Tick paralysis is a life-threatening disease that can be very unpredictable. Irrespective of whether your pet has mild paralysis signs or is already struggling to breathe, all animals affected by tick paralysis are unfortunately at risk of dying or requiring euthanasia in the days following the initiation of treatment. However, there is also the chance your pet will make a full recovery, with no long-term damage. Our veterinary team will do everything possible to maximise your pet’s chances of recovery.
If your pet has an underlying medical condition, such as a heart murmur, or is a breed more prone to breathing difficulties, such as the bracycephalic (‘squashed face’) breeds, they are more likely to be severely affected and their risk of death is higher than other animals.
after your pet is diagnosed with tick paralysis:
As soon as your pet is admitted to hospital they will be given a sedative to keep them calm and relaxed. This reduces their oxygen demand and slows down the rate at which the tick toxin moves around their body.
They will then be anaesthetised completely to facilitate a full body clip of fur to search for remaining ticks. Pets can present with more than one paralysis tick attached and it is essential all ticks are removed. We will also apply a topical tick product to kill any ticks that may have missed detection & removal. While this is occuring, your pet will be started on intravenous fluid therapy via an IV line, and tick antiserum will be administered into the vein as well. Tick antiserum is made from the blood of dogs who are immune to tick toxins, so there is a relatively high risk of allergic reaction in both dogs and cats receiving the antiserum. Your pet will be monitored closely for a reaction during the administration of tick antiserum, and treated if a reaction occurs.
General Care & Monitoring
General care for tick paralysis patients includes keeping them relaxed and warm. They are closely monitored for any changes to their body temperature, breathing rate, breathing ability, heart rate, and oxygen saturation. If they are heavily sedated their position is shifted often to help promote blood flow to all muscles and organs, and we check their bladders often and sometimes express them if they are unable to urinate themselves.
While your pet remains in hospital, they will receive IV fluid therapy. Animals with tick paralysis generally cannot swallow properly, and are at risk of inhaling food or water into their lungs, so they will not be given anything to eat or drink by mouth. The IV drip is therefore essential in maintaining hydration and supplying critical electrolytes.
Some animals with tick paralysis struggle to breathe, as their breathing muscles or throat becomes paralysed from the tick toxin. For some of these patients supplemental oxygen and sedation is not enough, and they require a transfer to our local emergency hospital (NEVS in Terrey Hills) to be placed in an induced coma and ventilated artificially. The outcome is generally poor for animals requiring ventilation, and it is expensive, so it is not a realistic option for every case. Animals requiring 24 hours monitoring will also ideally be transferred to NEVS for overnight care.
Once your pet can swallow (and therefore eat & drink), urinate, and walk unassisted, they can be discharged from hospital. Following treatment for tick paralysis, and a discharge from hospital, your pet will still require extra love & care. For 6-8 weeks following tick paralysis your pet’s body will still be affected by the tick toxin, though it will be harder to detect. Their ability to thermoregulate – change their body’s temperature in response to the environment – will be reduced, so you should avoid very hot or cold environments, and be especially mindful of the risk of overheating during exercise. The muscles of their heart are also not as strong following tick paralysis, and the risk of sudden cardiac arrest is higher. For this reason we recommend no strenuous exercise or stressful incidents wherever possible in the two months following discharge. A gradual return to exercise following this period is safest.
It is also critical to ensure your pet’s tick preventative is always kept up to date going forward, as there is no long-term benefit of tick antiserum, so your pet could easily develope tick paralysis again in the future. Furthermore, the risk of an allergic reaction to tick antiserum increases with subsequent administration, so greater care needs to be taken with animals who have previously received this treatment.
Dr Caroline Wood