Polyradiculoneuritis is a mouthful, but you can call it coonhound paralysis, a neurologic disorder affecting a dog's muscles. It's not known what causes coonhound paralysis, but it appears to be connected to an overstimulation of a dog's immune system. Dogs don't transmit the condition to each other, but it's often seen in dogs who have had contact with raccoons.
Immune System on Alert
Your dog's brain and spinal cord form his central nervous system; the nerves traveling from his spinal cord are his peripheral nervous system. If his nerves come under attack from his white blood cells, his immune system is essentially turning on him, destroying his own cells. You'll see the impact in a variety of ways, including muscular weakness, a stiff gait, slow reflexes, labored breathing, pain, depressed muscle tone, weakness in his facial muscles, and potential paralysis in all his limbs. Though the symptoms are frightening, your dog will likely keep his happy personality, eating and drinking normally and responding to you like nothing's wrong. Some dogs don't behave normally in the first days of the illness, though most try to behave as usual.
Overstimulating the Immune System
There's speculation about the cause of polyradiculoneuritis. Hunting dogs tend to present with the illness after exposure to raccoons, which explains the term "coonhound paralysis," but any dog can develop the condition. There are no genetic predispositions for breed or gender, and even a dog who hasn't been exposed to raccoons can become sick. Other immune system stimulants potentially causing coonhound paralysis include vaccinations, and some viral and bacterial infections. No evidence exists that the condition is contagious between dogs.
Diagnosing Coonhound Paralysis
If your dog displays any signs of coonhound paralysis, you'll want to get him to the vet. The vet will conduct a physical exam and run a variety of tests, including urinalysis, a complete blood count, a neurologic exam, a cerebrospinal fluid tap, and tests to evaluate his nerves' and muscles' electrical activity.
No Meds But Plenty of TLC
Coonhound paralysis can present quickly, worsening as the paralysis spreads and your dog becomes more debilitated. Most dogs can recover at home; however, if a dog is having a hard time breathing, he may require hospitalization. Wherever he recuperates, he'll require some attentive care; he'll need a thick, comfortable pad to lay on and frequent turning to prevent bedsores. His bedding will have to be changed and cleaned regularly to keep him from developing urine burns. Your vet will likely recommend massage and limb-stretching exercises to keep your dog's muscles from atrophying. Your tender loving care will do what medication can't do.
Though your dog may look incapacitated and may require some intensive nursing care from you, the prognosis is usually very good. He'll need rest to recover, so keep your pup in a quiet place where he won't be disturbed by other pets and people. Recovery time can vary from days to weeks to months, while some dogs never completely shake all the symptoms.