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Why this Kamloops dog was suddenly paralyzed and how to prevent it

Quadar the mixed-breed pup got tick paralysis from a tick bite in Kamloops on April 12.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Laura Federau

A Kamloops woman got a big scare from a tick last week after taking her dog for a walk. 

Laura Federau took her beloved dog Quadar for some outdoor fun in Westsyde on Sunday, April 12.

“My baby bear and I often do the Deep Lake Loop which I took him on twice and down to the dyke on Sunday for a swim because it was his birthday,” she said.

The following morning, the dog was stumbling when walking and progressively lost mobility throughout the day until his back legs were paralyzed. She worried it might be an injury to the dogs back or hips but couldn't find anything out of the ordinary. 

He was suffering from tick paralysis, a condition that most commonly affects dogs, sheep and, rarely humans.

“We always do a check for ticks but because of his thick fur I am usually still concerned,” she said. “That day he couldn’t walk or stand without his back legs going out on him, it was heartbreaking and super scary. He stopped attempting stairs as he had almost wiped out too many times and instead pulled himself up on the couch and stayed there looking depressed.”

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Federau said family members came over to help do a deeper search for ticks in the dog’s thick fur, and finally found a fully engorged tick embedded on one of his hind legs. Within hours after the tick was removed, the dog was improving.

While effective tick prevention drugs are readily available, Federau is concerned about possible side effects they may cause and chooses to take on the ticks using natural measures.

“I am totally aware this is a controversial opinion but I prefer to go more holistic with my dog’s care,” she said. “I know it puts him at risk of this but giving him medication that makes his blood toxic to ticks doesn’t sit right with me. The chemicals go into the bloodstream and kill the tick neurologically. You can take the tick off the dog, you can’t take the pills out of the dog.”

Federau said she drives her dog to see a holistic vet in Kelowna regularly to keep her dog healthy and happy. She uses homemade, holistic tick repellents made of vinegar and essential oils for his coat and thoroughly checks for ticks after every outdoor adventure.

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Dr. Matt Nicol, veterinarian at Riverside Small Animal Hospital in Kamloops, said he is aware there is a hesitancy for some dog owners to give their dogs the medications, but he is sure they are the safest and most effective preventative method.

“The current level of drugs are fed orally and do get absorbed and circulate in the blood,” Nicol said. “The molecules are pretty harmless to most dogs. There are very few dogs out there who we must medicate with caution, for example, if they are predisposed to seizures. Some dogs have a gene that predisposes them to drug sensitivity, but they can usually take tick medication safely.”

Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin found in the saliva of some ticks. Nicol said the drugs are specific neurotoxins but are not toxic to mammals, just insects and arthropods like fleas, ticks and lice.

“These drugs are used all over the world to combat tick borne diseases,” he said. “Before we started using these drugs we saw quite a few tick paralysis cases and now we may see one per year.”

The basic three prescription options available on the market to protect your dog from tick bites are a collar, tick spray and edible medications.

“Oral medications are the most effective,” Nicol said. “The sprays and collars work fairly well to get into the oils on the dog and spread around the body, killing the tick within hours. However, they are impregnated with industrial insecticide that can transfer onto your hands, or wash off when the dog goes swimming.”

Nicol said the insecticides on collars and in sprays are toxic if they are ingested and are capable of killing cats.

“The product works well but does not come without potential problems,” he said. “We like the ingested ones, I use oral medications on my dogs and they are very effective. The oral medications have good safety profiles and millions of doses are given every year.”

Nicol said the tick population in and around Kamloops is growing and he predicts it will continue to grow due to climate change, longer springs and the large deer population.

“There are more deer around and they are the main host in this area,” he said. “They are the primary things the ticks want to eat. But they are not fussy, ticks will feed on anything. We are seeing more ticks on outdoor cats too, even though they groom themselves often.”

Nicol said if your dog is getting weak and wobbly, and you suspect tick paralysis, to get some tick control as quickly as possible. Give a dose immediately, the tick will die within 4 to 8 hours, and the dog’s symptoms will regress.

“Nothing else works (to prevent paralysis),” he said. “You can be as holistic as you like but there is a reason modern medicine has established itself, it works. You are not going to find every tick, the baby ones are the size of a pinhead."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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