What happens when my pet has tick paralysis?


Ticks have several actions on your pet. They are mostly found around the head and neck area have a local paralysis effect, so if they are on the head and neck one of the earliest problems that can develop is the inability to swallow properly. Unfortunately this can be hard to detect, and extremely dangerous. This can cause regurgitation and even  accidental aspiration of food. That means unexplained vomiting can be one of the earliest symptoms of a tick bite.

Most animals will usually develop a floppy paralysis as well. Often this will start in the back legs. Collapsing in the back legs, having trouble walking, walking with a wobble, dragging back legs – all of these can be indications of a tick bite.

Ticks can also affect the ability of your pet to breathe. This is a big part of why the paralysis ticks in our area are so dangerous. The muscles that control breathing are affected by the paralysis tick, and  your pet struggles to even take a breath. This can become critical and can be complicated with aspiration pneumonia when your pet hasn’t been swallowing properly. If you are concerned that your pet may be affected by a tick PLEASE DON’T FEED THEM until you have seen your vet.


Generally, once an animal starts to show symptoms of tick paralysis it will need to be treated. We all hear the odd miraculous story, but when it comes down to it unless your pet gets the anti-serum it will usually die. Not a risk any of us at Tweed Coast Vet will ever recommend.

The anti-serum is collected from specially bred dogs that have an immunity to ticks. This means it can be quite costly. If cost is concerning you when it comes to treating your pet, please come in and see us. We will do everything we can to communicate what needs to be done, and what is in the best interests of your pet so you can make an informed decision. We even have payment plans available.

We usually recommend clipping an animal – because unless your pet is bald it can be really hard to see if there is more than one tick on your pet!. We also recommend some form of “quick kill”: either a bath or treatment that will kill any remaining ticks that we may have missed instantly.

We usually administer some medication before the tick serum. Sometimes this is a simple sedative to keep stressed animals calm while the tick serum is administered. Sometimes we add in something to prevent them from reacting to the tick serum, as these reactions can be dangerous. We treat each case individually and we will discuss this with you.

The tick serum  itself is administered quite slowly – sometimes over several hours. This goes into a catheter in your dog or cat’s front leg (usually!) As this can make them temporarily more sick, we monitor your pet closely while this is given.

Most dogs need to spend a couple of days in hospital recovering. They cannot eat or drink, they are prone to relapse when excited or agitated. Some animals end up on IV fluid therapy. This will depend on how long they are in hospital, their age, hydration status, and how long they have been sick for. We will discuss each stage of your pets care with you.

The biggest risk for every pet is aspiration pneumonia. Respiratory (breathing) problems are the most common cause of death in a dog or cat that has tick paralysis.

Specialist Care

Sometimes some pets need specialist care. If their breathing is compromised badly enough, they can end up on a respirator – a machine that can do their breathing for them. If this is the case for your pet we will usually send them to the specialist centre. This is because once they are on a respirator they need 24/7 care. Unfortunately we have neither respirators, nor the ability to provide 24/7 care at  Tweed Coast Vet but if your pet needs this we will let you know as soon as possible and help arrange for a transfer.


Once a pet is able to swallow and keep food down safely, we are usually are happy to send them home. This can take a few days time, though and sometimes improvement can be slow. We like to give daily updates, but sometimes there is little change to report, which can be frustrating.

At TCVet we understand this, but sometimes it is best not to visit your pet during recovery, as excitement can worsen things for them.

This applies once they have come home too. The tick toxin can have a direct effect on the heart muscle itself and too much exercise or excitement can cause a relapse up to several weeks after recovery.

We recommend taking things easy initially. Small meals, and toilet breaks instead of actual walks. We encourage a gradual return to normal walking behaviour over the next few weeks so that your pet should eventually be as good as new. Uncommonly some cases can have lingering effects on the heart, and some pets can have ongoing weakness, but we rarely see this, fortunately.

One of the worse things to see though is a second tick on the same dog. It makes treatment even riskier as they are more likely to react to the serum. When you get your pet home, make sure your pet has some form of prevention!