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Tick Paralysis In Dogs

Ticks are common blood-sucking arachnids (with eight legs) that can be as small as a pin’s head. There are some 900 different types of ticks in the world and over 90 of them can be found in the United States.

Five of the more common ticks that can seriously threaten your dog’s health are American dog tick, lone star tick, black-legged (deer) tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and brown dog tick. Of these, the first four are often found to be the cause of tick paralysis in dogs.

Sometimes called tick-bite paralysis, tick paralysis in dogs are extremely life-threatening. (Tick paralysis in cats are highly uncommon in the US.) They are caused by the release of a potent toxin produced in the salivary gland of female ticks, which occurs when they are attached and feeding on a dog. The toxin is injected directly into the dog’s bloodstream, attacking its nervous system.

When a dog is affected by tick paralysis, its hind legs (or lower extremities) are generally the first body part to be paralyzed, gradually spreading up towards the front legs. Tick paralysis becomes fatal when it involves the diaphragm as it will cause respiratory arrest.

You do not need to be fighting a tick infestation for your dog to face tick paralysis—all it takes is one bite from one tick. At the same time, not all animals will develop tick paralysis.

Tick paralysis symptoms

As ticks tend to slow down in activity in cooler temperatures, tick paralysis is usually more prevalent from spring to early fall. Typically, your dog will show signs and symptoms between 5 to 7 days after a tick has attached itself to your pet’s skin.

If you live in an area that is known to have ticks or have recently visited a wooded area with your dog, be on the lookout for the following symptoms, which may present themselves gradually:

  • Vomiting
  • Appearing weak or unsteady (caused by increasing paralysis in the hind legs)
  • Unable to jump or constantly wanting to sit down
  • Fast heart rate
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or breathing
  • Partial or complete inability to move
  • Poor reflexes
  • Change in voice
  • Excessive drooling

In extreme cases, dogs can suffocate as their respiratory muscles are paralyzed.

Tick paralysis usually only occurs and continues for as long as the offending tick is attached to your dog. Symptoms tend to diminish once the tick is removed. Unfortunately, there have been instances where serious paralysis—and even death—happens before owners are aware their pet has been bitten by a tick.

Other types of disease ticks spread

It is important to remember that ticks don’t just cause tick paralysis in dogs. They are also the source of other very serious—and sometimes deadly—diseases. These include:

  • Lyme disease: one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in dogs. It often causes lameness and sometimes, kidney failure.
  • Ehrlichia: at its least serious stage, it can cause fever. At its worst, dogs can develop neurological and eye disorders, and even die.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: infected dogs can suffer from joint, muscle, or abdominal pains, diarrhea, and depression.
  • Anaplasmosis: similar to Lyme disease in that it can cause lameness, joint pain, and fever
  • Tularemia: a bacterial infection that causes fever, dehydration, and even ulcers on the tongue.
  • Babesia: if left undetected, can lead to jaundice and anemia.

Where to find ticks

Ticks are most commonly found hiding in grass, trees, shrubs, and underbrush. There is an increased amount of activity usually from April through to September. This coincides with when most people spend more time outdoors, so it is important to watch out for tick paralysis in your dog during that time.

Treating tick paralysis in dogs

Bring your dog to the veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog is suffering from tick paralysis. Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical examination of your dog to try to locate the tick or ticks that are causing the problem. The tick will need to be carefully removed and examined, to determine if any specific or further treatment is necessary.

In serious cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized, particularly if there is any hint of respiratory failure. In this instance, your dog will need oxygen support, which may come in the form of a nasal catheter or in an oxygen tank.

You can also try to find the tick yourself and remove it with a special tick removal tool or a pair of tweezers. When removing a tick from your dog, be sure to grab it as close as you can to your dog’s skin. Pull straight up and away from the skin, making sure not to twist.

Inspect the skin where it has been bitten to make sure no part of the tick, such as its head or parts of its mouth, are still lodged within your dog. Clean the area with soap and water. Ensure you have killed the removed tick and keep the carcass in a sealed container to show the veterinarian.

Even if you have successfully removed and killed the tick, it is still advisable to make an appointment to see your veterinarian to ensure your dog is not at risk of other infections or requiring further treatment.

Tick and flea medications and preventatives

Many tick preventative medications in the market also kill and repel fleas, which make it extremely easy to protect your pet from both types of pests. These should be used all-year-round, not only to prevent your dog from succumbing to tick-borne diseases but also to avoid the various pet health problems fleas can cause.

Typically, there are three different types of tick treatment options available: oral and topical treatments, and collars. Deciding which treatment to use will depend on your individual circumstances and preference.

Oral tick treatments

Bravecto is popular flea and tick treatment and comes in both chewable form and as a topical spot-on. Bravecto chews control 4 different types of ticks: American dog tick, lone star tick, black-legged (deer) tick, and brown dog tick, and will start killing fleas within 2 hours of consumption. Unlike most other flea and tick treatment which needs to be used monthly, Bravecto offers up to 12 weeks of protection (8 weeks for lone star tick). They can be used on puppies from 6 months of age and weighing 4.4 pounds or more.

Another popular chewable is Nexgard, which treats and controls a number of tick species, including American dog tick, lone star tick, and black-legged (deer) tick. Nexgard is effective for up to 30 days and also kills fleas, eggs, and larvae. It can be used on puppies as young as eight weeks and weighing over 4 pounds.

If you are particularly concerned about the different types of ticks your dog is exposed to, you may want to consider using Simparica. Simparica for dogs treats and control a number of species of ticks, including American dog tick, lone star tick, black-legged (deer) tick, brown dog tick, and Gulf Coast tick. A once-a-month treatment like Nexgard, Simparica begins to kill fleas in your dog within 3 hours. Simparica can be given to dogs over 6 months of age and with a minimum body weight of 2.8 pounds.

Topical or spot-on treatments

Much like Bravecto chews, the 12-weekly Bravecto topical also controls American dog tick, lone star tick (8 weeks of protection only), black-legged (deer) tick, and brown dog tick, and will start killing fleas within 2 hours.

Frontline Plus is another highly effective tick and flea treatment. It is used to protect your dog against all stages of the American dog tick, lone star tick,black-legged (deer) tick, and brown dog tick. Designed to be used every 30-days on puppies 8 weeks of age or older, Frontline Plus also protects them from fleas and kills and repels mosquitoes.

Topical treatments require a little more attention when it comes to its application, but can be highly advantageous especially if your dog refuses to swallow or chew tablets.


Collars are extremely useful especially during the summer months when both flea and tick activities are at their highest. The Seresto flea collar offers long-lasting flea and tick protection (up to 8 months) and prevents tick infestations within 48 hours of wearing. To use, put it around your dog’s neck as you would a pet collar, with just enough room to fit two fingers under the collar (the collar needs to make contact with your pet’s skin to be effective).

How to prevent tick paralysis in dogs

Summer is when tick activity is at its peak, which means you will need to be extra vigilant as soon as the weather starts to warm up. It can be helpful to keep your yard well-maintained to discourage ticks from taking up residence. A sunny garden can also help kill and prevent any flea infestations.

Besides making sure you regularly give your dog tick prevention treatment, there are some regular checks that you can conduct yourself to ensure your dog’s health is at optimal condition. You should also habitually do a visual and tactile inspection on your pet to ensure there aren’t any ticks lurking in their fur, especially after walks or hikes in heavily wooded or infested areas.

Tick Paralysis In Dogs

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