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Signs and Symptoms of Tick Paralysis

Not all breeds of dogs are affected, and some animals only experience some side effects in their hind limbs.

May 24, 2018 3 min read
Signs and Symptoms of Tick Paralysis

The paralysis we are referring to is not a paralysis of ticks, but rather a paralysis which ticks can cause mammals such as dogs to contract once they are bitten.

What happens when a tick bites?

Tick paralysis is believed to be due to toxins found in the tick's saliva that enters the bloodstream while the tick is feeding. The two ticks most commonly associated with tick paralysis are the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick. Most North American cases of tick paralysis occur from April to June, when adult ticks emerge from hibernation and are most actively seeking hosts.The toxin affects the nervous system of mammals, and causes symptoms within 2-7 days, beginning with weakness in both hind legs that progresses to paralysis if left undetected. A tick bite can produce a flaccid (limp or drooping) type paralysis of the limbs, which leaves your dog feeling weak, with no muscular tone. Some mammals are not affected by tick bites, such as cats, as they seem to be immune to it. Not all breeds of dogs are affected, and some animals only experience some side effects in their hind limbs.

However, some pets may fall into an extremely critical condition which can progress throughout the entire body and affect their respiratory system and front limbs too. It is important for you to know how to recognize the signs of paralysis caused by ticks, so that you can get the symptoms under control quickly and remove the tick(s) before things become critical for your dog.

Signs and Symptoms

Usually the signs will start 2-7 days after the tick has actually bitten your dog, and it will usually take a few tick bites simultaneously in order for paralysis to actually begin occurring. Ticks can easily hide underneath your dog's fur, making them very difficult to detect, which is why you should always look for the symptoms, such as weakness and poor coordination in your dog's hind legs. Dogs can also exhibit difficulty when swallowing, breathing, and chewing, even though there will be no signs of a fever or regular illness. Death can occur within hours from respiratory failure, because the muscles in the chest become paralyzed, you must always check for these signs when you notice that your dog seems listless and less mobile.

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Normally, tick paralysis is diagnosed based on the onset of paralysis itself, and of course a rapidly worsening condition. Your dog will have a rapid recovery once you are able to locate the tick(s) and remove them. Removal of the embedded tick usually results in resolution of symptoms within several hours to days. If the tick is not removed, the toxin can be fatal, with reported mortality rates of 10 to 12%, usually due to respiratory paralysis. The tick is best removed by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling in a firm, steady manner.

Since the diagnosis relies a lot on the early signs of paralysis, you should also regularly check your dog for ticks, especially if you notice his/her behavior change, or if you are often outdoors in regions where there are ticks. Even wooded areas in suburbs can contain ticks, so always check your dog's body thoroughly after each outing through these areas, or around lakes and ponds.


Since the ticks can be removed, all you have to do is find them. You may have a hard time finding all of the ticks, or one tick if your dog has a lot of fur. Because ticks normally burrow down into the skin, you may have to shave your dog if you are having difficulty locating the tick when these signs are present. If you cannot find the tick, but feel this may be the problem, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to locate the tick, and/or shave your dog if necessary.

Your dog may require more supportive care, such as artificial respiration, once the ticks are out, depending on how much damage was done. An antitoxin is also available which can be given to your dog to help speed recovery, if needed.

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