Karin Sherbin

Karin Sherbin

Add another annoying and potentially fatal illness to the string of ailments ticks can cause.

I recently discovered that five different ticks in the U.S. carry a neurotoxin that can paralyze a dog while the tick remains on the dog.

Tick paralysis isn’t common; it can hit dogs (cats rarely if ever) and sometimes people, especially children 10 and younger.

In a case of bad luck doubled, my dog Jezebelle became a limp rag 24 hours after we heard that test results indicated cancer cells in the lump on her side.

The morning following the test results revealed Jezebelle urinated on her bed, a strange occurrence for her. We went for a walk at the Forest Farmer’s Market for about 20 minutes, long enough to stretch her legs and meet a few people. She seemed disinclined to walk longer.

She slept a lot the rest of the day. That evening, she walked from one room to another and collapsed. She didn’t want to eat or drink. I syringed water into her. I wondered if she had a temporary illness that would pass in a day.

On Sunday morning, Jezebelle stood up and walked a few steps. I syringed chicken broth into her periodically. I carried her limp body around the house and outside and held her up to urinate. By Sunday evening, Jezebelle could only lie on her bed, staring aimlessly from sunken eyes.

I conflated the test readings with the dog’s loss of mobility. Years ago, I had a seemingly healthy dog who degraded rapidly over the course of five days. An autopsy showed rampant cancer. I feared a repeat. I spent hours with Jezebelle, telling her what a good dog she was and stroking her soft fur.

I brought Jezebelle to the veterinarian for euthanasia. The vet considered cancer an unlikely cause for such a catastrophic, swift decline in health. She thought Jezebelle may be suffering from tick paralysis, for which there is no diagnostic test. I was happy to trial the doctor’s hypothesis with one pill to kill ticks and a course of antibiotics in case there was another tick disease lurking.

The results were almost instantaneous. In a few hours, Jezebelle could prop herself up and lap water. The next day she could walk wobbly. Each day saw improvement.

We got lucky on that one. Maybe we’ll get lucky on her cancer, which according to a subsequent and more sophisticated biopsy, concluded she has fibrosarcoma. That’s a slow-growing malignancy that invades local tissue. Treatment for that is more complex than taking a pill. Surgery is the common option, and we will give that a try.

Jezebelle is enjoying her life currently, which is all any of us can do. To avoid tick paralysis and other tick-borne diseases, stay out of tall grass, apply tick repellents and check your pets and yourself for ticks daily. Learn more about all tick diseases at https://www.aldf.com.

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