Features July 2013 Issue

Tick Paralysis

5 Things to Do if Your Dog Suddenly Seems Paralyzed (and One More Reason to Hate Ticks)

My friend Chris was awakened by a bump in the night – a noise coming from the living room in the middle of the night. She listened intently for a moment, and, hearing nothing more, fell back asleep. But when she heard a dog’s nails scrabbling wildly on the hardwood floor in her hall a few hours later, she remembered the bump sound and jumped out of bed to investigate.

Indi was quite calm about being carried into the vetís office on a stretcher. She was probably already feeling much better, an hour or more after the tick was removed.

She found her Bloodhound/Border collie-mix, Indi, thrashing on the floor. At first she thought Indi was having a seizure; the dog’s front paws were madly paddling at the slick floor. Then Chris realized that Indi’s back legs weren’t moving at all.

I would have had heart palpitations, but Chris used to work in a veterinarian’s office, and she instantly suspected tick paralysis. As she comforted and calmed the big dog, she ran her hands all over Indi’s body, feeling for an engorged tick. After a few minutes, she found one in Indi’s armpit; it was swollen to the size of a fat sunflower seed. She removed the tick, taking care to get the entire insect (mouthparts and all), and kept searching. Only when she was satisfied that there were no more ticks on Indi’s body, did she get dressed and prepare to take the dog to the emergency vet clinic.

Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin produced by egg-engorged female ticks, who transmit the toxin from their salivary glands to the dog during feeding. The production (and transmission) of the toxin is greatest when the tick has been attached to and feeding from the dog between five and seven days. Five species of North American ticks produce the neurotoxin: the blacklegged tick (a.k.a. the deer tick), American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, the Lone Star tick, and the Gulf Coast tick. Most North American cases occur between April and June, when the ticks are at their peak reproductive activity.

Here are five things to do if your dog suddenly seems paralyzed.

1. Check him immediately for ticks, and remove any you find!

The sooner you remove the tick, the better the dog’s prognosis. The earliest sign of this condition is often a change in the dog’s ability to bark, caused by laryngeal paralysis. He may also have trouble eating, and may gag, drool, cough, or vomit. The back legs are almost always the first to be affected, but as the paralysis spreads, he may lose coordination of all four legs. Death can occur if the paralysis stops the dog’s breathing. However, the moment the tick is removed, the dog will slowly start to improve.

2. Keep the dog cool and calm, and take him to your veterinarian.

If your dog is having trouble breathing, get him to the vet as quickly as possible so oxygen can be administered. Keeping him calm and cool will reduce his need to pant.

3. Don’t give your dog water (or food).

While you do want your dog to stay cool, and you do want him to be well-hydrated, if his larynx is partially paralyzed, he may not be able to swallow properly and can choke. Taking water or food into his lungs due to the incoordination could trigger further health crises.

4. If you don’t find a tick, take him to the vet as soon as possible anyway.

Your vet may be able to find a tick that you could not, but if no ticks are found, further tests will be needed to determine the cause of his condition.

The vet will probably administer intravenous fluids, to help flush the toxin from your dog’s system. No other treatment is generally needed. Most cases of tick paralysis resolve completely within 24 hours of removing the tick, as long as further complications have not developed (from a lack of oxygen or inhaling water, for example).

5. Do anything and everything you can to prevent further tick bites.

If ticks are numerous in your area, make sure your dog is treated with a spot-on tick repellent such as Frontline. According to many anecdotal reports, these preparations are less effective today than they once were – but they are still more effective than nothing, and more effective than any of the homemade sprays made from essential oils that we’ve tried. It may also be wise to avoid trails or areas where ticks are found during the peak season (April to June) for the tick’s production of this toxin.

Indi spent the day receiving fluids under observation at the vet’s office. By the time Chris picked her up in the afternoon, she was able to walk (somewhat woozily) out of the clinic and hop into Chris’ van by herself. By bed time that night, she was completely recovered.

Comments (22)

If you live on the East Coast of Australia, and your dog seems paralysed, it is too late to save it. 'Ixodes holocyclus'
Signs to look for are ANY change at all in the movement of the back legs when walking and a higher pitched bark that is normal for your dog. If you notice these get to the vet as soon as possible. You can check for ticks on the way, but ticks can get in the mouth, up the anus and under the prepuce.

