Coonhound paralysis is a condition with the rather magnificent scientific name of acute canine idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis (ACIP).
However, this impressive title is deceptive. Broken down 1 word at a time, it actually means “a sudden onset dog disease that no one knows why it happens and that causes inflammation of the nerve roots.”
So, what do scientists know about ACIP?
- There is a link between raccoons and the infection.
- Dogs get very sick but usually make a full recovery. Period.
This condition starts about 7–14 days after contact with a raccoon. Early symptoms are expressed in a dog who starts to walk as if his legs are stiff. His bark changes and he may lose his voice.
The weakness progresses, with the hind legs bearing the brunt of it, until the dog eventually can no longer walk.
If the respiratory system is affected, the dog may have labored breathing, and severely ill animals need to go on a ventilator. Over the next couple of weeks, rapid muscle wastage occurs.
The word “idiopathic” means no one is really sure why this condition occurs. Topping the list of possibilities is an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks its own nerves.
How raccoon saliva triggers this reaction is unclear, and the only thing that can be said with certainty is that 100% of ACIP cases test positive for raccoon saliva (although not all animals that test positive for raccoon saliva develop clinical disease).
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Routine blood work is usually normal. Diagnosis rests on a history of recent contact with raccoons as well as ruling out other causes of neurological disease, which include analyzing a sample of spinal fluid to eliminate the possibility of meningitis-type infections.
There is no cure for ACIP, but given several weeks, and intensive nursing care, dogs can go on to make a full recovery. The level of care dogs require can include artificial ventilation if respiratory muscles stop working.
Other things to consider are that affected dogs are unable to move and need turning every 3 to 4 hours to prevent bedsores. The dog cannot get up to move his bladder or bowel, and soiling with urine or feces can lead to nasty sores.
Recovering dogs do surprisingly well and even the most severely affected dogs can improve to the point of having barely noticeable muscular weakness for a few months following the onset of ACIP.
Prevention mainly concerns the sensible step of avoiding contact with raccoons.
Interestingly, a dog who has suffered from ACIP is not immune to further episodes and can “catch” the condition more than once. This is another piece of evidence that suggests the disease turns the body’s immune defenses against themselves.
- Infectious Disease of the Dog and Cat. Greene. Publisher: Saunders. 2nd edition.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Jan. 1, 2016.