Understanding Tick Paralysis In Dogs


Ticks are tiny, eight-legged arachnids that feed on blood. They can be as minute as the head of a pin. Around 900 tick species exist globally, with over 90 species in the United States alone.

Among the ticks posing significant risks to dogs are the  lone star tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, black-legged (deer) tick, and brown dog tick. Notably, the first four are often linked to tick paralysis in dogs.

Also known as tick-bite paralysis, this condition is hazardous for dogs. However, it is rare in cats in the U.S. It arises when female ticks release a potent toxin from their salivary glands while feeding on a dog, introducing the toxin directly into the dog's bloodstream. This toxin targets the nervous system.

In cases of tick paralysis, a dog's hind legs typically show the initial signs of paralysis, which may progressively extend to the front legs. The severity of this condition cannot be overstated and can turn deadly if it affects the diaphragm, leading to respiratory failure.

Importantly, a dog does not need to be part of a widespread tick infestation to suffer from tick paralysis; a single tick bite can be sufficient. However, not every animal bitten by a tick will develop paralysis. This underscores the importance of tick prevention, as it is within our control to protect our furry friends from this potentially life-threatening condition.

Symptoms Of Tick Paralysis

Ticks become less active in cooler temperatures, so tick paralysis is typically more common from spring to early fall. Generally, signs and symptoms appear in dogs 6 to 7 days after a tick has attached to the animal's skin.

If you reside in or have visited an area known for ticks, mainly wooded regions, be vigilant for the following symptoms in your dog, which may develop gradually:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness or instability, particularly in the hind legs
  • Difficulty or reluctance to jump or a preference to sit frequently
  • Increased heart rate
  • Problems with chewing, swallowing, or breathing
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Diminished reflexes
  • Changes in vocal sounds
  • Excessive drooling

In some cases, paralysis of the respiratory muscles can lead to suffocation in dogs.

Tick paralysis typically persists if the tick remains attached to your dog. Symptoms usually improve after the tick is removed. However, it's important to note that severe paralysis or even death can occur before pet owners realize a tick has bitten their dog.

Ticks Spread Other Types Of Disease 

It's crucial to recognize that ticks are responsible for more than tick paralysis in dogs; they also transmit a range of serious, at times fatal, diseases. These include:

  • Lyme Disease: Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks to dogs. It causes symptoms such as lameness and can potentially lead to kidney failure.
  • Ehrlichia: This disease starts with symptoms like fever and, in severe cases, can progress to neurological and eye disorders, with potential fatality.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Dogs affected by this illness may experience joint, muscle, or abdominal pain, diarrhea, and depression.
  • Anaplasmosis: Like Lyme disease, this condition can cause lameness, joint pain, and fever.
  • Tularemia: This bacterial infection leads to symptoms such as fever, dehydration, and even ulcers on the tongue.
  • Babesia: Often undetected until advanced, this disease can cause jaundice and anemia.

Where Can Find Ticks

Ticks typically reside in grass, trees, shrubs, and underbrush and show increased activity from April to September. This period aligns with when people often spend more time outside, making it crucial to be vigilant for signs of tick paralysis in your dog during these months.

Treatment Of Tick Paralysis

If you think that your dog has tick paralysis, immediately take them to the vet. The vet will thoroughly examine to locate and remove any ticks causing the issue. This removal is crucial as it helps determine if your dog needs specific treatments.

In severe cases, if there's a risk of respiratory failure, your dog may require hospitalization and oxygen support, which might be provided through a nasal catheter or an oxygen tank.

You can also attempt to remove the tick using a tick removal tool or tweezers. To do this, grip the tick as close to your dog's skin as possible and pull it straight out without twisting to ensure no parts remain embedded. After removal:

  • Clean the affected area with soap and water.
  • Please dispose the tick by placing it in a sealed container.
  • Show it to your vet.

Even if you remove the tick, it's wise to visit your vet to check for other potential infections or necessary treatments.

Flea And Tick Preventatives And Medications

Numerous tick prevention products on the market also effectively eliminate and repel fleas, offering a convenient way to safeguard your pet against both pests. It's advisable to use these treatments throughout the year to protect your dog from diseases transmitted by ticks and prevent health issues caused by fleas.

Generally, there are three main types of tick prevention methods: oral medicationstopical applications, and collars. Your specific needs and preferences should determine which option is best.

Oral Tick Treatments

Bravecto is a well-known flea and tick treatment available in chewable and topical spot-on forms. Bravecto chews target four types of ticks: the American dog tick, the black-legged (deer) tick, the brown dog tick and the lone star tick. They begin eliminating fleas within two hours after ingestion. Offering up to 12 weeks of protection—8 weeks for the lone star tick—Bravecto is suitable for puppies from 6 months of age and weighing at least 4.4 pounds.

Nexgard is another favored chewable option that manages several tick species, including the American dog, lone star, and black-legged (deer) ticks. It is effective for up to 30 days and eradicates fleas, their eggs, and larvae. Nexgard is appropriate for puppies starting at weighing more than 4 pounds eight weeks old.

Simparica may be the preferred choice for those concerned about various tick exposures. This treatment controls several tick species, including American dog tick, lone star tick, brown dog tick, and Gulf Coast tick. Similar to Nexgard, Simparica is a monthly treatment that starts killing fleas within three hours of administration and is suitable for dogs over six months of age and weighing at least 2.8 pounds.

Spot-On Treatments Or Topical

Like Bravecto chews, Bravecto's topical treatment also manages the American dog tick, lone star tick (with eight weeks of protection), black-legged (deer) tick, and brown dog tick. It begins eliminating fleas within 2 hours of application.

Frontline Plus is another effective treatment for ticks and fleas. It safeguards dogs against all stages of the American dog tick, black-legged (deer) tick, lone star tick, and brown dog tick. Applied every 30 days, Frontline Plus is suitable for puppies aged eight weeks and older. It additionally protects against fleas while killing and repelling mosquitoes.

Topical treatments require careful application but offer significant benefits, mainly if your dog is averse to taking pills.


Collars are particularly beneficial during the summer when flea and tick activity peaks. The Seresto flea collar provides extended protection against ticks and fleas, lasting up to 8 months, and begins preventing tick infestations within 48 hours of application. Place it around your dog's neck like a regular pet collar, ensuring there is enough space to fit two fingers under the collar for comfort and effectiveness, as it needs to contact your pet's skin to work correctly.

Prevent Tick Paralysis In Dogs

As summer approaches, tick activity intensifies, requiring increased vigilance with the warming weather. Maintaining a tidy yard can help deter ticks from settling in. Additionally, a garden exposed to ample sunlight can assist in eliminating and preventing flea infestations.

Along with administering regular tick prevention treatments to your dog, conducting routine checks is crucial for maintaining their health. Regular visual and tactile inspections of your pet are essential to detect ticks hiding in their fur, particularly after walks or hikes in wooded or tick-prone areas.

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