The Paralysis Tick

Estimated Reading Time: 2 min | Last Updated: July 9th, 2016

The dreaded paralysis tick is back! Animal Emergency Service has been treating patients suffering tick paralysis for some weeks now with numbers on the incline. We hope this information helps as we head into Tick Season.

What is a paralysis tick?

The paralysis tick (Ixodes Holocyclus) is a small parasite that injects a potentially fatal toxin while it feeds on mammals. It usually likes to live on native animals and can be found anywhere that they are found (even deep in suburbia). There are several harmless ticks which look similar so, where possible, bring the tick to the vet for identification.

Symptoms of a paralysis tick bite

  1. It blocks the messages from the nerves causing paralysis in the muscles.
  2. It effects the ability of the heart to contract which can lead to a build-up of fluid in the lungs seriously affecting breathing.
  3. It paralyses the oesophagus (the tube from the throat to the stomach), which can cause regurgitating and vomiting and can also allow the animal to inhale its own vomit complicating the breathing problems.
  4. It can cause changes in heart rhythm which can cause sudden failure of the heart (and sudden death in apparently mildly affected animals).

The good news is the tick paralysis can be treated and that most (but sadly not all) of the animals will recover well. The symptoms (worsening paralysis, regurgitating or vomiting, change in voice and breating difficulties) can occur or worsen for up to three days after the tick is removed. Virtually all animals with symptoms will need treatment. Remove the tick at home. It can be killed first with frontline or similar but this is not essential. Leaving the head in is not a disaster – it does not continue to pump poison and will fall out (leaving a creater) in just a few days.

What happens to paralysis tick patients in hospital?

We treat tick paralysis with an antivenom (just like snake antivenom). They will usually have a catheter put into a vein and most will be sedated and given a drug to dry up their saliva and to avoid some of the heart problems. Severely affected animals may require oxygen, antibiotics (if they inhale vomit) and drugs to reduce the fluid in the lungs. The worst affected animals will need to go on to a ventilator and may need assistance with breathing for up to 72 hours.

Animals treated early in the course of the condition have a better chance of survival and will be less expensive to treat then those left until they are more severely affected (ventilating animals can be very expensive). Your animal will be hospitalized until we are convinced it can eat and drink safely.

How to prevent tick paralysis

There are numerous spot-on or spray-on products as well as collar and tablets that are fairly effective for tick prevention. Talk to your regular practice about what they recommend. You should also check your pet during tick season (spring and summer) every couple of days.

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