Carroll County Animal Hospital

Tick Paralysis

“Carmen”, a 5 year old female spayed Cocker Spaniel, presented to Carroll County Animal Hospital for clinical signs of wobbling and lethargy of 2 days duration. She had a normal appetite and was drinking a normal amount of water daily. “Carmen” had no problems urinating or defecating and no vomiting or diarrhea was noted at home.

A physical examination was performed and “Carmen” was found to be bright and alert with a normal body temperature. Both of her rear legs were found to be unsteady and weak, also known as ataxia. A neurologic examination was then performed. This revealed that “Carmen” had no conscious knowledge of where both rear limbs were and no patellar reflex was apparent in either leg. Several fleas and ticks were noted hidden below the haircoat on her skin.

“Carmen” had nervous system abnormalities that prohibited her from being able to stand and walk normally. The fact that her rear legs were weak, and she was not able to correct her positioning of her rear legs indicated that the neurologic pathways from her brain were disrupted. Also, the fact that Carmen had no patellar reflexes bilateral indicated a certain type of neurologic disease. Since “Carmen” spends a good deal of time outdoors and since she had a significant amount of ectoparasites including ticks, the diagnosis of Tick Paralysis was made.

Tick Paralysis is a condition that results in paralysis of dogs and cats due to the salivary neurotoxins found in certain species of female ticks. Once the infected ticks invade a dog, they release toxins into your pet that interferes with the release of certain nerve transmitters from the nerve terminals. Therefore, the neuromuscular junction is affected and paralysis occurs. Clinical signs do not occur until 4-6 days after attachment. The clinical signs of tick paralysis range from gradual unsteadiness and weakness to the pet becoming recumbent, or unable to stand. If left untreated, the condition will progressively get worse until the animal is no longer able to breath and they can die due to paralysis of the diaphragm.

There are several species of ticks that can result in tick paralysis and they are found in the United States. These ticks are more prevalent in the warmer months but can be a year round issue in the southern states. Treatment is aimed at supportive care with oxygen therapy if needed and tick removal. Only removal of the inciting tick will alleviate the symptoms.

Carmen” was immediately given a flea and tick dip in which several ticks were removed in the process. She was hospitalized and closely monitored. Within one day “Carmen” began to show improvement and has now regained full use of her rear limbs. She is a happy dog and is completely back to normal today.

In order to prevent Tick Paralysis in your pet please vigilantly check your dog or cat for ticks after exposure in the woods or forests. You may also use insecticidal baths, topical treatments, or insecticide impregnated collars.

Any further questions about this disease or other inquiries can be directed to: Dr. Jason Harden at 770-832-2475.