Paralysis Tick - Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Paralysis ticks are among the most dangerous parasites that can affect your pet and tick bite paralysis in dogs can be fatal. It’s important to know the risks and how to protect your dog.

What does a paralysis tick look like? 

Paralysis ticks vary in size depending on how much blood they have consumed from their host. The eastern paralysis tick is the cause of most cases of tick paralysis in Australia. The eastern paralysis tick’s first and last pairs of legs are darker in colour (brown) compared to the middle two pairs of legs (beige). Identifying the species of a tick can be difficult, so it’s best to contact your veterinary clinic for advice. 

Paralysis Tick
Paralysis Tick

Eastern paralysis tick 

What causes tick paralysis? 

Tick paralysis is almost exclusively associated with the feeding of adult female paralysis ticks, however rarely it may also be caused by juvenile ticks. As it feeds on blood, the tick secretes numerous toxins. One of them is a potent neurotoxin that can cause paralysis of the body and respiratory muscles and affect the ability to swallow correctly. 

What is the life cycle of a paralysis tick?

The paralysis tick life cycle has four stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult. It is the feeding adult female ticks that are primarily responsible for tick paralysis. Adult ticks are found in greatest abundance in spring and early summer. Therefore this is the highest risk period for tick paralysis. However, it is incorrect to speak of an absolute ‘tick season’, as adult ticks may be found throughout the year, and juvenile forms may also rarely cause paralysis. 

Where are paralysis ticks found in Australia?

Two species of paralysis ticks can infest dogs in Australia:

  • The eastern paralysis tick is the primary cause of tick paralysis. It is found along the east coast from North Queensland to Victoria.
  • The southern paralysis tick is found in Tasmania, southern Victoria and south-east New South Wales.
Paralysis tick symptoms in dogs
Paralysis tick symptoms in dogs

Paralysis tick symptoms In dogs 

Your dog may display one or more of the following symptoms of tick paralysis, in any order: 

 

  • Loss of coordination in the back legs (wobbliness), which may progress to include the front legs. This is more pronounced when climbing stairs, jumping up or down, and moving in a figure of eight
  • Difficulty standing
  • Difficulty sitting
  • Unable to move or rise from a lying position
  • Laboured or rapid breathing, grunting noises and/or abdominal heaving
  • Change or loss of bark 
  • Coughing
  • Gagging and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to blink in one or both eyes

 

If you notice any symptoms of tick paralysis in your dog, it is important to seek veterinary attention immediately.

Paralysis tick engorged
Paralysis tick engorged

 

Engorged paralysis tick attached to a host

 

Paralysis tick symptoms after removal 

If you find a tick and no symptoms of tick paralysis are observed, it is still recommended to consult your veterinarian as symptoms of tick paralysis can develop even after the tick has been removed. 

How is tick paralysis diagnosed? 

Tick paralysis is diagnosed when a dog develops typical symptoms and a paralysis tick or a tick crater (scabby, circular skin lesion where a tick was previously attached) is found. It can sometimes be difficult to confirm a case of tick paralysis because ticks can be challenging to find. If you see any potential symptoms of tick paralysis develop, contact your veterinarian and take your pet to the clinic as soon as possible. 

Paralysis tick treatment for dogs 

Tick paralysis treatment in dogs varies depending on the severity of the condition. Your veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate treatment. A tick antitoxin serum is available to neutralise the effects of the toxin. Dogs typically need to be hospitalised for supportive care while they recover from the effects of the toxin. In very severe cases, dogs may need to be put on a ventilator to help them breathe while they recover. 

Paralysis tick recovery time for dogs 

The severity and duration of tick paralysis varies. Some dogs will require intensive care in a veterinary hospital for several days or even weeks. Regardless of the severity, it is vital to rest your pet and restrict physical activity for 2–3 weeks after returning from the hospital. Tick paralysis can continue to affect the heart muscle and the oesophagus for weeks after treatment, which can be life-threatening if stress levels are not well managed.

Paralysis tick dog survival rate 

With appropriate treatment, most dogs will recover from tick paralysis. The level of care required to treat tick paralysis can cost thousands of dollars, and some dogs will sadly die despite the best veterinary care. It pays to be proactive and use an effective tick treatment for dogs all year round. 

Paralysis tick prevention for dogs 

Tips for paralysis tick prevention in dogs include:

 

  1. Use an effective tick control product year-round. NexGard® for Dogs and NexGard SPECTRA® for Dogs effectively control pre-existing paralysis ticks within 24 hours and provide protection for a full month against paralysis ticks, brown dog ticks and bush ticks. 
  2. Daily searching and removal of ticks. Although tick control products will control most of the ticks that your pet may be exposed to, it only takes one tick to cause tick paralysis. For this reason, it is essential to also perform daily tick searches on your pet if you live in, or you and your pet are visiting, a known tick area. Click here to learn more.
  3. Reduce exposure to ticks in the environment. Paralysis ticks spend a significant part of their life cycle in the environment. They can easily be brought onto your property by wildlife. Cleaning up leaf litter and keeping grass mown can make your garden less attractive to ticks.

Read more on how to keep your dog safe from ticks

FAQs

  • How long does a paralysis tick take to affect a dog?

    It typically takes at least 72 hours (three days) from tick attachment until signs of tick paralysis develop. That’s why searching for and removing ticks daily can help to prevent cases of tick paralysis. It is also essential to use an effective tick control product like NexGard for Dogs or NexGard SPECTRA for Dogs year-round.

  • What do I do if I find a paralysis tick on my dog?

    If you find a tick on your dog it should be removed as soon as possible with a tick removal tool or tweezers. Grab the tick adjacent to your pet’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body. If you are unsure, it’s always best to speak to your veterinary clinic who will be able to assist you. If you find a tick and no clinical signs of tick paralysis are observed, it is still recommended to consult your veterinarian as clinical signs of tick paralysis can develop even after the tick has been removed. 

  • Can dogs survive paralysis ticks without treatment?
    If paralysis ticks are killed and/or removed within three days of attaching, dogs may not develop any signs of tick paralysis. However, if you see any potential clinical signs of tick paralysis develop, contact your veterinarian and take your pet to the clinic as soon as possible. If you find a tick and no clinical signs of tick paralysis are observed, it is still recommended to consult your veterinarian as signs of tick paralysis can develop even after the tick has been removed. 

     

    PET-0251-2021

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