Introducing: The X Files of Veterinary Medicine

One of the things I adore about the veterinary profession is the sheer number of wild, inexplicable things that can happen. Let’s be clear: I would never want you to experience wild and inexplicable medicalsituationwith your pet, but it’s really fascinating to know these things are out there—bizarre, intriguing events for which a cause is is only partially identified. Not exactly paranormal, but… just down the block from it.

Let me introduce you to tick paralysis. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? The name invokes a nightmare in which you are unable to move a muscle as hordes of tiny parasites swarm over your body, seeking out the perfect place to feed.

Wait, come back. I won’t do it again, I promise.

Tick paralysis mainly affects dogs whose owners have forgotten to apply parasite preventativeIt’s not an infection but rather a toxic compound in the salivof certain tick speciesNot every individual tick from the offending groupsproduces toxinrendering themechanism even more mysterious. Stumbling and weakness are the initial problem in affected animals, usually beginning with the back legs. The condition progressesswiftly, over the course of a day or so, and very soon the pet is unable to walk at allbut is apparently in no pain and will often continue to wag her tail. Some patients do temporarily lose their bark during this processbut theyusually continue to eat and drink fine (as long as someone delivers the bowl to theirbedside).

There is no test for tick paralysis. You have to locate the feeding parasite and remove it, or else be suspicious enough to applamedicine that will kill all attached ticks. Signs ofillness start to improve very rapidly then; itruly looks like a miracle has occurred.

It’s rather unnerving that something virtually invisible (and, really, as commonplace as a randomly selected dog tick) could render your pet silent and immobilized—yet still wagging her tail!—within the space of several hours. Even more bizarre is the complete recoverythat could occur within a few hours after the removal of said tick. This peculiar conditionactually has a twin sibling, namedcoonhound paralysiswhich is essentially the same disease(minus the tick), albeit taking a much longer time to resolveLike tick paralysis, it has an abrupt onset followed by very rapid progression to full collapse. Shrouded in an even thicker cloak of mystery, itwas once confidently blamed on raccoonsbecause this animal featured so prominently in the week before illness struckSome expertsare beginning towonderif coonhound paralysis mighthave an autoimmune origin instead, since the raccoon is absent from a handful of cases; however, it does not respond at all to medicines meant forthis category ofdisease. And there’s still the raccoon connection, which statistically can’t be ignored. Could there be a third, unidentified, sibling in the picture? We may never know.

Dr. M.S. Regan