Posted by: Jenny H | September 14, 2016 11:07 PM    Report this comment

We lost two Schipperkes to tick borne diseases. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Lots of Internist interventions to no avail. This led me to extensive research on the topic. Spoke to many medical authorities on the topic. We live on "ground zero" tick infested Nantucket, MA. Many people and animals are infected and having treatment. We have found the most effective Med BRAVECTO. Tested extensively in Europe, recently FDA approved to the US. Most vets don't carry or know about it. Can get on line. I buy from California Pet Pharmacy. Requires Perscription. Hope this helps.

Posted by: Michael Velsmid | September 13, 2016 6:08 AM    Report this comment

I have not used one of those poisonous spot on treatments for years. I found one that is completely natural. It has not poison, so it does not kill- it repels. It has to be put on before the animal is infested. Have not seen any fleas! I also give my dog a brewers yeast tablet. Not sure if it's necessary, but I'm not taking any chances.

Posted by: DiAnPe | September 11, 2016 7:37 PM    Report this comment

I use 1/2 dose of Nexgard chewables for just a few months, because I believe we overmedicate our animals just like we do ourselves. I had an older dog who had siezures as a result of the nasty topical stuff and over-vaccination and I probably lost her too soon...and her vet whas supposedly holistic! I also add diatamacious earth to my dogs' wet food....they walk in the woods daily and I have found very few ticks this year, even though folks say they were bad this year. Also, Please do not use the I swear by D-earth as a parasite preventative and general good stuff for people (get food grade for animals and yourself) , gardens, surrounding my home with the powder, and my pets. Great stuff, completely non-toxic...it's shell flour! I will check out the tags. Looks like Amazon has them, and that's a deal for 4 years!

Posted by: Anyaa | September 11, 2016 12:30 PM    Report this comment

How much is FRONTLINE paying you all for their lies on their POISON, Would never use that poison on my babies.

Posted by: sandi13 | September 11, 2016 12:11 PM    Report this comment

I have used a Pet Protector Disc on my 2 cockers since 5/7/16. I live in Mass. It took 38 days to become fully effective, but I have found no ticks since 6/14/16. I used cedar oil sprays in the meantime. The P P Disc repels ticks, fleas and mosquitoes - I have not used any chemical spot ons or Heartguard since March 2016. The Disc lasts for 4 years. I am so pleased with the product, I have become a representative of the company. The only way you can purchase the Disc is thru an Independent Pet Protector Distributor.

Posted by: abbysmom | September 11, 2016 9:48 AM    Report this comment

I would highly recommend a new product. The founder, Stephanie Boone, created it after her dog experienced devastating side effects, including organ failure. This happened after her vet prescribed using the 'usual' flea & tick control chemicals. This wonderful product is called Wondercide and is pets, people & property safe! Thank you Stephanie!

Posted by: Zen dog | September 11, 2016 9:44 AM    Report this comment

We feed a species appropriate raw diet and have never needed flea/tick repellents; we do however have mosquitoes and I use an all natural geranium spray on our dogs just a spritz down their spine and keeps the mosquitoes away. But for flea/tick issues, if needed I would recommend checking out Mercola's article on healthy pets flea-and-tick-control.

Posted by: k9baron | April 2, 2015 11:31 PM    Report this comment

I am surprised you would recommend a chemical preventative that can cause severe side effects when you promote feeding a species appropriate raw diet and not over vaccinating. Chemical flea/tick preventatives as well as wormers have severe side effects and I would never use any of them on my dogs. There are natural repellents out there that work and those are the ones you should be promoting.

Posted by: k9baron | April 2, 2015 11:22 PM    Report this comment

Very surprised you would recommend Frontline. As it doesn't even repel ticks and my experience in the past was that it didn't even kill ticks. You should be discussing natural preventatives, such as sprays, tags, DE, etc.

Posted by: 376NYC | April 2, 2015 1:00 PM    Report this comment

I would like to know what you recommend for ticks and what are tags?

Posted by: JaonM | April 2, 2015 8:29 AM    Report this comment

I think you should also talk about polyradiculoneuritis which also causes paralysis.

Posted by: Garcons mommie | June 23, 2014 1:05 AM    Report this comment

I found a tick on my small Chihuahua who is only 2 kilos in weight,I removed the tick and then rang my vets as I thought my dogs (6) all together were protected by me using advocate monthly only to be told that even through it covered flees and lots of other worms ext it did not cover ticks.I was not very happy as I thought my dogs were covered.I was told the best and the cheapest way was to buy them all a collar that they could wear during the tick season.each collar was pound32 each x by 6.My Chihuahua Molly who had the tick developed a large red lumb in her neck not long after I had removed the tick,she is now on drops to stop the infection.I would advice all pet owners to be sure their pets are cover against ticks.Molly only had one tick on her and because of her size it made her ill if she would have had a lot then she could have been very badly effected and I thought I had protected my dogs.make sure you know what your pets are protected from.Now. all 6 dogs are wearing their collars and hopefully won't be picking up any more unwanted guest.

