Although some areas are notorious for infections, tick paralysis can occur to any dog, anywhere. Nevertheless, it mainly occurs in North America and Australia. Tick paralysis can make dogs extremely sick and is potentially fatal. Even if the dogs do survive, they often need to be hospitalized for several days. Tick bite prevention and prompt tick removal are therefore vital in these countries, even if you don't live in a region where the problem is common.
Tick bite paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin produced in the tick's saliva. Once it is in the blood stream, it attacks the nerves in the body, starting at the tail end and then progressing upwards towards the head. Most often, an affected dog will have several ticks attached to it, but it is possible for just a single tick to cause the problem. The symptoms can take up to a week to develop, so in some cases, the tick may have fed and dropped off the dog by the time they become sick. In these dogs, there may still be a small "crater" present in the skin where the tick was attached, giving a clue as to the cause of the problem.
Symptoms of tick paralysis usually develop gradually; in the early stages, they aren't particularly obvious. Infected dogs may initially appear weak or wobbly on their hind legs, have a change in their bark (due to paralysis of the vocal cords), and start vomiting. As time goes on, the paralysis will spread to the front legs; eventually, the dog will be unable to move at all. Death can occur from respiratory failure if the muscles that move the chest become affected.
If your dog starts displaying these signs, you should take it to your veterinarian immediately. Once the vet believes that tick paralysis is the most likely cause, the vet will first perform an extremely thorough search for any insects still attached. In many cases, especially in America, once the ticks have been removed, the dog will start to improve within hours, as the toxin clears from their system. However, the ticks may be small and hidden in body crevices, so sometimes they can be very difficult to spot. Many vets will make repeated searches, especially if your pet isn't improving as they would like. Although the dog may start to get better quickly, it can be a few days before they are well enough to be discharged from the hospital. Even when they are home, they will need extra care and attention for at least two weeks.
Your vet will also start whatever supportive care your dog needs. This may include putting the animal on a drip, prescribing medication, including antibiotics for potential chest infections, giving it oxygen if its breathing is poor, and in some severe cases, putting the dog on a ventilator. For some tick species, particularly in Australia, anti-toxins to their saliva are available. That is yet another reason why finding and identifying the culprit, if possible, is so important.
Prevention of tick bite paralysis is much better than attempting a cure. Ensure you use preventative treatments, and examine your pet daily to remove any ticks you find safely and quickly. No treatment alone is 100% effective at repelling ticks.