Two cases of equine paralysis caused by ticks have been reported by the Purdue University Teaching Hospital in Indiana. It is believed to be the first cases of tick paralysis in North America. Referred to the hospital in May 2018, one American miniature horse was down and could not rise; the other was weak, but able to stand, though unsteadily.
Both horses had been bought from an unlicensed petting zoo nine days before admission to the hospital. They both began showing signs of incoordination 24 hours before being referred to Purdue. The veterinarians noted that both ponies had decreased tail and tongue muscle tone, but had normal spinal reflexes. There were between 100 and 150 Dermacentor variabilis ticks (also called American Dog ticks) embedded on the mane and tail of each horse.
Drs. Kelsey Trumpp, Ashley Parsley, Melissa Lewis, Joseph Camp Jr. and Sandra Taylor removed the ticks, and treated the horses with fluids and topically with permethrin. Within 48 hours of tick removal, both horses were neurologically normal. Though tick paralysis is common in dogs, the researchers encouraged vets who encountered a horse with a rapid onset of weakness leading to recumbency be considered for tick paralysis. Further research is needed to understand how the neurotoxins from the tick saliva works.
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