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Tick Paralysis Treatment

At Pittwater Animal Hospital we have treated thousands of sick dogs and cats affected by tick paralysis over the years. We are strong advocates for tick prevention to avoid your pets becoming poisoned but sometimes it just happens. 

Dogs and cats will usually need treatment even with the very mildest of signs. The earlier this treatment is started, the greater the success of treatment.

Mild Tick Paralysis

These animals might just be not quite themselves. Signs include

  • Not wanting to eat
  • Less active
  • Change in voice
  • Unable to urinate
  • Slight weakness when walking

Treatment: If a tick is the cause of these signs it is best to treat, because tick poisoning signs can get worse for 48 hours after the tick is removed.

Our recommendation is to admit your pet into hospital and have

  • Sedation for treatment and clipping
  • Intravenous fluid therapy
  • Tick antiserum administration
  • Full body clip
  • Tick prevention applied
  • Bladder support
  • Eye care. (Animals with ticks often have dry eyes which develop ulcers)

Animals that are treated quickly with mild signs are often home and back to normal within one to two days. 

Moderate Tick Paralysis

These animals are very obviously affected and are at risk of severe, life threatening tick paralysis.

The signs of this stage include

  • Weakness and wobbliness of legs, with difficulty rising
  • Increased effort with breathing
  • Cats may have a mild grunt as they breath out
  • Dogs may develop a noisier breathing

Treatment: These animals are likely to die without treatment and the sooner it is started the better the outcome is likely to be.

Our recommendation is to admit your pet into hospital and have

  • Sedation for treatment and clipping
  • Intravenous fluid therapy
  • Tick antiserum administration
  • Full body clip
  • Tick prevention applied
  • Bladder support
  • Eye care. (Animals with ticks often have dry eyes which develop ulcers)
  • Medication to decrease retching and vomiting
  • Perhaps ongoing sedation to control anxious and difficult breathing episodes
  • Survey xrays to detect aspiration pneumonia may be needed
  • Oxygen therapy may be required to avoid exhausted breathing

Animals that are treated quickly with moderate signs are often home and back to normal within two to four days. Some animals take longer to convalesce, especially if they are older or over weight. 

Severe Tick Paralysis

These animals have life threatening tick paralysis and may die despite treatment.

The signs of this stage include

  • Usually unable to stand
  • Very obvious effort with each breath. The paralysis will go on for at least three days so this breathing effort can be exhausting.  
  • Cats may have an exaggerated ticky grunt
  • Dogs may be retching and gagging. Often these animals will suddenly regurgitate froth into the back of their mouths. Because they are paralysed they can not clear the throat and it is sucked down into the lungs causing pneumonia. This acute pneumonia puts the animal in critical danger of death.

Treatment: These animals are likely to die without intensive care

Our recommendation is to admit your pet into hospital and have

  • General anaesthesia for treatment and clipping
  • 24 hour intensive care to monitor progress and to suction secretions
  • Ongoing sedation to control anxious, difficult breathing episodes
  • Oxygen therapy to assist with breathing. (Even with oxygen these animals sometimes do not have the ability to breath adequately.)
  • Intravenous fluid therapy
  • Tick antiserum administration
  • Medication to decrease retching and vomiting
  • Medication to treat possible pneumonia
  • Survey xrays to detect aspiration pneumonia
  • Full body clip
  • Blood tests performed to assess progress and possible further complications
  • Tick prevention applied
  • Bladder support
  • Eye care. (Animals with ticks often have dry eyes which develop ulcers)

These animals are best cared for at our emergency service where there is 24 hour care and access to more advanced life support options. NEVS has highly experienced staff available, even in the middle of the night.

End Stage Tick Paralysis

These animals can not survive without life support. This is an extremely costly treatment option which requires up-front payment. To start ventilation any accrued costs must be paid in full plus a $5000 deposit. Every 48 hours another $5000 will need to be paid. Estimated cost until recovery may be $10-20000.

The animals body will recover from the poisoning 3-4 days after all ticks are removed but these animals will not live that long or have complications that are now life threatening.

To try to save their lives they can be placed on life support or ventilation up at NEVS our emergency service.

The animal is kept anaesthetised and a ventilator controls their breathing.  As well as ventilation, intravenous fluids are carefully administered, blood tests performed, medications given, hourly physio and eye care, bladder control, regular chest xrays and constant monitoring. NEVS looks after these patients on a fixed daily rate and has remarkable success rates for these cases. 

Animals may require ventilation for anything from 2 days to 10 days. When off the ventilator they are in intensive care for a number of days before being  well enough to go home. Several of our Pittwater patients have been saved by ventilation at NEVS and have lived very happy, long lives. The experience is however very emotionally and financially draining.

Intensive early treatment and monitoring can often avoid your pet getting end stage tick paralysis.

Euthanasia

Tick treatment is costly and owners need to be aware of the financial investment in treating their pet with tick poisoning. Complications with paralysed animals can double and triple the costs. At Pittwater Animal Hospital we try to keep you as informed as possible of the cost involved. This is also true of NEVS. Deposits for treatment are usually needed.

If you have a paralysed animal and are unable to afford this treatment, (finance companies are available), the kindest thing may be to euthanase your pet. Dying from tick paralysis is an awful death.

