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Dog Tick Paralysis

What Is Dog Tick Paralysis?

Tick paralysis is a swift-developing condition that impacts a dog’s nerves. It occurs when certain ticks, notably the Amblyomma, lxodes, and Dermacentor types, inject a potent neurotoxin into the dog’s bloodstream through their saliva.

Symptoms of tick paralysis typically manifest between five to nine days after the initial tick bite. The ticks discharge the toxin in a pulsating manner while they are attached to the dog. This toxin interferes with the neurotransmitters necessary for proper muscle movement. Initially, paralysis sets in the hind legs, causing coordination issues and abnormal gait. Eventually, the dog loses the ability to use its legs. The paralysis usually starts symmetrically, affecting both hind legs.

The paralysis swiftly progresses over the next 24 to 48 hours, spreading to the front legs, respiratory muscles, and sometimes even facial nerves. Diagnosing tick paralysis can be challenging, and the course of progression and recovery can vary unpredictably. If there’s any change in a pet’s neurological status, such as altered mental activity or mobility issues, it’s crucial to seek immediate veterinary assistance.


The primary feature of tick paralysis is its progressive paralysis that starts in the hind legs. Additionally, dogs may exhibit other symptoms associated with tick paralysis, such as:

  • Paralysis of facial nerves, resulting in reduced jaw tone and changes in eye reflexes.
  • Dysfunction of the larynx, leading to alterations in bark sound and volume.
  • Development of aspiration pneumonia due to laryngeal dysfunction.
  • Reduced respiratory ability.
  • Decreased muscle tone.


Tick paralysis in the United States primarily stems from bites by deer ticks and dog ticks, although it can also arise from other tick species. Ticks inject a neurotoxin through their saliva, causing illness in infected dogs only while the tick is attached and feeding.

Dogs that are not on tick prevention are at higher risk, as well as those spending substantial time in wooded or grassy areas where ticks reside, even if they are on preventatives.

There’s no predisposition based on age, breed, or sex for dogs to develop tick paralysis. However, there is some seasonality to tick paralysis, with most cases occurring during the spring and early summer.


Veterinarians typically diagnose tick paralysis by considering the clinical history and response to treatment. Given its rapid progression, dogs from areas prone to ticks and tick-borne diseases are examined for engorged ticks.

Routine bloodwork, including blood chemistry and complete blood counts, may be conducted to rule out other potential causes or complications of tick paralysis. However, abnormalities in blood work are not always associated with tick paralysis.

Since tick paralysis advances quickly, prompt veterinary attention is crucial when a dog displays symptoms. If a tick is found, it should be safely removed, preserved, and the attachment site marked with a permanent marker. This allows the veterinarian to shave and examine the area for further signs of infection or remnants of the tick.


The primary treatment for tick paralysis involves removing the tick to halt further toxin release. It’s crucial to eliminate the mouthpiece of the tick and administer a tick preventative to kill any remaining ticks on the dog and prevent future infestations.

Some dogs that have survived tick paralysis may develop natural immunity, although the duration of this immunity remains uncertain. Certain veterinarians may utilize blood from hyperimmune dogs or anti-tick serum for treating other dogs with tick paralysis. While anecdotal evidence suggests that this transfusion can accelerate recovery, it’s important to thoroughly discuss its benefits and risks with your veterinarian.

Supportive care is essential for dogs recovering from tick paralysis. This may include fluid therapy, nutritional support, and oxygen supplementation as necessary. In severe cases, dogs may require mechanical ventilation or breathing assistance until they fully recover. Respiratory failure is a common complication in dogs affected by tick paralysis, and some may require assistance with urinary bladder management if they cannot urinate independently.

Living and Management

The prognosis for dogs with tick paralysis is generally positive, with 90 to 95 percent of patients recovering. However, the recovery process can be unpredictable. While most dogs show improvement once the tick is removed, the levels of toxins released by different ticks vary, and some dogs may be more susceptible than others. Therefore, determining a prognosis based solely on the type of tick or duration of attachment is challenging. Typically, dogs begin to improve within 1 to 3 days after tick removal, but some may require longer recovery periods.

Dogs needing breathing support may require hospitalization initially. Once they stabilize, they can be discharged to continue their recovery at home. These dogs may still experience coordination issues and might need assistance with movement, particularly when navigating stairs. Pet owners may need guidance on assisting their dogs with urination until their muscle function returns.

Severe respiratory complications could lead to permanent lung disease, necessitating ongoing medication and potentially causing exercise intolerance. However, dogs with aspiration pneumonia typically recover with the help of antibiotics.

Dogs that have recuperated from tick paralysis may develop natural immunity against future tick bites and subsequent paralysis. Nevertheless, the duration of this immunity varies widely.


While there isn’t a vaccine specifically for tick paralysis, there is a broad range of flea and tick preventatives available to safeguard your pet from ticks. It’s crucial to keep your pet on flea and tick prevention throughout the year for optimal protection. Even during colder months, a single warm spell can prompt tick activity, making your pet vulnerable to attachment.

Prescription preventatives are generally considered the safest and most effective option. Your veterinarian can assist in determining the most suitable medication for your pet’s needs.

Dog Tick Paralysis FAQs

Can dogs recover from tick paralysis?

Yes, most dogs can recover from tick paralysis if the tick is removed, and they receive appropriate supportive care.

How do you remove a paralysis tick from a dog?

It’s best to have your veterinary team remove the tick if your dog is unwell to ensure all parts of the tick are properly removed. If you decide to remove the tick at home, be sure to mark the area with a marker so the veterinary team can inspect it later. Additionally, tools like the Tick Tornado can assist in complete tick removal. Avoid using a match or flame, as this could cause harm to both yourself and your dog.

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