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Tick Paralysis In Dogs – Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Tick Paralysis In Dogs

What Is Tick Paralysis In Dogs?

Tick Paralysis (TP) is a rare, tick-borne, noninfectious, flaccid, ascending paralysis that is found to affect domestic, wild animals, and humans worldwide. This is caused by an immune reaction in dogs that are exposed to a neurotoxin released by salivary glands during a tick bite. Toxin-secreting Ixodidae ticks bite causes tick paralysis when a tick has been fed for several days or more. A single tick bite may also cause paralysis, particularly if it is attached to near the spine or back of the skull.

Almost 43 species of ticks are documented to cause tick paralysis. The most common species associated with tick paralysis in northern America are related Dermacentor species and in other areas the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor Anderson). There are also other ticks such as the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and the black-legged tick ( Ixodes scapularis) that are also most commonly implicated with this disease. In Australia, the scrub tick (Ixodes holocyclus) rules the roost. A female tick (after mating and blood-feeding) only produces a salivary neurotoxin during feeding and induces paralysis.

Tick paralysis pathogenesis is similar to Landry- Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in humans. The differing point is CSF protein levels will not be elevated in cases of tick paralysis. In dogs, legs show symptoms of weakness and spread to the arms and ultimately to the respiratory and bulbar muscles. Limb incoordination or Gait ataxia may be one of the initial signs. When Respiratory muscle weakness is present, it can be found out by diminished forced vital capacity and rapid shallow breathing.

Ixodes species female ticks after 4-7 days of tick attachment, mating, and blood-feeding. The gravid female ticks release the neurotoxin (holocyclotoxin) produced in the tick's salivary glands at the site of attachment. The temperature-dependent activity neurotoxin is a protein and the exact mechanism of the toxin’s action is not yet identified. Some researchers speculate that interference of toxin with presynaptic excitation-secretion coupling or decreased entry of calcium into motor nerve terminals, which causes a decrease in the release of acetylcholine at the motor end-plate.

Meanwhile, the neuro electrophysiologic studies of neurotoxic paralysis in Dermacentor tick paralysis suggest that sodium movement through axonal membranes is obstructed at the Nodes of Ranvier, leaving unhampered neuromuscular transmission.

Symptoms Of Tick Paralysis In Dogs

  • Decreased reflexes and facial muscle strength
  • The hind limbs - Ascending flaccid paralysis begins
  • Facial and laryngeal weakness
  • Impairment in vocal sounds or dysphonia
  • Decrease in muscle mass
  • Partial loss of muscle movements (paresis)/ Complete loss of muscle movement (paralysis)
  • Asphyxia/ labored breathing
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Inability to walk or stand properly/Falling

Treatment Options For Tick Paralysis In Dogs

  • There is no specific cure for tick paralysis however it can be treated to relieve symptoms
  • Treatment protocol involves a course of antibiotics, pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and Supportive care such as IV fluids and iron supplements
  • Tetracycline, doxycycline, fluoroquinolones (i.e., trovafloxacin, enrofloxacin), and chlor­amphenicol
  • Doxycycline is the drug of choice (2–5 mg/pound of body weight/day, PO or IV). Most dogs respond within 12- 24 hours after the first shot of doxycycline
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs and Analgesia may be needed for joint pain
  • Immunosuppressive or anti-inflammatory medications

Home Remedies For Tick Paralysis In Dogs

For preventing nerve conditions from happening in the first place, optimizing your pet’s nervous system must be the top priority

Diet: Wholesome, nutritious diet formulated for the dog’s size and lifestyle

Supplements: Muscle and Nerve supplements

How To Prevent Tick Paralysis In Dogs?

  • The Autumn and spring seasons are when ticks are most active. Persistent tick prevention is recommended in the tick prevalent regions.
  • Several types of tick collars, oral medications, and topical treatments are available; check with your vet and decide what is best for your dog.
  • Tick hotspots are shady and moist areas, shrubs, regions of tall grass, wood piles, and leaf litter. Fight your corner by weeding, mowing, or trimming the bushes near your house, and keeping the lawn manicured is always recommended.
  • For significant tick infestation in your backyard, use garden treatments such as environmental-safe deterrents and tick sprays.
  • Never allow your pet from wandering freely in suspected tick-infested regions such as places with high leaf litter and grassy forested pathways.

Affected Dog Breeds Of Tick Paralysis

There is no breed disposition. However, this is most prevalent in dogs found in North America, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain States, the southeastern U.S., Europe, South Africa, and Australia.

Causes And Diagnosis For Tick Paralysis In Dogs

1. Causes:

Dogs are found in North America, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain States, the southeastern U.S., Europe, South Africa, and Australia.

2. Mortality:

When diagnosed early, tick paralysis has an excellent survival rate of 95% with proper treatment. When the dog develops complications and health deteriorates requiring the need for ventilator support, the survival rate decreases to 50%.

3. Diagnosis:

  • A complete blood count (CBC), chemistry profile
  • Nerve and muscle biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • CT scan and MRI
  • Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG)

4. Differential diagnosis:

5. Prognosis:

Tick paralysis can be very mild to severe. Prognosis is typically good for a complete recovery unless there are other severe health complications such as the presence of pneumonia or cancer.

Even in severely affected dogs, early diagnosis and proper treatment give your pet a full recovery.

When To See A Vet For Tick Paralysis In Dogs?

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  • Decreased reflexes and facial muscle strength
  • The hind limbs - Ascending flaccid paralysis begins
  • Facial and laryngeal weakness
  • Impairment in vocal sounds or dysphonia

Food Suggestions For Tick Paralysis In Dogs

Foods to avoid:

  • Tougher meats/fatty foods/high in fiber
  • crunchy or chewy or greasy, oily, spicy foods
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, etc
  • Roasted nuts and bread products

What to feed:

  • Smaller, more frequent meals of a wholesome, nutritious, high-calorie food
  • Provide easily digestible lean cuts of meat. Beef, pork, fish, and poultry (cooked and drained of excess fat)
  • Vitamins: Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, papaya, strawberries, and pineapple
  • Green vegetables: Cauliflower, cabbage, cantaloupe, Brussel sprouts, spinach, Kale, and silver beets
  • Calcium-rich foods and supplements: green leafy vegetables, broccoli, White beans, salmon, Sardines, etc


If the dog has symptoms, they usually appear within a week or two after being transmitted by an infected tick. Tick paralysis symptoms should be attended immediately, if left untreated, it can be fatal for dogs, so head to your vet immediately.

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