Paralysis can mean your cat is unable to move her legs, tail, ears, neck or other bodily parts. It can stem from different causes, but one you should be cautious of is tick bites.
In most cases, this kind of problem requires veterinary attention as opposed to home remedies and treatments.
What is tick paralysis?
Tick paralysis is a disease of the nerves. It occurs when a certain species of ticks bites your cat and releases a toxin through its saliva into the body of the cat.
Since this toxin affects the nervous system, it is medically referred to as neurotoxin. The toxin affects the nerves directly causing paralysis and loss of voluntary movement.
In this state, the muscles remain constantly relaxed. Not all ticks can cause paralysis. Ideally, only about 40 species of the numerous species of ticks can cause this type of paralysis and the most common species for this condition is Ixodes holocyclus.
You should note that for this disease to occur, just one tick of the infectious species is enough to cause an infection when it bites your cat. Several other species of ticks can infest your cat but will rarely cause tick paralysis.
Tick paralysis is most common in the eastern coast of Australia and northern America. These regions are the endemic areas inhabited by the species of ticks causing paralysis.
Can tick bites cause paralysis in felines?
Felines can get paralysis when bitten by infectious ticks. However, the condition is more common in dogs than cats in the Americas. In Australia, the rate of infection between dogs and cats is somewhat similar.
Tick paralysis can also affect humans. So be careful when visiting places that are inhabited by wildlife such as wombats, possums, and bandicoots since they are the usual definitive hosts for these ticks.
Symptoms are commonly experienced in areas endemic to these infectious ticks. On close assessment, you might find that the cat may have wandered away into the woodlands – the common habitation for these ticks.
The symptoms take time to develop, usually 6 to 9 days after the tick bite. Commonly observed symptoms include:
- Unsteadiness due to muscle paralysis.
- Weakness in the limbs and inability to walk.
- High blood pressure accompanied by increased heart rate and tachyarrhythmia.
- Partial or complete loss of muscle movement. More infestations mean more neurotoxins are injected into the bloodstream.
- Eating difficulties due to the paralysis of muscles used in swallowing.
- When the respiratory muscles are paralyzed, the condition can lead to asphyxia and respiratory failure.
- In severe forms of the disease, the cat may present with profuse drooling.
- The pupils may dilate.
- Death usually occurs as a result of respiratory failure due to paralysis of respiratory muscles. Secondary pneumonia can also occur as your cat’s saliva, food particles and water find their way to the lungs due to poor swallowing abilities. This can also cause death.
Stages of tick paralysis in cats
Staging is important in determining the extent to which the toxin has affected the cat. There are a total of five stages as follows:
- Stage 1
This is the mildest form of the disease. It occurs in the initial stages of infection and manifests generally as the weakness of hind limbs which results in a wobbling gait, though, the cat can still walk at this stage. You may also notice a change in the sound of your cat.
- Stage 2
In this stage, the hind limbs become paralyzed completely. This allows your cat to only sit up using the front limbs but cannot do the same with the hind limbs. The cat won’t be able to walk but may try dragging himself or herself on the floor when moving.
- Stage 3
At stage three, the limb paralysis has progressed to the front limbs. This allows the cat to rest only using the belly. All the limbs cannot support the weight of the cat making it difficult for him or her to stand.
- Stage 4
This is a terrible stage for your cat. He or she can only obtain support by lying on his or her side. At this stage, paralysis has also progressed to the respiratory muscles.
You will notice a change in breathing patterns such as increased effort during breathing and difficulty in swallowing food.
- Stage 5
This is the last stage. Death usually occurs due to respiratory failure or secondary pneumonia.
Tick paralysis usually manifest with a variety of syndromes. Treatment always puts into account the severity of the symptoms and the number of ticks that have infested your cat.
The history of previous exposure to ticks may also be assessed to aid in the diagnosis and treatment.
Due to the differences in stages for this disease, there is no definite treatment plan. Treatment is specific to the stage of the disease.
Before visiting the veterinary officer…
If you have noticed any of the aforementioned signs in your cat, search the coat thoroughly for ticks.
It may be difficult or easy to identify ticks depending on how engorged they are with blood.
Ticks that have caused recent infections are the size of a match head while those that have been parasitizing for long may be the size of a thumbnail.
Skip to step 3 if you cannot find any ticks on your cat’s coat.
Remove all the ticks that you have found and continue looking for more. You can achieve a safe removal by grasping the tick firmly with your fingers, or pair of blunt tweezers, close enough to the skin of the cat.
Pull out the tick with a sudden jerk. Do not rotate or turn the tick around while removing. Doing this will only prompt the tick to inject more saliva and toxin to the animal.
If you suspect that your cat may be having ticks or suffering from tick paralysis but you cannot locate them, keep him or her cool and quiet.
Placing the cat on the sun or covering him or her with a blanket or cloth may worsen the symptoms.
Nevertheless, you should keep searching for ticks.
Don’t give solid foods to your cat. You can only administer fluids, small amounts at a time. Watch out for coughing or vomiting as you administer the foods and cease giving food when they occur.
After following the previous steps, this is the step where you need to contact your veterinary officer. This should be done promptly to help combat the disease at its initial stages.
The veterinarian will prescribe tick antivenom to combat he neurotoxin injected by the tick.
Since stress is what contributes majorly to the symptoms, your vet will also prescribe sedatives to manage stress.
Antibiotics may also be administered to prevent the development of secondary pneumonia.
The cat will then be hospitalized until he or she can walk and eat with ease. Seeking treatment early will increase the chances of a faster healing process.
Here are a few commonly asked questions you should be aware of:
Can cats recover from paralysis tick without treatment?
Yes. Recovery is only possible if all the ticks have been removed at the initial stages of infestation – stage 1.
At this stage, the cat is only slightly affected. The recovery may also be possible if your cat previously had tick infestation but wasn’t affected by tick paralysis.
Can cats die from a tick infestation?
Yes! When the infestation is caused by the species of ticks that cause paralysis, the condition can progress to stage 5 which is the death stage. However, not all tick infestations will cause paralysis and death.
Check your pet daily for any skin infestation. This is the best prevention technique for all skin infestations in pets.
Ticks may not be common in your area, but you may have taken a stroll with your lovely pet to the woodlands.
You can also discuss with your vet about the various products available for tick prevention.
Bega Vet Hospital: The paralysis tick