Let’s Talk Tick Paralysis in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Ticks are a danger for dogs all year round, even in the cooler fall and winter months. A tick bite can irritate your dog’s skin and may even cause an allergic reaction, or it could transmit a dangerous or even deadly disease. Another risk associated with tick bites that many dog parents don’t know about is tick paralysis. Keep reading to learn what tick paralysis is and how to handle it.

In the United States, ticks are known to carry a variety of dangerous diseases including ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia. Another deadly condition that can be caused by ticks is called tick paralysis. If you’ve never heard of it, you aren’t alone, but you should take the time to learn about this condition because it is extremely dangerous.

Related: Common Types Of Ticks In North America

Though tick paralysis is rare, it is also a serious condition. Also known as tick-bite paralysis, tick paralyses is caused by a potent neurotoxin carried in the saliva of a certain species of female tick. When the tick bites the dog, it injects some of that toxic into the blood and it directly affects the dog’s nervous system, causing a variety of symptoms including the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Unsteadiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Loss of movement
  • Poor reflexes
  • Low muscle tone
  • Difficulty eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Enlarged esophagus

The toxin injected into the blood stream causes lower motor neuron paralysis. Basically, the dog loses voluntary movement when the toxin damages the nerves that connect the spinal cord and the muscles. Symptoms usually develop gradually about 6 to 9 days after the bite and usually start with progressive weakness or paralysis in the hind limbs.

Because symptoms come on slowly and may not appear until a week after the bite, diagnosing tick paralysis can be tricky. When you notice symptoms, you should take your dog to the vet immediately for a physical exam and to check for recent evidence of a tick bite. Your vet may also recommend additional tests such as a blood gas or a chest radiograph. It is also important to find the tick so it can be identified and to determine whether it is the cause of the symptoms.

Related: Do All-Natural DIY Tick Repellents Really Work?

In severe cases of tick paralysis, the affected dog may need to be hospitalized. In minor cases, an insecticidal bath to get rid of any attached ticks may be enough to resolve symptoms. During treatment, your dog’s temperature will need to be controlled because neurotoxins are temperature-sensitive – you should also limit your dog’s activity and let him rest. The long-term prognosis for tick paralysis depends on the species of tick and death can occur, even with treatment.

Even if you live in an area where the risk for ticks is not high, it’s still a good idea to protect your dog. Monthly flea and tick preventives are easy to use and can protect your dog against all manner of biting insects. If you don’t want to worry about remembering the treatment every month, buy a flea and tick collar instead – some of them last as long as eight months.


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