Tick paralysis is one of the most frequent preventable causes of death in cats.
If you act quickly, you can stop tick paralysis from ravaging your precious feline. Delay taking action, on the other hand, and you could be staring down the barrel of some pretty stiff vet bills.
Ticks belong to the spider family. They share eight legs and a voracious appetite for blood with spiders.
Beyond these similarities, ticks are much more aggressive and ambitious than spiders. They typically feed by latching onto larger mammals rather than attacking flies and other insects.
Ticks can survive when they’re transported miles from origin.
As ticks begin feasting, they inject anesthetic into the bite so they remain undetected as they eat their fill like modern-day Draculas.
Tick paralysis is surprisingly common but nevertheless terrifying. One instant, your cat is doing just fine but the very next, he’s totally paralyzed. If you’re aware of what’s going on and take prompt, decisive action, your cat should be just fine. Fail to do and you could be looking at respiratory complications and possibly even death.
Before we look at how you can safeguard your cat against tick paralysis and what to do if he falls victim, what causes this condition in the first place?
What Causes Tick Paralysis?
It’s the salivary toxin released by ticks when they latch on to feed from their host that causes tick paralysis.
With many different species of ticks all slightly different, not every tick bite automatically leads to tick paralysis.
Ixodes holocyclus is the most toxic tick and its native to the east coast of Australia. Here, the mortality rate for cats or dogs bitten by ticks is a staggering 10%.
If you live in the US, you’re much luckier. Tick species capable of triggering tick paralysis are less dangerous although still shouldn’t be discounted as a potential threat.
The main species causing tick paralysis in the US are the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis).
Tick paralysis normally happens in spring and on into early summer. It can, though, happen at any stage when ticks are present. You might see ticks in winter. As a rule, though, they stop feeding when the ground freezes over.
Due to the way in which ticks can be transported across lengthy distances with ease, they often crop up in areas where they’re not typically seen. Sadly, this all too often results in misdiagnosis with sometimes drastic consequences.
In some regions, ticks may also be active in the winter, but they usually stop feeding when the ground is frozen.
So far, so good. Be on your guard and be prepared to see ticks even if you’re not used to seeing them in your area. A rogue transplant can be all it needs to kickstart some nasty complications in your cat.
How does the toxin responsible for tick paralysis actually work?
We’ll double down on that right now…
How Does The Toxin In Ticks Work?
The mechanism of neurotoxin production is not accurately established.
It’s believed that the toxin in ticks could be produced with a helping hand from a microorganism that lives in ticks.
What is known is that the toxin enters the blood stream when a tick is engorged. When the neurotoxin is injected, the way in which calcium, potassium, and sodium exchange in the muscle cells is disrupted. This disruption of the natural equilibrium leads to muscle paralysis.
Tick paralysis impacts muscular nerve impulse transfer. This makes it hard for the muscles to contract and can lead to full or partial paralysis. Tick paralysis does not affect the sensory nerves so your cat will retain muscle and skin sensation. They simply won’t be able to move their muscles.
Leg paralysis can trigger problems breathing and swallowing. Inhaling food or water can trigger aspiration pneumonia.
Sounds bad, right?
Luckily, there are some simple ways to treat tick paralysis at home. That said, there’s still no substitute for taking your cat to the vet, too. You need to be confident there will be no further complications so don’t skip the professional advice.
Here’s what to do at home, though…
How To Treat Tick Paralysis at Home
The first and most crucial element of treating tick paralysis is to remove every tick from your cat.
Start by checking the ears and head but examine your furball from head to toe. Don’t allow any potential menace to slip your grasp.
Some Australian ticks call for the injection of an antitoxin but you won’t need this in the US.
Hospitalization can help with:
- Monitoring breathing
- Monitoring urine output
- Monitoring body temperature
- Administering IV therapy
Sometimes a ventilator is called for if respiratory issues develop as a result of tick paralysis. If this sets in, mortality rate is roughly 5% even when treatment is properly administered so buckle up for a rough ride.
Supportive therapy involves boosting your cat’s immune system with, plant-based minerals, canine-specific probiotics, and omega-3 oils, proven to be strongly anti-inflammatory.
Natural Methods of Preventing Tick Paralysis
Unfortunately, many commonplace tick products can be harmful.
Beyond this possible danger, most standard flea treatments do nothing to stop ticks from latching on. This means they are ineffective at countering tick-borne disease.
Ticks live where there’s plenty of grass and they like to lie in wait on blades of grass until the appropriate host passes by. By using an all-natural tick treatment, you can dissuade ticks from attaching to your cat.
Here’s what to do:
- Add 1 cup water to a spray bottle with 2 cups distilled white vinegar
- Add 2 tablespoons almond oil
- Add peppermint oil, citrus oil, or lemon juice for further effect
Here’s a great video on safely removing ticks from your cat.
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You should have a clear idea now of what to watch out if your cat comes into contact with ticks.
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