Some types of ticks carry a toxin in their saliva that can disrupt normal functioning of the nervous system after it enters an animal's body through a tick bite. Dogs that live in areas with large tick populations are most frequently affected by this disease, which goes by the name tick paralysis.
About a week after a tick has attached itself to a dog symptoms start to appear. Early in the course of the disease, a dog's hind end becomes weak, its bark can begin to sound different, it loses the ability to walk in a coordinated manner, and it may vomit, cough, gag, and breathe rapidly. If all ticks are not quickly removed, the pet's condition rapidly declines and complete paralysis can develop leaving the dog unable to walk, raise it's head, and even breathe in the most severe cases. A veterinarian will make a diagnosis of tick paralysis based on an animal's clinical signs and history of possible tick exposure. It must be remembered that the tick responsible for causing a dog's illness may have fallen off the animal by the time that symptoms develop.
Despite the potentially deadly nature of tick paralysis, affected dogs rapidly improve once all ticks carrying the toxin are completely removed. Applying a pesticide that rapidly kills ticks can be helpful on animals with thick or matted coats. If a dog's respiratory muscles become severely compromised, oxygen therapy and/or the use of a respirator may be necessary. With appropriate therapy, most dogs can be expected to recover completely. Many cases of tick paralysis can be prevented through the use of effective tick control products.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008