As always we are here to advise you and do what is right for you and your pet.

  Click Here to Make an Appointment

or call us on 9913 7979

FAQs about tick paralysis treatment in cats and dogs

Is there a test for tick paralysis?

Tick paralysis is one of the most frustrating things for a veterinarian to be presented with. There is no blood test to show an animal has tick paralysis, so it is diagnosed on the signs of disease and the presence of a paralysis tick or crater. 

 

The signs of disease can be very variable. Even veterinarians with decades of experience of diagnosing paralyzed animals can miss the signs of tick paralysis or not locate a tick!

 

Modern long acting preventatives are at present very effective. If your dog or cat has had tick control of the correct dose and is within the protected period, then it is less likely to have tick paralysis.

 

An unprotected animal can make your veterinarian suspicious of tick paralysis with a variety of signs. Sadly if we wait to treat the animal until we are absolutely sure it is tick paralysis, they may develop more dangerous signs of tick paralysis and be more difficult to save. This demonstrates how important it is to have your dog or cat on the Northern Beaches up to date with a well regarded tick protection.

It is not an easy problem.

What is the survival rate for dogs and cats with tick paralysis?

This really depends on a variety of factors.

  • What stage of tick paralysis your pet is in when the tick is removed and treatment is initiated.
  • How much tick toxin they receive – if your dog or cat is covered with large numbers of engorged ticks they will have received a large amount of tick toxin.
  • The overall health of your pet. Obese animals or those with underlying heart or lung disease will be less likely to survive.

Overall, the survival rates are very high in dogs and cats that are breathing well and are treated with good veterinary care when the tick signs are detected.

Can dogs or cats survive tick paralysis without treatment?

It is possible to survive tick paralysis without treatment but the chances of survival are much, much lower in pets that are not treated.

Treatment itself covers many things

  • Removal of all paralysis ticks. Treated animals are clipped, searched and the treated with long acting tick prevention to kill any ticks that may have been missed.
  • Tick serum is given to try to neutralize any toxin still in the blood stream to avoid the toxin entering cells and worsening the paralysis symptoms.
  • Supportive care is given at the veterinary hospital. This can include
    • intravenous fluids to maintain hydration while the pet recovers
    • eye cream if there is paralysis or dryness of the eyes
    • bladder care as paralyzed animals can not urinate properly
    • treatment for retching or gagging to avoid your pet breathing in fluid which will cause pneumonia
    • sedation if anxiety is causing the pet to struggle and have difficulties breathing
    • oxygen therapy to assist breathing until your pet can recover
    • in severe cases intensive ventilation and life support

Dogs and cats may survive mild tick paralysis without treatment in hospital but their chances of survival are considerably lower.

 

Is there home treatment for dogs and cats with tick paralysis?

Pittwater Animal Hospital strongly recommends that all dogs and cats with tick paralysis be given treatment at a veterinary hospital. 

If this is not possible your pet should be

    • thoroughly searched and have all paralysis ticks removed
    • apply a long acting tick killing medication to the skin
    • keep your pet in a very quiet environment avoiding all exercise
    • avoid food and water until your pet can swallow normally
    • help with urination
    • if your pet is suffering veterinary advice should be sought immediately

How long will it take for my cat or dog to recover from tick paralysis?

This depends on the severity of tick paralysis, how quickly your pet is treated and if your pet has any risk factors that will slow recovery.

  • Healthy young animals treated quickly can recover within 24 hours.
  • Over weight or elderly animals may need up to 5-8 days of intravenous fluids and nursing care before they are strong enough to go home.
  • If your dog or cat develops pneumonia from tick paralysis they have a higher chance of dying and will take several weeks to recover. Most animals with pneumonia who are not severe enough to require ventilation will be home within the week but will take many weeks to fully recuperate.

Why does it cost so much to treat my dog or cat with tick paralysis?

Many years ago treatment of tick paralysis was expensive due to the high cost of tick antitoxin. This is made from the serum of hyperimmune dogs and is expensive to make. 

 

Modern tick paralysis treatment depends not only on tick antitoxin but on supportive care in the form of fluids, medication, intensive nursing and oxygen therapy.

 

Our protocols have become increasingly effective and survival rates considerably better but this treatment is expensive for medication, equipment and veterinary resources. Depending on the size of your pet, treatment can cost between $900 and $1800 for the full treatment of an uncomplicated patient. Complicated tick paralysis treatment can double that cost. 

 

Pittwater Animal Hospital will always give you a clear indication of costs before starting treatment. We will also try to inform you if complications are increasing the cost of treatment above our original estimate. 

 

What happens to my cat or dog after I have removed a paralysis tick?

If you have removed a tick from your pet and it is showing no signs, it may not need any veterinary treatment. It would still be wise to seek veterinary advice.

 

If your pet is showing any signs of paralysis after the tick has been removed it is likely to worsen for at least 24 hours after removal. Early veterinary treatment is essential to get good results with tick poisoning. We recommend a veterinary consultation as soon as possible.

Pittwater Animal Hospital can provide you with the safest tick protection. 

  Click Here to Make an Appointment

or call us on 9913 7979

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