Tick Paralysis

Ticks carry many diseases and should be kept off your pet if at all possible.  However, sometimes dogs, especially those that go into wooded areas, get bitten by a tick.  One problem that is caused by ticks is tick paralysis.

Tick paralysis is caused by the female of certain species of ticks.  These ticks have a potent toxin in their salvia.  When the tick bites the dog, she injects the salvia into the dog to keep the blood flowing into her mouth.  This salvia then causes serious symptoms for the dog that has been bitten.  The salvia is a neurotoxin that interferes with the lower motor neuron, keeping them in a state of relaxation.  Symptoms usually start around six to nine days after the tick has bitten the dog, which can make diagnosis difficult since the tick is usually gone by then.  Symptoms occur gradually, from least serious to most serious.  Tick paralysis is an emergency as it can interfere with the dog’s breathing and even kill him.

Dogs with tick paralysis show the following symptoms:  vomiting, regurgitation, unsteadiness, high blood rate, tachyarrhythmia, weakness, especially in the hind limbs, partial loss of muscle movement, total loss of muscle movement, poor reflexes, no reflexes, low muscle tone, difficulty eating, disorder of the voice, asphyxia due to respiratory muscle paralysis, excessive drooling, megaescophagus, and excessive dilation of the pupil.

As mentioned, tick paralysis is an emergency.  Your dog should be taken straight to the veterinarian.  He will do routine blood work and urinalysis.  However, these may be normal in an otherwise healthy dog who just has tick paralysis.  The most important thing to tell the veterinarian is if the dog has been in a wooded area or you have found a tick on the dog.

The veterinarian will search for ticks or evidence of a tick bite on your dog.  If ticks are found, they will be sent for analysis to see if they are one of the species that causes tick paralysis.  Most dogs who have tick paralysis have more than one tick on them, but even one tick bite can cause tick paralysis.

After the dog is diagnosed as having tick paralysis, treatment consists primarily of supportive treatment while the dog’s body rids itself of the toxin.  Dogs with respiratory difficulties will be given supportive care to help them breathe.  Expect your dog to be hospitalized for a while to treat this illness.

Removing the ticks from the dog is the first step in treating him, if he can breathe adequately.  Dogs are often dipped in an insecticidal bath to kill any ticks hiding in folds of skin or that have been undetected.   Sometimes, this is the only treatment needed and the dog will start to recover.  In the case of respiratory difficulties, however, the dog will be in intensive care for a while.  If the dog is dehydrated from vomiting or refusing to drink, he will be given intravenous fluids to remedy that, as well.

When you get your dog home, you want to keep him in a cool, quiet environment.  Heat makes the toxin more potent and worsens symptoms.  Activities also heat up the body and make the toxin worse.  Encourage your dog to relax as much as possible until his symptoms go away.