What Is Tick Paralysis?

It’s warming up, and it’s time to talk ticks. Find out about tick paralysis and how it might affect your pet.

Dogs can pick up ticks anywhere. By: OakleyOriginals

Spider, bugs and ticks can send a shiver down some spines, but knowledge about these species is a must when you have pets.

Love them or hate them, bugs exist. Some of them are harmless while others bite, spread disease or cause uncomfortable itching and bumps. Reactions can be mild to serious, so it’s important to know which ones affect your pets and need medical attention. Tick paralysis is one such condition that can be fatal if left untreated.

Let’s Talk Ticks

What is a tick? Ticks are external parasites classified as arachnids, the same category as spiders, scorpions and mites. They have been in existence for millions of years and can be found almost anywhere. They survive off of blood from hosts ranging from humans to animals and amphibians, although some species of ticks will feed on anything they can find.

Ticks are not believed to be born with disease but rather spread it by picking it up from one host and spreading it to new hosts as they feed. Bug pictures are not included for those who are squeamish around bugs, but those interested can see examples of ticks here.

There are many different kinds of ticks. The most often discussed ones include the deer tick and dog tick, although ticks can be difficult to identify on sight alone. The female tick can increase in size multiple times over their original state, and this typically occurs when she is gorging on blood and is egg-laden.

What Is Tick Paralysis?

After feeding for several days, most often seen between day five and seven, the female tick produces higher amounts of neurotoxin in the salivary glands. This neurotoxin travels into the host to which she is attached and can cause tick paralysis. The neurotoxin affects the nervous system and can cause a variety of symptoms to appear. Some common symptoms associated with animals are listed below:

  • Wobbling or unsteadiness
  • Fatigue
  • Weak or slow movement
  • Excessive drool
  • Elevated heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Enlarged esophagus
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Asthma (cats)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Convulsions
  • Complete paralysis
  • Heart failure

Paralysis usually occurs only when the tick is attached to the host. The neurotoxin is not a disease that infects the host and continues to affect the body but rather a secretion only present when the tick is present. If tick paralysis is evident and the tick is removed, rapid improvement usually follows within 24 hours (although this depends on the species of tick). If left untreated, tick paralysis can advance from the lower extremities upward to also affect the face and tongue, and can be fatal.


At first notice that a tick is attached to your pet, remove the tick using tweezers as close to the attachment point (skin) as possible. Check to make sure no pieces remain attached to your pet. In the event the tick breaks during removal and the saliva glands remain attached, recovery will be hindered. If you notice the symptoms above but cannot find a tick, it’s time to see the vet.

Ticks can be very small and hard to find. By: Bruce

Ticks can hide in places you may not be able to see on your pet, such as skin folds, deep in the ear canal, inside the mouth or even inside the anus.  It is always a good idea to check with your vet when a tick is present, especially if any symptoms have been observed. The vet may want to provide treatment depending on your pet’s individual reaction to the tick. Additional treatments may include a tick antiserum (TSA), intensive care, IV fluids, medications or breathing assistance.


If you’re grossed out by all this bug and blood talk, there is a way to avoid it. While no method is foolproof, there are some steps you can take to try to avoid having to deal with the dreaded ticks and the effects they cause on your pets.

  • Avoid taking your pets into areas of heavy vegetation.
  • Perform daily self-examinations on yourself and your pets (ticks can attach to people, too).
  • Administer a preventative to your pet that repels, kills or does both to ticks (be careful to ensure you use preventatives made specifically for your pet, i.e. don’t put dog products on cats as this can be deadly).
  • Use a repellant containing DEET for humans (be careful of some sprays that are only acceptable to use on clothing – not skin, so read the labels).
  • Pay extra attention during spring and summer. Seasonal activity of female ticks can peak around these warmer times, but remember that ticks can be present year-round.

If you want to find out the actual risk of ticks in your area, the type of species and diseases they might be carrying, your best bet is talking to your vet. Chances are he or she has already removed ticks from local animals and may have sent the samples off to a laboratory for testing.

If you remove a tick at home you may want to preserve it by putting it into a closed or sealed plastic bag with a damp paper towel. Do call the vet’s office first and ask if they would like you to drop off the tick to send off for testing (don’t assume your vet is open to being a bug depository).

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has been researching and writing about pet behaviors and care for many years, with her articles appearing in various publications. She is the CEO of a large mental health practice in Louisiana and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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