Posted by: Chihuahua | June 21, 2014 6:47 PM    Report this comment

I have a long haired minature weenie dog. She become paralized in the middle of the night. Looked for ticks thier isnt any. What else can make them go paralized only in the back legs. Her breathing is normal and eye sight fine. Just her legs aint movin. Her tail is waggin still. Plz respond asp.

Posted by: ashleysavant83@gmail.com | May 7, 2014 10:39 AM    Report this comment

Thanks alot for sharing this story with your readers!And the tips discussed are very helpful.

Posted by: rogerharris | July 4, 2013 1:38 AM    Report this comment

We use Simply Fresh (eco-dog-care), in combo with topical agents because the blend of essential oils repels pests. The fewer pests like fleas and ticks that get on our dogs, the less risk of a bite and disease. We've found that no one thing works, it's a combination of repelling pests, diligently checking for them after being outside, and using a topical or oral Rx to kill those that attach.

Posted by: ecodog | July 1, 2013 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I'm located in Laredo, TX and we have a severe tick problem. Advantix does seem to work for most part but you must continue to spray yeard frequently. I have those plug in devices to deter bugs all around house. More of gimmick in my opinion. I deperately need something. I spray dish soap concentrated mixed with rubbing acohol on bushes to mix things up a bit. Ticks dont like liquid dawn so I say what the heck and spray. Use one them garden sprayers attached to hose.

Those chemicals in lowes and home depot etc dont work. Havent tried granules any suggestions

Posted by: bloatedmoose | June 20, 2013 7:25 AM    Report this comment

I would really appreciate input on what is the safest, least side effect prone of the topicals that address ticks. I have 3 Podencos and we are having a bad year here in the south for ticks. I have tried Frontline spray I my white Ibizan, which triggered itching and irritation leaving me giving her an oatmeal bath. I have used Revolution without problem on my Chinese Cresteds, but never on the larger dogs. Thoughts on Advantix?

As far as the tags are concerned I had a customer using them on her 6 small dogs all on a high quality raw diet. At grooming we found a few fleas on the dogs. I really don't want ticks coming indoors on my dogs as I prefer not to be tick bitten and exposed to tick borne diseases.

Posted by: CasaPodenco | June 19, 2013 4:43 PM    Report this comment

there is a home remedy - I haven't tried it as of yet. But I don't recommend Frontline - used to use it and since it has become cheaper it also has become less effective. Our dog was still getting ticks daily - the vet gave us a sample of Vectra and that has worked. It wasn't too bad - although our Mastiff requires 2 doses of it due to her weight.

Posted by: Maggiemae | June 19, 2013 3:47 PM    Report this comment

My dog has been using the tags for a couple of years. Some seem to work better than others. The only time we've had a problem with bug bites is when she mistakenly laid on some kind of underground nest. I check her regularly, and overall, we've come out bug free from woodland hikes. With the tags, vigilance is still necessary. But it's a great alternative for us since she suffers neurologic side effects from transdermic flea/tick medications.

Posted by: Runs With Pup | June 18, 2013 1:57 PM    Report this comment

I don't know about the effectiveness of the tags (I assume you are referring to those that work via the electromagnetic scalar waves and all), but my dog has been wearing one for about a year. My dog and I recently stayed at my grandmother's and Grandma has a tick infestation in one of the rooms in the house (yikes), and it so happen that that's the room we stayed in. My dog had a few ticks crawling onto her, but I must say to a greater extent, the tag was working because while ticks landed on her (I caught about 20 ticks on my dog in all), 90% of the ticks did not bite her. They were just nestled there, no bites, no wounds, I could just pick them out and when I popped them on a piece of tissue paper, there was no blood.

Posted by: Victoria K | June 18, 2013 12:17 PM    Report this comment

Any thoughts on these new tags that are supposed to repel fleas, ticks and mosquitos? They are pretty expensive, but I would rather pay the money for the tags, if they work, than pay the costs of an emergency veterinary visit for paralysis.

Posted by: PetesMom | June 17, 2013 10:08 PM    Report this comment

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