Dog walking around your local suburb may be all it takes for your pet to get bitten, and have you questioning a tick paralysis diagnosis. Of course, this risk applies to your cats and other pets as well.

Our guest contributor Dr. Tegan Hunt, Emergency Veterinarian, explains more about how your Vet will go about diagnosing tick paralysis if you suspect that your pet has been bitten.

Introduction

Last night was a rough night. I had to watch lovely owners say goodbye to their furbaby from severe tick paralysis that required ventilation and deteriorated quickly. It was absolutely heartbreaking for the owners. It’s also devastating being the vet after trying so hard to save the patient. The most difficult part is having to break this sad news and then performing humane euthanasia after giving your absolute best.

Paralysis tick diagnosis

Diagnosis of paralysis tick envenomation is commonly based on clinical signs and removal of a tick on presentation to the vet clinic or by the owners. However, sometimes the tick may have dropped off. We look for a “crater” where the tick used to be but if this is also not present diagnosis can be difficult.

If a tick is not found but the patient looks like they are displaying clinical signs of paralysis tick envenomation, the patient is admitted. They are then tick-clipped (fur from tail to nose is clipped) and treated for tick envenomation. We obviously cannot rule out other differentials at that time.

Other diagnostics performed

The other diagnostic tests that your Vet may perform are:

PCV/TS
  • this test allows us to determine their red blood cell % and their protein level
  • We assess the degree of dehydration that may be present from vomiting and regurgitation
Blood Gas
  • in patients with severe respiratory compromise, we do a blood gas reading to assess their partial pressure of carbon dioxide (PCO2)
  • If their carbon dioxide (CO2) is high: >60 mmHg, this indicates low oxygen levels (hypoxemia) and ventilation compromise
  • Normal PCO2 is 29-42 mmHg. When the CO2 increases to inappropriate levels, like >60 mmHg, this means mechanical ventilation on a machine is necessary
Electrolytes
  • If there has been significant vomiting or regurgitation this can result in electrolyte imbalances
  • Testing levels allow us to assess the fluids required and electrolytes that need to be added to their fluid bag (drip)
Radiographs
  • Radiographs (x-rays) may be recommended in the event of suspected aspiration pneumonia, especially if the patient is showing increased breathing difficulty
  • Radiographs will also indicate if a megaesophagus is present

Take action

I’ve said it many times and I will keep saying it, tick paralysis can be a devastating disease. Despite the best efforts of your Vet, your pet can deteriorate quickly. Even with careful assessment and good intervention, paralysis tick envenomation can be fatal for your fur baby. Please use prevention!

And make sure you check your pet for ticks. Whether you live near bushland, take your dog out walking or are resident in those suburbs where paralysis ticks are common. You can read more about the checks in the Dog walks mean tick checks section of my previous article.

More about Dr. Tegan Hunt, BVSc.

Tegan is an Emergency Veterinarian that practices in Brisbane, Australia. She is passionate about all things animal-related, including educating pet owners. You can follow her adventures on Instagram – dr.teganadel_ vet

And here are some more blogs by Tegan:

Dog walking dangers: paralysis ticks

How does my Vet diagnose snake envenomation?

How does my Vet treat snake envenomation?