Tick Paralysis: So little, yet so deadly…

So little, yet so deadly…

Dr Olga Lynn (Emergency & Critical Care Veterinarian)

What is tick paralysis?

Tick paralysisThe paralysis tick contains a variety of toxins within the salivary gland.

These toxins are injected into the blood-stream by the tick when feeding. The tick will usually attach when very small and then start to feed.

It usually takes around 3 days for tick to wake up all its machinery and start delivering the toxin.

When an adult tick feeds on blood, it increases in size dramatically and this is when they are most notable. In South East Queensland, our tick season unfortunately is all year round so it’s important to be very vigilant with tick prevention. Pets can pick up ticks from their environment and ticks can even unknowingly be brought in on your clothes, shoes or bags! Native animals are the ticks natural host – bandicoots, possums and echidnas are the most common hosts that transmit paralysis ticks.


  • Change in bark/voice
  • Lack of gag reflex
  • Gagging/retching/coughing
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Wobbliness in the back legs
  • Breathing difficulties, often there’ll be a grunt with the breathing
  • Not eating
  • Progressive paralysis

Assess severity of tick bite


  • Sedation – Firstly, we want to provide some form of sedation as understandably these patients are very stressed and the more they stress, the worse their signs become
  • Tick anti-serum – tick anti-serum helps mop tick toxin that has not already bound to the nerves. It is important to know that tick anti-serum cannot remove the toxin that is already bound to the nerves – this means your pet may deteriorate for 24-72 years after a tick has been removed and treatment given. Tick anti-serum does not provide immunity to further ticks. Tick anti-serum is a type of blood product, so there is the potential for anaphylaxis (this is usually more common in cats compared to dogs). The tick anti-serum is usually administered over 1 hour.
  • Tick-clip – it is important to ensure there are no other ticks present as your pet may have more than 1 tick. A full body clip is necessary for pets with longer hair.
  • Topical spot-on treatment – a product like Bravecto is usually applied. This takes 24-72 hours to be fully effective.
  • Intravenous fluids and medication to help support the body until the animal recovers Suctioning their mouths or upper airways as regurgitated fluid can accumulate, preventing the patient from breathing properly
  • Oxygen therapy if a patient is having difficulty breathing
  • If the patient becomes fatigued, even with oxygen therapy, and cannot breathe on their own, mechanical ventilation is required (a machine that breathes for the patient)

70% of ticks are found from the shoulders up!Complications

Aspiration pneumonia – this occurs when a patient refluxes, regurgitates, and because they cannot protect their airways from the paralysis, they will often inhale their vomit. Then then vomitus ends up in their lungs. It initially causes inflammation and resulting pneumonia – we call this aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia, on its own, can be a life threatening condition. This is one of the most common complications of tick paralysis.

Respiratory fatigue and failure – if the paralysis is severe and a patient’s diaphragm (which is the breathing muscle) gets too fatigued or the muscle can’t do it’s job properly. In severely affected patients, mechanical ventilation may be required – this is a machine that breathes for the patient to keep them alive. This is very intensive intervention and understandably very costly for the owner.

Bladder dysfunction – a lot of the time, patients cannot urinate on their own so may need either bladder expression or placement of a urinary catheter to empty the bladder properly. These patients are prone to overstretching of their bladder and urinary retention which can lead to urinary tract infections

Eye ulcers – as patients cannot blink properly

The prognosis is always guarded in a tick patient.
They can acutely deteriorate and die, even when they present as a mild grade.

I found a paralysis tick on my dog