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What Is Dog Tick Paralysis?

Dog tick paralysis happens when a dog's nervous system reacts to toxins in a tick’s saliva, causing muscle weakness, and eventually, paralysis. The disease starts roughly one week after the tick attaches to your dog.

Initially, you may notice your dog stumbling, or your dog’s back legs may seem weak or show signs of impairment, such as crossing or dragging. The weakness progressively moves up their skeleton, eventually affecting all of their legs, and in more severe cases, their respiratory muscles.

Several types of ticks can cause paralysis, but the Australian Ixodes holocyclus tick causes the most severe disease and symptoms. Tick paralysis is primarily seen in the United States and Australia.

Symptoms of Dog Tick Paralysis

Dog tick paralysis usually comes on suddenly and progresses quickly. Roughly one week after the tick attaches, you may notice that your dog’s hind legs are not functioning normally. Your dog may drag their back feet or have trouble standing on their back legs.

Within 1-3 days, the paralysis typically progresses to all four legs, and your dog will no longer be able to walk. And in cases involving ticks in the Ixodes family, the onset and progression of the disease are even faster. Weakness may progress to paralysis within just a few hours.

Other areas of your dog’s nervous system can stop functioning properly as well. They may have difficulty swallowing or trouble with their esophagus that can cause drooling, vomiting, and regurgitation.

Tick bites can paralyze muscles used during respiration, such as a dog’s diaphragm and the intercostal muscles between the ribs, resulting in respiratory failure and death. 

Causes of Dog Tick Paralysis

When a tick attaches to your dog, it draws blood and injects saliva. A neurotoxin in the tick’s saliva causes dogs tick paralysis.

The Ixodes family of ticks, which causes more severe disease, is most often seen in Australia but is also present in the U.S. Many non-Ixodes ticks also cause the syndrome in the U.S., such as the common wood tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, lone star tick, and Gulf coast tick.

Dogs living in areas where ticks are more problematic will be more prone to the disease.

How Vets Diagnose Dog Tick Paralysis

There is no test available for tick paralysis.

Diagnosis is based on the onset of symptoms, the progression of the disease, and the presence of a tick. There are several other diseases and conditions that have similar symptoms, so having the vet thoroughly check your dog for ticks can be lifesaving.

Treatment for Dog Tick Paralysis

Ultimately, the best treatment for tick paralysis is to remove the tick. Ticks like to attach in dark areas on a dog, such as in skin folds, between toes, around genitals, and in ears. 

If your vet suspects tick paralysis, they can apply a topical treatment to your dog to kill the offending tick even if it cannot be found. You dog should be hospitalized until the tick is removed and their symptoms improve.

Treatment may require oxygen support, and your dog must be monitored around the clock for progression of symptoms. 

In cases resulting from Ixodes tick bites, symptoms can continue and even worsen after the tick is removed. In such circumstances, your dog may be prescribed additional medications to help neutralize the tick toxin.

Recovery and Management of Dog Tick Paralysis

Dogs afflicted with non-Ixodes tick bites often improve within hours of tick removal.  Full recovery may take a few days, but as long as the tick was found early enough, a full recovery is possible.

The Ixodes family of ticks causes more severe and fast-acting disease. Without treatment, death can occur within days of the first symptoms. 

Dog Tick Paralysis FAQs

Can a dog survive a paralysis tick?

Within the U.S., chances are very good that a dog will recover from tick paralysis.  Early diagnosis is important. Go to your vet immediately if you suspect tick paralysis.

How long does tick paralysis last in dogs?

Depending on when the tick is found, symptoms can resolve within 1-3 days of tick removal. Recovery takes longer and is less predictable in cases involving Ixodes ticks.

Can tick paralysis kill a dog?

Yes, tick paralysis can kill a dog by causing paralysis of the respiratory muscles, leading to respiratory failure.

Is tick paralysis curable in dogs?

Tick paralysis is usually curable when it is diagnosed early and the tick is removed.

Ticks that cause tick paralysis in the U.S. are the common wood tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), the Gulf coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum), the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus).

 

In Australia, the Ixodes holocyclus tick causes the most severe disease.

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