Coonhound paralysis is a rarely occurring medical condition in dogs that is caused by the bite of a raccoon. The medical term is polyradiculoneuritis.
Dogs presenting with coonhound paralysis have a history of a raccoon bite, followed by weakness to the hind legs and progressing to the front legs within a few days. The symptoms of paralysis are typically present 7-10 days after the bite of the raccoon and is thought to be a reaction to the saliva from the raccoon bite. There is paralysis of nerves to both front and back legs. In more severe cases, the nerves controlling the breathing muscles can be affected, causing an inability to breathe and possibly death.
Diagnosis is normally made by your veterinarian during the physical exam. The history of bite wounds from a raccoon will heighten the suspicion of this rare condition. Blood work, radiographs and other tests may be recommended to rule out other causes.
The good news is that dogs can recover fully. The bad news is that it can take weeks to months to fully recover and there is no treatment to decrease the recovery time. Supportive care is the only thing offered to those dogs affected. Supportive care may include hand feeding, prevention of body sores, keeping dogs clean of urine and feces, and manual expressing of the bladder on a regular basis. Dogs are literally bed ridden until they can function on their own. During this period, considerable muscle loss occurs, making recovery a long event. Physiotherapy is needed to keep the muscles active.
Other conditions causing similar clinical signs are tick paralysis and botulism.
Tick paralysis is caused be an immune reaction to the saliva of the tick. A pet will present with symptoms ranging from weakness to paralysis. Hind legs fail first, then the front, leading to paralysis. The good news is that once the tick is removed, dogs will recover relatively quickly within 24-72 hours.
Botulism is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum found in contaminated food or carcasses. The toxin released from this bacteria causes progressive muscle paralysis from the hind legs to the front. This disease can lead to death from inability to breath. Prognosis, however, is generally good to guarded.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that these conditions are rare. Should your dog be bitten by a raccoon or show signs related to weakness or difficulty walking, there is a list of possibilities to consider. See your veterinarian for advice.