By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance
Slick Mick wasn’t feeling so slick, in fact, his owners were pretty sure he was feeling sick… Slick is a 5-year-old Bichon with thick curly white hair and a spunky disposition. But after camping with his family the previous week, he began acting strangely. He wouldn’t jump up on the couch and he was reluctant to go through the doggie door.
Initially the family thought he might just be sore from all the hiking and outdoor activity earlier. Through the weekend Slick went from seeming sore to being weak and wobbly in the hind legs. Although his owners didn’t have dog insurance for Slick, they thought it was time to take him into the vet, so they made him an appointment for that Monday.
Slick Mick had trouble placing both hind feet right side up when the veterinarian put them upside down. And he was very weak in his hind legs, close to paralysis. These symptoms indicated a neurologic problem, and the veterinarian diagnosed disc disease and prescribed medication. Relieved, Mick’s family went home, but that night something troubling occurred; now Mick couldn’t use his front legs either.
Alarmed, the family returned to veterinarian’s office, it was agreed that disc disease couldn’t explain progressive paralysis, especially in the front legs. The recommendation was that Mick should be hospitalized until his disease was determined. Pet Health Insurance would have been helpful in Mick’s case, as hospitalization is generally expensive, and it was unclear how Long Mick would have to stay.
Progressive paralysis can be very serious, as muscles slowly lose their ability to function. The muscles used in the diaphragm, for example, are essential for breathing, and thus, for life.
As the veterinarian was taking Mick’s temperature, something that was overlooked before, surfaced. Mick had a tiny tick attached under his tail. While this may seem trivial, this was a huge clue to Mick’s paralysis disease. Slick Mick was diagnosed with Tick Paralysis, a potentially fatal disease carried by the common ticks in North America.
Tick Paralysis is characterized by a sudden onset of progressive muscle paralysis. It is caused by neurotoxins in the saliva of certain female ticks. Not all animals will develop the disease if bitten, and not all female ticks carry the toxin. There are four species of ticks in the US that can secrete this neurotoxin, and they are found throughout the United States.
Slick Mick had been camping just one week prior; clinical signs of the disease generally occur 5 to 9 days after the animal has been bitten. The toxin interferes with the nerves’ ability to communicate to muscles, thus the muscles receive no signals and are flaccid. Typically rear leg weakness is noticed first, which will rapidly progress to involve the front limbs as well. Eventually, within days the patient will be completely paralyzed. Occasionally nerves that control facial muscles, swallowing, barking or vocalizing can be involved. If the muscles involved in breathing are affected the patient will die unless on a respirator.
Removal of the tick generally allows resolution of clinical signs and paralysis within hours and complete recovery is achieved in days. It was quite miraculous to see Slick Mick regain the use of his legs within the day after the tick was found on his bottom. It is easy to overlook or miss a small tick attached to your pet, but the use of flea and tick preventatives in the spring, summer and fall can prevent this disease. Some pet insurance companies will even help to cover a portion of flea and tick medication.
Slick Mick’s recovery was complete and he went home the next day, feeling as slick as ever, sans tick.