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Tick Bite Paralysis in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Tick bite paralysis is an uncommon illness in dogs. The condition occurs after a tick bites and attaches to a dog, begins to engorge with blood and finally secretes a toxin. This toxin, which is not fully understood, blocks the nerve function to the muscles resulting in profound weakness. So far, the toxin has been associated with female ticks in the eastern wood tick family, western mountain tick family and Australian tick family.

What to Watch For

  • Weakness, often progressive as the tick feeds
  • Paralysis or inability to walk
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Death, if the condition is left untreated

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosing tick bite paralysis can be difficult. Since the toxin is not fully understood, there is no specific test to diagnosis tick bite paralysis definitively. Since there are several diseases that can result in severe weakness and paralysis, muscle electrical activity may be necessary to tell tick bite paralysis from botulism or other nerve diseases. A thorough physical and external exam, specifically looking for engorged ticks, can help diagnose tick bite paralysis.

    Treatment

    The treatment for tick bite paralysis is removal of the tick. After the tick is properly removed, recovery is usually rapid and complete. Frequently, full recovery is achieved within 24 to 72 hours. Some dogs may require hospitalization with intravenous fluid support if the muscle weakness is severe. Few dogs with advanced tick bite paralysis may even need respiratory assistance, as with a ventilator, if the breathing muscles are significantly involved.

    Home Care and Prevention

    If your dog is severely weak, veterinary care is recommended. If symptoms are mild and engorged ticks are found, removal of these ticks usually results in recovery. If your dog does not recovery rapidly, veterinary attention is strongly encouraged.

    The best way to prevent tick bite paralysis is to examine your dog frequently for ticks and remove them. Tick bite paralysis occurs after the tick has been feeding on the dog for a period of time so prompt removal of all ticks can prevent this disease.

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