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2016 Flea & Tick Survival Guide

Tick Paralysis in Cats

Tick Bite Paralysis in Cats


Tick paralysis, or tick-bite paralysis, is caused by a potent toxin that is released through the saliva of certain species of female tick and which is injected into the blood of a cat as the tick infests the cat's skin. The toxin directly affects the nervous system, leading to a group of nervous symptoms in the affected animal.


The toxins released by ticks cause lower motor neuron paralysis, which is defined as a loss of voluntary movement and which is caused by a disease of the nerves that connect the spinal cord and muscles. With lower motor neuron paralysis the muscles stay in an apparent state of relaxation.


An infestation of ticks is not necessary for a diseased state to occur. While multiple ticks are usually present on a cat that is showing symptoms of tick paralysis, tick-bite paralysis can take place after being bitten by only one tick. Conversely, not all animals, infested or not, will develop tick paralysis.


In the U.S., this disease is more commonly seen in dogs than in cats. Cats in the U.S. appear to have a resistance to the tick toxin. However, in Australia there is a higher incidence of this disease, and it affects both dogs and cats. Symptoms usually begin to appear around 6-9 days after a tick has attached to the skin of the cat.


Symptoms and Types


There is history of a recent visit the cat has taken to a wooded area, or the cat is living in an area that is endemic to ticks. Symptoms are gradual in nature.


  • Vomiting
  • Regurgitation
  • Unsteadiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate and rhythm (tachyarrhythmias)
  • Weakness, especially in the hind limbs
  • Partial loss of muscle movements (paresis)
  • Complete loss of muscle movement (paralysis), commonly seen in advanced disease state
  • Poor reflexes to complete loss of reflex
  • Low muscle tone (hypotonia)
  • Difficulty in eating
  • Disorder of voice (dysphonia)
  • Asphyxia due to respiratory muscle paralysis in severely affected animals
  • Excessive drooling (sialosis)
  • Megaesophagus (enlarged esophagus)
  • Excessive dilatation of pupil in the eye (mydriasis)




  • Tick infestation




You will need to give a thorough history of your cat's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition. For example, your veterinarian will ask about any recent visits you and your cat have made to wooded areas, especially within the last several days and weeks.


Your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination, looking closely at your cat's skin for the presence of ticks or for recent evidence of ticks. If ticks are found to be present on the skin, your veterinarian will remove the tick and send it to the laboratory for a determination of its species. Routine laboratory tests will include a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. However, the results of these tests are often normal if no other concurrent disease is present along with tick paralysis.


In patients with respiratory muscle paralysis, blood gases will need to be calculated to determine the severity of the respiratory compromise. If respiratory muscle paralysis is occurring, low oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide will be present in the blood, as the cat will not be able to properly inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. A chest radiograph may reveal an enlarged esophagus due to the extra effort of trying to breath.


The most important step in the diagnosis is to search for and find the tick that bit your cat so that it can be identified and its ability to transmit disease determined. Your veterinarian will thoroughly search all areas of your cat's skin to find any ticks so that this can be done.


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Comments  2

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  • Not enough information
    08/04/2015 09:14am

    The information in this article is lacking, and seemingly contradictory:
    It suggests, but does not outright state, that the condition is reversible. Medicines to counteract the toxin is mentioned - but what medicines, precisely? How soon to be effective, how effective? Can early treatment render a full recovery? Do some cases resolve on their own?

    The author describes the identification of the tick to make a final determination of disease. Why not tell readers what tick(s) are being referred to here?

    Finally, the paralysis is described as having a relaxing effect on muscles, but later refers to a medicine to help "relax" muscles for breathing purposes. Would not this exacerbate the original crisis? Why are we relaxing muscles that are already dangerously in a state of permanent relaxation?

  • 03/22/2016 05:55pm

    I agree with this statement but there is more that I would like to know? It states that good home care is needed when the cat comes home, but it does not state what care is needed. What if you can't afford to pay for the hospital care that is needed and your baby is to be treated at home?

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