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The Paralysis Tick (Part 2)

Posted on 11 October 2012

If you find a tick – Remove It. There are a number of ways to remove ticks – some people prefer to apply a topical insecticide to kill the tick first. In general I prefer to get them out as quick as possible.

  • Grasp the tick with a finger and thumb as close to the skin as possible (fingernails are helpful for this), hold firmly then pull back while twisting your hand at the same time – in most cases the tick will come out in one piece*. (Remember to pop it in a container!)
  • Use tick tweezers/twisters – these are great little gadgets (a bit like curved haemostats) that can be used as described above to remove ticks. They are available from most vet clinics and pet shops.

*NB: the tick toxin is contained in salivary glands within the ticks’ body – SO as long as you remove the body you remove the toxin. Ticks don’t have necks they just have mouthparts attached to a body – if you have unwittingly left some of the tick embedded in the skin it is usually just part of these attachments and your pets’ immune system will remove it in time.

Tick paralysis is one of the most frustrating, difficult, complicated and depressing diseases that I have to treat as a vet. In most cases, the most difficult and often fatal complications can be avoided if an animal that is showing clinical signs is identified and presented to the vet clinic EARLY in the course of the disease.

Clinical signs of tick paralysis:

  • Lethargy and inappetance
  • Vomiting and/or salivation
  • Increased respiration/ panting
  • Hind limb weakness or ataxia
  • Ascending paralysis – e.g. hind limb weakness, inability to stand up, respiratory difficulty (e.g. laboured breathing) and an inability to lift head.

Your pet may show any one or a combination of these signs. In general tick paralysis is graded on the ability to walk and the ability to breathe – so for example a dog that is wobbly on his legs but is breathing normally is EARLY in the course of paralysis. A dog that cannot walk or lift its head and has laboured breathing is in LATE stage paralysis.

Treating Tick Paralysis:

  • In most cases your pet will be unsettled and anxious. You may find that the car trip to the vet has made the clinical signs worse than they were at home – this is quite common. For this reason after having a thorough physical examination, your pet will often be sedated to help them relax and they will be admitted to hospital.
  • Once the sedation has taken effect they will have anti tick serum slowly infused directly into a vein. They are closely monitored for any ‘allergy’ like reaction to the antiserum.
  • Your animal is then treated for any clinical signs and secondary problems e.g. nausea, vomiting, pneumonia, dehydration and checked over carefully for more ticks.
  • The course of your pets’ illness and prognosis for recovery depends on the severity of their disease. They may be in hospital overnight or for many days. Some, particularly older animals, may take weeks to be back to their normal selves.

When affected by tick paralysis some animals will show only ataxia and weakness, others will be able to walk but be panting and vomiting, REMEMBER it is different for every animal. If you have removed a paralysis tick from your pet and you have not observed any of the clinical signs above, your pet may not need any treatment BUT if you’re not sure or concerned about what to do next, call or take your animal to your local vet (with the tick you removed) and they will advise you.

About the Author
Dr Rebecca KneeDr Knee will provide a column containing information for dog owners to prevent and/or treat common health problems faced by dogs. If you have a particular topic you would like Dr Knee to include in her column, please email us at

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