Your pet may have tick paralysis if you notice unusual symptoms like sudden lameness, lost appetite or voice changes. If so, your pet probably needs urgent vet care since the condition can turn life-threatening.
But tick paralysis might get labeled pre-existing on pet insurance if the condition occurs before you buy a policy. However, a few insurers may reinstate coverage after meeting several requirements.
What is tick paralysis?
Tick paralysis happens when ticks with neurotoxins in their saliva attach themselves to a host for a prolonged time. The toxin spreads through the body, causing progressive paralysis starting with the muscles around the throat. Then, it weakens the limbs, eventually leading to respiratory failure and death unless treated.
What are the symptoms of tick paralysis?
Symptoms of tick paralysis typically appear within five to seven days, according to the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists. Symptoms vary between pets, so one or more of these symptoms are cause for concern. Because tick paralysis spreads through the body quickly, pets with these symptoms need urgent vet care:
Change or loss of voice
Lameness that worsens over time
Grunting, retching or coughing
Lack of appetite
Lethargy, distress or agitation
Is my pet at risk for tick paralysis?
Many pets face the risk of tick paralysis, but the most common risk factors are:
It’s spring or summer. Most cases happen during the spring and early summer when ticks can multiply and find hosts easily in the temperate weather.
You live in tick-prone areas. Nearly all areas of the US are at risk because many tick species can cause paralysis, though the CDC recommends pet owners living in the Rocky Mountains and Northwest should take extra care. American dog ticks live in many eastern states and California, and Rocky Mountain wood ticks live in northwestern states.
What’s the treatment for tick paralysis?
Quick treatment is the name of the game to stop your pet’s paralysis in its tracks. Treatment could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on whether or not you need emergency after hours care.
You’ll need to do a thorough search through your pet’s coat to spot the ticks, and continue your search even if one tick is found. Whatever method you use to remove the tick, grasp it as close to your pet’s skin as possible to keep its entire body intact. If your pet has shown symptoms of paralysis, the AAVP recommends getting veterinary care.
Step 2: Neutralize the toxin.
Your veterinarian may give your pet a serum to offset the toxin’s effects. In progressed cases, your vet may provide medicine to help clear fluid in your pet’s lungs as well. Your pet may also need intravenous fluids if they’re unable to eat or drink.
Step 3: Boost long-term recovery.
Once the toxin is neutralized, your pet will need close care and attention to avoid undue stress. Both stress and severe weather conditions can cause a relapse. Your pet may spend time under your veterinarian’s watch and may have exercise and diet restrictions until your pet has regained strength.
How long does tick paralysis last?
Recovery time will vary based on the type of pet, the pet’s size and how much toxin was spread throughout the body. However, your pet’s symptoms may improve within 24 to 48 hours, although symptoms can worsen first.
Does pet insurance cover tick paralysis?
Most insurers do cover tick paralysis if you purchase an accident and illness policy, but the condition isn’t normally covered on accident-only plans. For accident and illness policies, the same annual limits, reimbursement rate and deductibles apply to tick paralysis as with other illnesses.
Some policies have an annual benefit limit that applies to each condition. These policies might leave you paying some costs for long-term care or expensive paralysis treatments out of pocket.
What if my pet already has tick paralysis?
If your pet has suffered from tick paralysis before getting insurance, the illness will be considered a pre-existing condition. Any immediate bills and follow-up care for tick paralysis probably won’t get covered by pet insurance.
However, you can buy pet insurance for other conditions your pet experiences in the future. A few insurers may reinstate tick paralysis coverage if the condition fully heals within a specific time period, like 6 or 12 months.
Compare pet insurance with illness coverage
Case study: Max’s treatment for tick paralysis
At the young and healthy age of three, Max suddenly had trouble moving his hind legs one day. The dog also turned lethargic and wouldn’t eat food, unusual for the dog’s enthusiastic personality.
Max received immediate vet care including medicine and in-hospital treatment, costing the dog’s owner $800. Because of pet insurance, Max’s owner paid the $250 deductible and another $55 in vet bills. Insurance paid 90% after the deductible, which totaled $495.
How can I protect my pet from paralysis ticks?
Although tick paralysis can be life-threatening, you can prevent the illness from spreading through your pet’s system with a few steps:
Check your pet for ticks. Thoroughly examine your pet after spending time outdoors, especially if your pet wandered into dense woods or grassy areas. You may find ticks around the legs, head, neck, belly and shoulders. Also, remember to check for multiple ticks rather than stopping with one. If your pet starts licking or scratching in one area, it could mean there’s a tick that’s latched on.
Limit outdoor time. Keep your pet indoors during the spring and early days of summer to control ticks, or stick to less wooded areas like backyards that have been sprayed for bugs.
Use flea and tick preventives. You can find flea and tick medicine for both dogs and cats available through your vet or over the counter. Apply it every month, even in the winter. Set a calendar reminder to give it at around the same time every month.
If your pet has tick paralysis, you’ll need quick treatment to save your pet from this life-threatening condition. However, your pet may not suffer from paralysis if you don’t see any of the symptoms and you’ve removed the tick. If you’re not experiencing an emergency, compare your pet insurance options for protection from illnesses ahead of time.
Frequently asked questions about tick paralysis
Because tick paralysis spreads quickly and is life-threatening, opt for vet care when in doubt about your pet’s recovery. You should receive vet care especially if your pet has shown the symptoms of tick paralysis.
Not usually. Most insurers allow you to get treatment from any vet as long as you’ve completed the waiting period. Typically, you’ll get reimbursed for covered procedures after paying the vet bill out of pocket.
Accident and illness policies don’t cover this preventive medicine. However, you might get coverage under a pet wellness plan, although a limit may apply to how much reimbursement you can get.
Adult femaleticks cause the most cases overall. While a few types of ticks are most known for tick paralysis, over 40 species can cause the condition. In North America, the American dog tick and Rocky Mountain wood tick are the most common species.
Ally Koster is Finder's assistant publisher for car, home and pet insurance. Her hobbies include reading product disclosure statements and deciphering complicated insurance lingo to help people save on their insurance so that they can spend their money on better things – like dogs. She graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Cultural Studies.
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