How to keep ticks from attaching and spreading disease to your dog
Did you know ticks belong to the spider family? When you look closer, they indeed look like spiders with eight tiny legs and they also have an insatiable hunger for blood. Ticks are like the ‘kamikaze’ of spiders because they are much more daring than their bigger cousins. Instead of feeding on flies and other insects, they like to latch onto mammals and be carried miles away from their origin. They have evolved into stealthy biting machines, injecting anesthetic into the bite to remain unnoticed.
Tick paralysis is one of the most dramatic and frightening conditions. One moment your dog is fine and a few hours later he or she may become completely paralyzed. If the condition is recognized and treated early, your dog will recover very fast. However, if you or your veterinarian fails to diagnose this problem correctly, the toxic paralyzing substance in tick saliva can, in the worst-case scenario, cause respiratory arrest and death.
This is why reading and sharing this article is so important.
This article includes information on the following:
- Cause of tick paralysis
- How does the tick toxin work
- Treatment of tick paralysis
- Natural methods of tick paralysis prevention
Cause of Tick Paralysis
Tick paralysis is caused by a salivary toxin that ticks release when they attach and feed on the host. There are different species of ticks that cause this condition and not every tick bite will cause paralysis.
The most toxic species, Ixodes Holocyclus, lives on the Eastern Coast of Australia, where the mortality of dogs with tick paralysis is around 10 percent.
The North American ticks transmitting tick paralysis are much less dangerous, however they should not be underestimated. The main species that causes tick paralysis in North America are Dermacentor andersoni (the Rocky Mountain wood tick) and Dermacentor variabilis, the American dog tick.
Tick paralysis often occurs in spring and early summer, but it can happen throughout tick season. Ticks are prevalent in certain regions, but they can be quickly transported to areas that have a low population. As a result, dog lovers and practitioners unused to seeing ticks and tick paralysis may misdiagnose the condition.
This is one of the reasons why I decided not to give you any maps or geographical locations of tick paralysis incidence. If you see ticks in your area, this condition is likely present and if you do not see ticks, the condition may be still present.
In some regions, ticks may also be active in the winter, but they usually stop feeding when the ground is frozen.
How does the toxin work?
The core principle of neurotoxin production is not clearly understood. There are some opinions that the toxin may be produced with the help of a microorganism residing in ticks.
What we do know is the toxin is released into the blood stream when ticks are engorged. The injected neurotoxin disturbs the exchange of electrolytes, such as calcium, sodium and potassium in the muscles cells. It also interrupts the connection between the nerves and muscles (the synapses), which leads to muscle paralysis.
What is fascinating and frightening is the level of development of ticks as a disease carrier. It is hard to believe such a small and insignificant creature can cause symptoms such as partial or complete leg paralysis and difficulty breathing and swallowing. This can sometimes lead to aspiration pneumonia (lung infection due to inhaling food or water).
Tick paralysis affects the nerve impulse transfer to the muscles, which leads to the inability of the muscles to contract, or paralysis. However, this condition does not affect the sensory nerves. In other words, your dog has skin and muscle sensation, however they cannot move their muscles.
Treatment of tick paralysis
- The most important part of tick paralysis is to remove all ticks. The most common locations are around the head and ears, but ticks can be pretty much anywhere. Examining your dog inch by inch with a fine comb and tons of patience is crucial and can be life-saving.
- You should start seeing improvement within 24 hours and a complete recovery in three days.
- When it comes to the most toxic tick, Ixodes Holocyclus in Easter Australia, an injection of TAS antitoxin (similar to tetanus antitoxin) is the treatment of choice. Removing the tick itself will not always result in recovery.
- IV therapy, hospitalization, monitoring of urine output, breathing and body temperature is important. Because of the muscle paralysis, some animals may lose the ability to regulate temperature and may overheat or get cold.
- In some severe cases, a ventilator to support respiratory function is needed and the overall mortality of this condition is approximately five percent, even when the dog receives the proper treatment.
Tick infestation and paralysis prevention
Many people are still unaware that conventional flea and tick products can be as equally harmful and dangerous as tick themselves. For more info, click here.
The other challenge is most conventional flea products don’t prevent ticks attaching, which doesn’t solve the issue of tick-borne diseases.
Ticks live in grassy areas and usually wait on a blade of grass and wait for the right opportunity to crawl on a host. Repelling and preventing ticks from attachment with natural tick products during the tick seasons (when the ground is not frozen) is an effective way to prevent tick paralysis and other tick borne diseases.
Finally, if you know you live in a tick-infested area, check your dog for ticks regularly to remove them as soon as possible.
Here is a simple video on how to remove ticks safely.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM