Tick paralysis is an increasingly progressive motor paralysis caused by a tick saliva toxin that affects the nervous system. Certain tick species are known to cause tick paralysis. Transmitted by 43 tick species and common since 1912, Tick Paralysis typically occurs in the same regions of Australia and North America during predictable spring-summer tick breeding seasons.
In the end, they are all capable of potentially transmitting tick-borne diseases. The most common tick-borne diseases affecting dogs are Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain fever, and Lyme disease. While all ticks have the ability to spread diseases, the best part is that most tick bites are usually disease-free. However, it never hurts to be extra vigilant and check the dog upon returning from a walk in areas where ticks are usually found, particularly if the dog is already on a tick preventative.
Symptoms typically develop after a female tick is attached to the skin but has been fed for 5-7 days. Symptoms may include:
- prickling and lack of sensibility in the limbs and face
- restlessness or muscle pains
Over a few hours or days, this can progress to unsteady equilibrium and then complete paralysis (affecting the entire body) beginning from the legs and progressing upwards, or partial paralysis (affecting only one part of the body, e.g. the arm or leg). Other features include double vision and trouble swallowing and communicating.
Unlike tick-borne diseases-such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain fever- that are triggered by pathogen infections, tick paralysis is caused by the transmission of neurotoxins secreted by the salivary glands of pregnant (egg-laden) female ticks during feeding.
Breathing problems can lead to respiratory failure. When this occurs, the organs of the body do not have enough oxygen to function properly.
Treatment and diagnosis
Due to the failure of laboratory testing to diagnose tick paralysis, the diagnosis is based on symptoms and the rapid recovery of the dog until the engorged tick is removed.
Treatment requires simply removing the tick(s) that feeds. It is necessary to remove all mouth parts because they contain salivary glands that can continue to infect the patient even after the tick body has been removed.
If your dog or cat lives in or visits places where paralysis ticks can be present, you should check them regularly, at least once a day. Clipping your dog or cat’s coat short, particularly during the tick season, makes it much easier to conduct tick searches.
It may be helpful to use a product to help prevent tick attachment but note that no product is 100% successful in preventing tick attachment and causing paralysis so daily tick searches are important to avoid tick paralysis. Products that can help include spot-on items, baths, rinses and collars. It is crucial to use tick prevention products exactly as directed by your veterinarian and, most importantly, do not use any products intended for other pets on dogs, as these can be highly harmful for their skin.
How do I search my pet?
- Search dogs diligently at least once a day. Use your hands to feel through the hair. Ticks or tick craters may be felt like lumps on the surface of the skin.
- Most ticks are particularly found on the on the face, neck, ears and front legs. However, remember to search every possible area.
- Start searching from your dog’s nose and slowly inspect the forehead, ears (pinna/ outer and inner surface of the ear flap) and face. Also, check the eyes and lips and the skin around the eyes and lips. Carefully observe all skin folds.
- Remove any collars and thoroughly check the region of the neck, including the skin folds of the neck.
- Continue looking the shoulder section, and then down the shoulders to the front legs. Remember to search between each toe and under the surface of the front legs. Check under the “armpits” as well.
- Examine the area of the chest, along the back, the arms, the abdomen, the inguinal (groin) area, around the tail and anus and the thighs, the back legs, between the back legs and the legs (including the underside)