. 

How to handle and move a paralyzed dog

Just like with a human, if you are dealing with paralysis, you are dealing with a neurologic condition.  Special care needs to be taken to ensure that the spine is not bent or twisted and the  core of the body is moved as a single unit, unless it is determined there is no damage to the spinal column, disks, vertibrea, or spinal chord that could be worsened by the wrong movement, including twisting, bending, etc.   (More to come on this)

Bathroom Functions (Expressing bladders, etc)

When your dog becomes paralyzed and loses the ability to control their bladder, it is extremely important that you learn how to express their bladder. ( If they still have control over their bladder, this is not necessary. )    Your regular vet can show you how to do this.  We will provide a few links below as well with instructions.  

The reason it is important to learn to express the bladder if your dog can not control their bladder muscles is to help them to completely empty their bladder.  Not only does this help prevent accidents, but it also helps clear out the bladder to help minimize the risk for bladder and urinary tract infections. Remember the bladder, kidneys and urinary tract are all part of the system that eliminates waste. If the waste sits too long it can cause an infection.  Nature does work it's course and what goes in does go out, but if a urinary tract infection (UTI) is not treated quickly and properly it can continue to get worse. It is important that your vet cultures the urine sample if the urine smells a little funky, or strong, or is deep yellow, orange or even red and looks like blood. By culturing the urine sample they should prescribe the proper antibiotic. Some vets don't do this and the UTI comes back and is usually more fierce. It can settle in the bladder too and get deep into the tissue.  The right antibiotics are key for this. Even if you see what looks like pure blood coming out - it can be treated, so don't get scared, just make sure you get your dog to the vet.  (If you are not comfortable with your own vet, or are afraid someone is going to suggest putting them down because of the UTI - make an appointment with a veterinary specialist who focuses on Internal medicine - they will know exactly what to do to help.  

UTI's are very common with paralyzed dogs, so be aware that you'll probably see this happen at some point, and it's relatively easy to fix or control once you get it properly cultured, and treated.  You also can work with a holistic vet who is trained in food therapy and herbs, on top of regular veterinary medicine, and they can help you alter the body chemistry of your dog through diet to make it inhospitable to bladder infections and urinary tract infections.

Below is some information that will be helpful.  Sometimes it's a challenge at first but once you figure it out it's easy.  If they are resisting, they have some bladder control - and this is a good thing - Ask your vet to show you how to do this too - so you have someone to show you with your own pup. 


No matter what the diagnosis, there are treatment options for every condition.  Your neurologist, however, may not be aware of some of the treatments, if they have not had a chance to do the research, or get training or their facility does not offer these treatment options.  (More and more veterinary hospitals are managed by Managed Healthcare Companies, and they are discouraged from referring patients outside of the hospital group.  This is not true of all vet hospitals, but do keep this in the back of your mind, and know that it is really important for you to do YOUR research, and come armed with a list of questions for your neurologist, and your vet team.  Often the members of our group are actually providing vets and some neurologists with information they didn't know before.  Some of the most exciting stories we've heard are about vet who learned through their patients, and are now incorporating what they've learned, taking advanced classes to learn more, working on getting new treatment facilities, or physical therapy training and equipment at their facilities to help more and more dogs!  We even have a few who are now pursuing advanced degrees in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine on top of their regular veterinary training so they can leverage the benefits of acupuncture, massage therapy, and herbs and food therapy into their now integrated practice.  Don't be afraid to research, and ask questions and teach the teacher!  There are so many options out there, Euthanasia is no longer the standard course of action, and if that's what your vet suggests without sending you to a neurologist, you may want to try providing them with a little of your research, join our group, and perhaps find a new vet who wants to be a part of a treatment plan and learn and help your pup to recovery!

Questions you need to ask your vet & your neurologist

Don't be afraid to do your own research, and ask all the questions that come to mind.  We recommend keeping a note pad handy because questions will pop up in your head at all times and if you can write them down, you can bring a list to the vet or neurologist, or email them and get your answers.  

Don't be afraid to challenge your vet and do your own research - a lot of times they learn through their patients, and most good vets REALLY APPRECIATE a patient who does their own research and brings it to the appointment.  Vets don't always have the time to do the research they may want to do, and it helps if you can do that, plus you get to learn more and you have more control over your pup's treatment.

Don't be afraid to get 2nd or 3rd opinions!   No one person knows everything!!!   A good vet specialist or vet knows this and will never be offended that you asked for a 2nd or 3rd opinion.  If they're that good, they are also asking their colleagues for their opinions all the time.  

This section will be growing with a list of basic question to ask your vet over time.  In the spirit of getting this information out as soon as possible, we are still working on adding more and more content to the site.  Please bear with us!!!

How to handle a paralyzed dog

How to handle and care for a dog with IVDD. How to carry, pick up and move a painful dog.

Dr Krista Magnifico talks about how to provide nursing care and manage a dog with IVDD or paralysis due to pain. Hank is a beagle 10 days into recovery from a cervical disc lesion due to intervertebral disc disease. Managing IVDD conservatively. Other videos on his recovery available here.