Ticks have the tendency to cause a variety of tick related diseases. In my previous posts, I have discussed the seven most common diseases which are transmitted by these bloodsuckers. I have also discussed prevention strategies for ticks so you can keep your dog and home tick free, In this blog post I will discuss tick bite paralysis in dogs.
Tick bites can cause paralysis in dogs. Tick bite paralysis is caused by a potent neurotoxin released by ticks in their saliva which they inject into the blood of your dog during the feeding process. This neurotoxin induced saliva is mostly produced by certain female tick species. This toxin has a tendency to immediately affect your dog’s nervous system causing the manifestation of a variety of neurological signs and symptoms.
The toxins released in the tick’s saliva majorly leads to paralysis of the lower motor neurons. This leads to the loss of any kind of voluntary movement in the back limbs of the dogs. The neurotoxin severs the connection between the spinal cord and the nerves of the hind legs. Thus, the muscles mostly stay in a state of relaxation.
Causes behind tick paralysis
There have been 850 different species of tick and for around the world. However, only 40 of these can actually cause paralysis in dogs. Despite of this, the part of our pup’s suffering is frightening. According to the American Lyme disease Association, there are four species of ticks in the US alone which can cause tick paralysis:
- the deer tick
- the American dog tick
- the Lone Star tick
- the Rocky Mountain wood tick
Even though dogs are mostly affected by tick paralysis, unfortunately tick paralysis can also be transmitted to mammals like cats and humans. Children are especially vulnerable to tick paralysis, does one need to be very careful and focus on tick preventive measures.
Lots of ticks are not needed for the disease to manifest on your dog. Even though there might be multiple number of ticks present on your dog who is showing signs of tick paralysis. However, only one tick is enough to cause manifestation of the signs and symptoms. Furthermore, there is a chance that not all dogs will develop the signs and symptoms of tick paralysis.
Diagnosis of tick paralysis
The symptoms of tick paralysis in dogs generally starts to appear with 6-9 days post tick attachment to the dog’s skin. The tick issue is generally seasonal. There is an increase in tick bite frequency during the summer months in certain regions of the US. In other places like southern and northern Australia, specifically those places where the temperatures stay warm consistently may have tick infestation going on throughout the year.
Diagnosis can be fairly easy and be made by the dog Guardian the dog begins to show the classic symptoms of tic paralysis along with the Guardian finding an actual tick on the dock. If you observe that the dog is starting to have progressive lameness and weakness in the back legs, specifically a few hours after a hike in a wooded region or bushy area, consult your vet immediately and take your dog to him or her for prompt treatment.
The symptoms of tick paralysis in dogs
The symptoms of tick paralysis is usually gradual. Your dog must have visited a wooded region or is living in a region which has a high tick population. The symptoms are generally gradual in nature and include the following:
- Partial loss of the muscle movement (paresis)
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increase in the rhythm and the heart rate (tachyarrthmias)
- Hind limb weakness
- Complete loss of any kind of muscle movement (paralysis). This symptom is most commonly observed during the advanced stages of the disease.
- Reduced reflex action to a complete loss of reflexes.
- Reduction in the muscle tone
- Having a hard time eating
- Changes in the dog’s voice (dysphonia)
- Asphyxiation (paralysis of the respiratory muscles). This is another symptom of the severe disease.
- Excessively drooling
- Enlargement of the esophagus (megasophagus)
- Major dilation of the pupil of the eye (mydriasis).
Your vet will enquire about your pup’s prior medical history, when the symptoms started and what may have been the incident which led to the tick infection in the first place. He or she may enquire about any recent hikes or visits you may have made with your pup to any wooded or bushy region, especially in the last few days or weeks.
Following this, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your pup and have a very close look at our dog’s skin to identify the presence of any ticks or tick bite marks. If tick are observed to be prevalent on the skin, your vet will dislodge the tick and send it to the lab to get examined and for species identification. He or she will also schedule a full blood work up for your pup for a biochemical , urine and complete blood count analysis. In case there are no other diseases your pup is suffering from, these blood tests are most likely to come back as normal.
