Tick paralysis is a very frightening (and potentially fatal) problem seen in dogs. The cause is the injection of a neurotoxin into the bloodstream of your dog by a feeding female tick. The ticks involved in North America are common tick species – Dermacentor and Ixodes. Luckily, most ticks do not carry this neurotoxin.
Tick paralysis starts five to nine days after the tick attaches and feeds. If the ticks transmitting the neurotoxin are not removed, your dog will eventually die due to respiratory failure.
Signs of Tick Paralysis
- Weakness starting in rear legs and moving forward
- Eventual paralysis in all four legs
- Respiration becomes affected when the muscles of the chest are affected
- Rarely are the muscles of the head involved
Your dog’s pain sensation are not affected, which can differentiate this from other paralytic conditions in dogs, along with the rapid spread up your dog’s body.
Treatment is simple but must be complete and immediate. The longer you wait, your dog’s recovery can be months, if at all.
Get immediate veterinary help. All ticks must be carefully removed from your dog ASAP. Once that is done, there is no more neurotoxin being injected into your dog. Most dogs show full recovery in hours. It’s almost miraculous! I have treated one dog for tick paralysis, a Yorkie on Long Island. I looked like a true heroine when I pulled a fat tick off this collapsed dog and, within an hour, she was up and pretty much back to normal.
However, studies show many dogs do become seriously ill or die, so take tick paralysis in dogs very seriously.
No one can predict which ticks might have this deadly neurotoxin, which means you need to practice excellent tick control. Oral and topical monthly preventives are excellent but not all of them do a rapid kill or prevent a quick bite and feed. The best preventives currently for repelling ticks and preventing attachment are K9 Advantix II, Vectra 3D, and Seresto.
Even with the best preventives, it pays to do a careful tick search on your dog after hiking in fields and woods. A lint roller will catch many ticks (even small nymphs) before they attach to the skin. Running a blow dryer over long coated dogs can help you to find any wandering ticks in that long hair.
Thankfully, tick paralysis is not common in North America, but it is a dramatic and potentially fatal tick related problem.