Dog Health

Can a Tick Really Paralyze My Dog?

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Everything you need to know about tick paralysis

Tick paralysis is a real thing, and it’s more serious than you think. Just one tick releases enough toxic saliva to paralyze a dog, according to Merck.

Here’s our guide to tick paralysis, how it’s contracted, diagnosed and treated, and how you can prevent it.

The culprits:


The Rocky Mountain wood tick (D andersoni) and the American dog tick (D variabilis) are the most common source of tick paralysis. The female of the species attaches, usually to the neck or head area of a dog, and introduces a nerve toxin through its saliva.

The disease timeline:

Stage 1: voice changes

Within five to nine days after tick attachment, you may start to notice changes in your dog. Sometimes obvious only in retrospect, one of the first signs is that your dog’s voice has changed. As the toxin takes hold, her esophagus swells, causing a strained bark. Your dog may also act weak, but can still walk and stand.

Stage 2: trouble walking

Over the next 24 to 48 hours, stages 2 to 4 progress rapidly. During stage 2, your dog can still stand, but loses the ability to walk.

Stage 3: trouble standing

Soon the dog will lose the ability to stand, but can still sit upright. According to Merck, if the disease makes it to stages 3 or 4, the prognosis is poor.

Stage 4: trouble staying upright

By stage 4, your dog won’t be able to right herself. Death occurs in 10% of cases, and can happen as early as one day after symptoms begin. 5% of cases resist treatment completely.

The symptoms:

As an infected dog’s windpipe becomes paralyzed and enlarges, she may breathe heavily, choke, and vomit. Due to poor breathing, she may become fatigued. Other symptoms include increased heart rate, partial or complete loss of muscle movement, difficulty eating, a different-sounding voice, dilated pupils and excessive drooling.

The treatment:

First, scour your dog for ticks. Removing the tick is the beginning of recovery. This usually results in improvement within 24 hours. Most ticks (80%) are located around her head or neck.

Other treatment can and should be administered by a vet, including TAS, an immune serum against the toxin.

Prevention:

Advantix II, Bio Spot, Fiproguard, and Frontline Plus have all been shown to kill adult ticks with monthly application. Each of these topical treatments has a different profile. Use this chart to figure out which is right for your pet:

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