Coonhound Paralysis

                                             Pet Tales
                                                    by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Coonhound Paralysis

The Border Collie is generally recognized as the finest sheep-herding dog in the world. The breed has been doing this work for centuries. They were developed to work sheep, primarily in England's border regions with Scotland and Wales. Border Collies come in many colours. Most commonly they are black and white. However, they can be a solid colour (with the exception of all white), bi-colour, tri-colour, merle or sable. They are a medium-sized breed, standing 46-56 cm. (18-22 in.) tall at the shoulders with a weight ranging between 30-50 pounds at maturity.  The emphasis in their breeding, though, has never been on their appearance. Rather, the main concern has been on their working ability. They are keen, responsive, intelligent and alert. They are able to focus, masterfully, on the task at hand. They thrive on activity and they strive, with intensity, to please. Their body moves with gracefulness and perfect balance and their endurance is remarkable.

Coonhounds are descendants of the Bloodhounds that were brought by early English  settlers to the southern states in the United States. They were developed to trail raccoons, assisting farmers in attempts to control the population of this animal. Coon hunting trials continue to be a popular sport in this part of America. There are six coonhound breeds but the Black and Tan Coonhound is the only one officially recognized by the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs. Their coat is short and dense and as the name implies they are black with tan markings. They are 58-69 cm. (23-27 in.) tall with an even temperament and an ability to get along well with other dogs and people. Their long, hanging down ears and droopy eyelids are very recognizable facial features   Like Border Collies they are working dogs. They hunt by scent and show great determination and stamina in their work. They also are very agile, strong and well suited to outdoor activities. 
Despite some characteristics they share, Coonhounds and Border Collies look very different from one another. They could easily be distinguished from each other by even quite inexperienced dog fanciers. However, I am about to provide another example of disease failing to discriminate between breeds.

Smudge was a seven year old spayed female Border Collie. She was every inch a representative of her breed. She did not herd sheep but she loved to Frisbee-catch and she took exquisite pleasure in long walks with her owners. She especially enjoyed walks in places where she could be allowed off leash excursions into off trail locations. In fact, it was immediately after just such an experience that this story begins.

Back home at 8 p.m. in the evening, after her walk, she was noticed to be licking her lips and seemed restless but did, in a short while, lay down. However, just before 10 p.m., when she tried to stand up, she fell over. She was alert and aware of her surroundings but looked slightly confused. When she again tried to stand she stumbled and was unable to remain standing. By 11:45 p.m., she was completely unable to stand even with assistance. Very concerned, her owners took her to an emergency veterinary clinic. She was given medications and fluids intravenously and other supportive care measures were instituted. The next day Smudge was seen by her regular veterinarian. She had some x-rays taken and a referral appointment was made for Smudge to be seen that afternoon by a specialist in neurology at the Ontario Veterinary College.

A neurological examination was performed. Smudge was still unable to stand and support weight. A number of her reflexes were absent or weak. She was admitted to the intensive care unit in order to closely monitor her breathing and respiratory function. The diagnosis of Smudge's problem was idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis. This disease is commonly called Coonhound paralysis.

Coonhound paralysis is an acute inflammation of multiple nerve roots and nerves in dogs. It is very similar to Guillain-Barre syndrome in humans. In dogs, this disease is caused by contact with a raccoon or more importantly, perhaps, raccoon saliva. It is thought likely to be an immune-mediated disease. Clinical signs usually develop 7-14 days after contact with the raccoon. Therefore, it is unlikely Smudge contacted a raccoon on the day the problems began, it likely occurred on a previous walk. As Smudge proved you do not have to be a Coonhound to develop the disease. Any breed in contact with raccoons is susceptible.

Fortunately, also as Smudge proved, the outlook for recovery is good. A proper diagnosis is essential. Careful monitoring in the initial stages to be sure no respiratory failure develops, is necessary. Good nursing care is the most critical component in treatment. In mild cases dogs usually are able to walk in 1-2 weeks and have normal function within 3 weeks. During that time owners will need to assist in turning patients to prevent bed sores, provide physiotherapy and assure proper food and water intake.

All this happened 2 years ago, Smudge is just fine and hopefully has given up on the idea of herding raccoons instead of sheep.

On Saturday, October 25, 2003, between 2-4 p.m., you may see both Coonhounds and Border Collies having a manicure at a reduced fee nail trimming party at Bay Cities Animal Hospital, 3001 New Street in Burlington. All proceeds will go the Farley Foundation which offers financial support for the medical care of pets belonging to low income seniors or disabled persons.