Dog coonhound paralysis is also termed Idiopathic Polyradiculoneuritis, and is essentially a sudden onset inflammation of the nerves outside of a dog’s spinal cord and brain. It is termed coonhound paralysis since the condition was first recognized in coonhounds, which as the name implies, is a breed that is a coon hunter. Some cases have a history of contact with raccoons, or perhaps raccoon saliva, but some do not have a clear history of exposure. The source of this condition is still somewhat of a mystery, but current opinion favors this being an auto-immune condition. This means that the body recognizes itself as foreign, and mounts a reaction against itself; as it would to a bacteria or virus invader.
The condition most severely affects the ventral or lower nerve roots (these roots are where the body nerves leave the spinal cord). Normally, the symptoms primarily appear as nervous system deficits, but sometimes breathing difficulty occurs if the nerves to the breathing system are affected. Nerve deficits commonly lead to a stilted gait, and progression to a paralyzed condition is common. The muscles that are served by affected nerves quickly waste away (atrophy), and sometimes the voice of the dog is reduced or absent. Note that the pain fibres are not affected, so some dogs seem hyper-reactive to sensations (hyperesthesia). The dog is normally alert, and will have normal appetite. This condition will progress to a worsened status over four to ten days. Note that a dog that has recovered from a bout of this condition may have one or more recurrences.
The treatment of coonhound syndrome is quite variable. Some dogs for example, need respiratory support if the breathing nerves are affected, while others do not. Other treatments that are sometimes needed include fluid therapy if their paralysis has led to dehydration, perhaps hand feeding, and an excellent comfy cushion to place the dog on so that pressure sores are less likely. Key appropriate care includes some physiotherapy so that the muscles and joints keep their mobility and circulation, and this movement helps counteract muscle wasting. Another aspect of nursing care is to make sure urine does not land in the hair coat, and cause a urine scald. Cleanliness and grooming the patient daily are helpful to maintain appropriate nursing care. Note that there are extremely limited medication options for this condition. Nursing care is #1.
Recovery can be partial or full. A dog may not regain limb function for 12-16 weeks in more severe cases. Those with respiratory problems have a poorer prognosis. Mild cases can improve within a few weeks. The only preventive measure known is to avoid contact with raccoons.