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Pets & Vets: Tick paralysis can be fatal

June 30th, 2004, 10:45 PM
MARY ELLEN GORHAM for The Columbian

How many conditions cause a dog to suddenly lose its appetite, look bleary-eyed and want to stay in bed all day? There are several diseases with similar symptoms but at this time of year in areas where ticks are located, tick paralysis is suspect. When my neighbor's dog lost its ability to stand and slowly became paralyzed, its owner rushed it to a veterinarian. Sure enough, ticks were found attached to one of the dog's legs.

Question: Why would a few ticks cause such an illness?

Answer: Just one tick can cause tick paralysis. Many species of ticks produce a paralyzing toxin in their saliva. When a tick attaches itself onto a dog to feed on blood, the tick injects the toxin into the victim.

Paralysis develops after the tick has been attached four or five days. If the tick is not removed, the paralysis involves the neck, throat and face of the dog and causes difficulty in chewing, swallowing or breathing. Ultimately, death occurs.

Tick paralysis has most frequently been reported in the western United States and adjacent Canada. Most ticks found on patients with paralysis are females but cases caused by males are on record.

Question: What is the treatment for the paralysis?

Answer: Removal of the tick is usually all that is necessary. Improvement may begin within an hour and recovery usually is complete within 48 hours. Total body applications of insecticide in the forms of sprays, dips or baths are effective if the insecticide reaches and kills the tick.

Question: Can other animals become paralyzed from a tick bite?

Answer: Yes, cases occur in cattle, horses, sheep, deer, bison and chickens. Humans also are susceptible. A few days after a tick attaches itself, a person may experience weakness, loss of appetite, headache and vomiting. He or she loses coordination, is unable to move the arms and legs, cannot sit upright and frequently has difficulty in speaking, chewing and swallowing.

As in the case of an animal, removal of the tick ends the condition and allows for a complete recovery.

Question: Has tick paralysis been around for a long time?

Answer: The first human case was reported in 1912, although a diagnosis was made in animals as early as 1843. The toxin causing the paralysis was discovered to be in the tick's saliva but its chemical nature is still unknown.

Tick paralysis occurs in many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as in Australia.

July 9th, 2004, 05:28 PM
I don't know if this is the same or not, but 35 years ago in Savannah GA, this seemed to be pretty common. I was terrified my dog would get a tick. After every outside excursion, I'd examine him all over. :(