If your dog is also suffering from paralysis of the respiratory muscle, the blood gases will have to be calculated to examine and determine the level of the respiratory compromise your pup is suffering from. In case your pup is suffering from the respiratory muscle paralysis, he or he will have low levels of oxygen and a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood. This is because, due to the paralysis, your pup is not able to take in enough oxygen and release the carbon dioxide. Your vet may conduct a chest radiograph to understand if the esophagus has enlarged in your dog’s extra attempt at taking a proper breath.
The primary part if the diagnosis is the identification of the tick species which has infested your pup. Once the tick is identified, the right kind of antibiotics and supportive care can be provided to your pup.
How to know if my dog is at the risk of tick paralysis are not?
The risk factors of tic paralysis do not depend as much on the breed as much as they depend on the activities you do with your dog and the surrounding environment. Most cases of tick paralysis have been observed to occur between months of April and June during which the tics generally come out of hibernation and are looking for food. If you live in the regions of the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest or the southeastern US, your dog might be at a higher risk of tick paralysis. Always check your dog for ticks after a hike, especially if you have been to a wooded region.
The easiest way to manage and prevent tick paralysis in your pup is to keep him or her on a strict deworming schedule and routine tick prevention. Have a discussion with your vert regarding the options. There are many over-the-counter medications available for preventing tick related diseases. However, your vet would be able to recommend the best one to you.
Treatment of tick paralysis in dogs:
If your dog is suffering from a severe tick bite paralysis, he or she will have to be hospitalized and kept under observation for a few days for nursing support and intensive care. Respiratory paralysis is vey dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. Your dog may also have to be put on oxygen to help him or her breathe properly.
Identification of the tick will also enable your veterinarian to understand the kind of neurotoxin your pup may have been injected with. Even if your vet does not find any tick on the surface of your dog, the tick might be hiding inside the fur, not visible to the naked eye. He or she may need to shave your pup to expose the tick, Alternatively, a medicinal bath may kill the tick and reveal the organism. In certain cases, only the moral of the tick is required. Post removal, the dog automatically starts to show signs of recovery in a few hours. However, if your dog is suffering from respiratory paralysis, oxygen supplementation will be needed as well as some other artificial manipulation might also be required to help with bleeding till the recovery process kicks in.
In case your dog is suffering from dehydration, the vet will administer intravenous fluids along with other medications and antibiotics which will work to counter the effects of the neurotoxins on your dog’s nervous system. Some muscle relaxants may be given to relax the muscles so that the dog can start to breathe easily and on his or her own.
Management and recovery from tick paralysis:
To allow your dog to have the best recovery process, keep your dog in a place which has a cool and quiet environment. The neurotoxins delivered by ticks are generally temperature sensitive. You should also avoid any kind of physical activity with your dog in physical activity would lead to an increase in body temperature. Encourage your dog to just stay quiet and relax as much as possible the recovery process is complete.
Sometimes the dog may suffer from other problems like loss of appetite, inability to ingesting food as well as vomiting. In such conditions, do not offer food for your dog unless the symptoms have been managed. Your veterinarian will let you know the kind of food supplement that your dog would need during the recovery, and the method which should be used to feed your pup. He may advise you to use a syringe or tube for feeding, due to the effect on the neck muscles by the tick’s neurotoxin.
An excellent home care is very important for a complete and prompt recovery of your dog. In case your dog is hospitalized, your vet will conduct a regular neurological assessment to identify the recovery process. As I have mentioned before, the entire prognosis mainly depends on the identification of the tick species which had infested your dog in the first place. However, as it is the case with any kind of illness, your dog’s recovery will be dependent on his or her health condition as well as the age and state of the immune system. In certain cases, it becomes hard to save the pup especially in case of respiratory paralysis despite of the best treatment available. That is why you should always be cautious and take as many preventive measures as possible to keep your dog safe and away from any kind of tick bite.
Some final thoughts:
to prevent any future cases of tic paralysis, keep your dog on tick preventive medication order around depending on the climate and the state your living in. Check your pup for ticks after every walk especially if you are going to regions where there are bushes or a particular climate. If you have a yard where your dog plays, spray the right kind of insecticides to keep ticks away. Deep clean your house every once in a while and use tick repellent to keep your house safe from ticks. Check out this blog post (Coming soon here) to know about 32 available tick home remedies and preventive measures. Since ticks can affect both dogs and humans there is a major need to use preventive dog care measures so your pup can be safe, healthy and happy.