Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
By Brittany Kleszynski, DVM on Apr. 29, 2024
A dog sits in a grassy wood.

Ivar Østby Simonsen/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

In This Article


What Is Tick Paralysis in Dogs?

Tick paralysis in dogs is a devastating condition that causes sudden hind limb paralysis that quickly progresses to the rest of a pup's body. As a result, dogs are unable to walk, hold their head up, or fully swallow. In severe cases, they cannot breathe due to paralysis of the diaphragm.

Fortunately, tick paralysis is relatively uncommon in dogs due to the widespread use of tick preventatives by pet parents; however, certain geographic areas may see a greater number of cases due to higher tick numbers. The condition is more common in the warmer months when ticks are most active. To minimize exposure to ticks in their natural habitat, dogs should not be allowed to roam in tall grass or wooded areas. Ticks love to attach themselves to anyone walking by! 

When an adult female tick bites your dog, they release saliva that contains neurotoxins into your pup’s bloodstream. These neurotoxins damage nerve cells, resulting in whole-body paralysis. Ticks must be attached to your dog for at least three days before paralysis, which is why it’s very important to check your dog for ticks after being outdoors and to regularly use tick preventatives.

Tick paralysis can result in death without prompt diagnosis and treatment. Death occurs most commonly in dogs that already have breathing difficulties or weakened immune systems.

If your dog has been bitten by a tick and is experiencing difficulty walking or breathing, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Tick paralysis in dogs is considered a medical emergency, as it progresses quickly and is fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Tick paralysis in dogs has many classic symptoms, which may include:

Causes of Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Tick paralysis in dogs is caused by a tick bite. Neurotoxins are transmitted from the tick’s saliva to the bloodstream, resulting in loss of muscle tone and paralysis. The Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick cause paralysis.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Tick Paralysis in Dogs

There are no specific tests available to diagnose tick paralysis in dogs. Instead, veterinarians collect a thorough history from the pet parent and identify common symptoms during a physical exam. Let your veterinarian know of any recent tick exposure and when your dog’s symptoms first began.

During the exam, your veterinarian will thoroughly inspect your dog’s skin and fur for any ticks. Sometimes the tick is found, while other times only a red, circular wound is visible where a tick was attached.

Common areas for ticks to attach include:

  • The ears

  • In skin folds

  • In between the paw pads

  • Underneath the tail

  • On the belly

If your dog has recently had tick exposure, is suddenly paralyzed, and has difficulty breathing, a diagnosis of tick paralysis is very likely.

Additionally, blood work may be performed to assess your dog’s overall health prior to treatment.

Treatment of Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Removal of the tick is essential in treating tick paralysis in dogs. If the tick remains attached it can transfer neurotoxins and worsen a dog’s condition, ultimately leading to respiratory paralysis and death.

Removing the tick generally leads to reversal of symptoms and rapid improvement in the dog’s condition.

It’s important to remove all ticks and to routinely recheck your dog’s skin and fur.

Most dogs experiencing tick paralysis need hospitalization for supportive care. This may include:

  • Intravenous fluids

  • Oxygen therapy

  • Anti-nausea medications

  • Warming blankets

  • Other medications

Dogs with severe disease may require intubation for assisted breathing during recovery. Urinary catheters may also be used to help empty their bladders.

Topical tick preventatives, such as Bravecto® or K9 Advantix™, may be applied during hospitalization to kill any ticks that may still be hiding in your dog’s fur.

Recovery and Management of Tick Paralysis in Dogs

Most dogs recover from tick paralysis with prompt treatment. If all ticks are removed, a pup will generally recover within 24 to 72 hours. However, it’s important to reduce stress and anxiety during the recovery period. Give your dog a quiet area to rest, away from other pets.

Unfortunately, some dogs don’t respond well to treatment or have developed severe symptoms, such as breathing difficulty, because of the paralysis. Humane euthanasia may be recommended by your veterinarian in a small percentage of these cases.

Prevention of Tick Paralysis in Dogs

The best form of prevention of tick paralysis in dogs is applying topical or administering oral tick preventatives year-round to your dog. These products effectively prevent and kill ticks that pose a risk to pets.

Regularly examining your dog’s fur and coat for ticks is also important.

Since a tick must be attached for three days before symptoms of tick paralysis develop, prompt removal of any ticks that may have attached to your dog can prevent the condition. To avoid exposure to ticks, dogs should not be allowed to roam in tall grass or wooded areas.

Tick Paralysis in Dogs FAQs

What is the survival rate for dogs with tick paralysis?

The survival rate of dogs with tick paralysis is high if treatment is started early.  

How many days after a tick bite will a dog show symptoms of tick paralysis?

A tick must be attached for at least three days before symptoms develop in dogs.

Is tick paralysis curable?

Tick paralysis in dogs is curable in most cases if your pup is treated promptly. If your dog is not seen by a veterinarian until they have breathing difficulties, the outlook is poor.


Tick Paralysis in Animals - Nervous System - Merck Veterinary Manual

Tick Paralysis in Dogs - Dog Owners - Merck Veterinary Manual

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers...

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