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Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Tick paralysis is a rare but serious condition caused by a neurotoxin produced in the salivary glands of female ticks.

May 10, 2023 4 min read
Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Ticks may seem like a minor nuisance, but these tiny parasites can be quite dangerous. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the American dog tick can lay between 4,000 and 6,500 eggs before dying. The larvae can then live up to 540 days without food while in search of a host. If a tick chooses your dog as its next host, your pet could develop a serious condition known as tick paralysis.

What Is Tick Paralysis?

Tick paralysis is a disease caused by a neurotoxin produced in the salivary glands of female ticks. When a tick chooses a dog as a host, this neurotoxin is released into the dog’s bloodstream as the tick attaches and feeds. Several types of ticks can cause tick paralysis, including the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, deer tick, and the Lone Star tick.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Tick Paralysis?

A dog that has been exposed to a female tick can start to develop symptoms within just two to seven days. As the name suggests, a dog can develop paralysis due to a tick bite. The rear limbs are usually affected first before the paralysis starts to ascend through the rest of the body.

Symptoms of tick paralysis can quickly progress without treatment. A dog with tick paralysis will experience a gradual loss of coordination, difficulty sitting and standing, an inability to rise from a lying position, rapid or labored breathing, coughing, change or loss of bark, gagging or vomiting, inability to blink one or both eyes, and a loss of appetite.

If tick paralysis remains untreated, the dog will likely stop moving as the paralysis spreads to the head, upper extremities, and trunk. Animals can die of tick paralysis once the paralysis spreads to the diaphragm, resulting in respiratory arrest. The progression of symptoms is rapid and can occur over a 24-to-48-hour period.

How Is Tick Paralysis Diagnosed?

A vet can generally diagnose tick paralysis through symptoms and in some cases, the presence of one or more ticks on the body. As ticks can hide in a dog’s coat, your vet will need to perform a thorough exam to find and remove the tick.

Removal is generally done by pulling the tick off with forceps or by killing it with a topical insecticide. Your vet may also discover a tick crater on the skin, which appears as a circular, scabby skin lesion where a tick was once attached.

How Is Tick Paralysis Treated?

Since tick paralysis is caused by the release of a dangerous neurotoxin from a female tick, the main treatment is to remove the tick as soon as possible. Once the tick is removed, the dog will usually start to recover muscle strength within just a few hours. Within three days, most dogs will have recovered completely from tick paralysis.

There may be instances where the tick paralysis spreads to the lungs, causing respiratory distress. If this occurs, your vet can provide supportive measures, such as extra oxygen or mechanical ventilation, to aid your pet until the tick can be removed and your dog recovers.

How Can Tick Paralysis in Dogs Be Prevented?

While tick paralysis is a fairly rare condition, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent your dog from getting this deadly disease. Some things you can do to help prevent tick paralysis are to:

  • Perform daily tick checks. If your dog goes outside in an area where there are ticks, take a few minutes each day to check for ticks. Just a single tick can cause tick paralysis, so you’ll want to carefully check the skin from snout to tail.
  • Use an effective tick control product. There are several highly effective tick control products on the market that provide protection against ticks for a full month and can control pre-existing paralysis ticks within 24 hours. Ask your vet for a prescription.
  • Reduce your pet’s exposure. While you cannot always know where there are ticks in your environment, there are ways to lower your pet’s odds of picking up a tick. Keep your grass mowed and clean up leaves to make your yard less attractive to ticks.

What Other Diseases Can Be Transmitted by Ticks?

Pets that have been exposed to ticks can develop other serious conditions aside from tick paralysis. There are many tick-borne diseases that can cause mild to severe symptoms, and in some cases, death. Some common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), Ehrlichiosis, Borrelia mayonii disease, Tularemia, Powassan virus disease, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis.

When Should I Contact My Vet?

Tick paralysis can be difficult to diagnose on your own. In its early stages, this condition can mimic other diseases, making it challenging to determine how to proceed. In addition, the progression and recovery of tick paralysis can be unpredictable.

However, you’ll want to contact your vet immediately if your pet starts to show signs of tick paralysis, such as weakness, the inability to move, or a change in mental activity. Depending on the severity of the paralysis, your pet may need to stay in the pet hospital for several days as he recovers.

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