The Story of Darwinís Recovery

from Tick Paralysis

Darwin 2004 side view.jpg (66164 bytes)

Darwin is an extremely intelligent, loving, quirky border collie and was my best friend for nearly 15 years, since the fall of 1994.  He was in great health until the spring of 2004.  This log discusses my experience with and Darwinís recovery from tick paralysis.  If you have a dog, I strongly suggest you do whatever you can to be sure it is protected against ticks.  Currently, there is no way to treat afflicted dogs in the U.S., so prevention is of the utmost importance.  If you do believe your dog has been afflicted, do a thorough search and try to find the tick and/or apply a product to kill ticks.  Then be prepared to spend a lot of time and energy nursing your dog back to health if the tick has been injecting its toxins for a while.  Recovery is a long, slow process, but if you love your dog like I do, you can help it to make a full recovery with proper care.  Here is a good resource that has good advice and information about helpful products, although I hadn't found it until after he was recovered.  Click here for more information on caring for a paralyzed dog.

Day 1 (May 21, 2004):  When I came home from work at 3:30, he tripped up the stairs on his way in from outside (he is usually very agile).  Throughout the night, if I were to make any sudden movements near him, he would yelp.  I think it might have hurt him to have to get up suddenly or something.

Day 2:  Still about the same situation as Day 1.

Day 3:  He was laying down a lot.  Still having trouble with the hind legs.  Walking seems wobbly.  His breathing seemed heavy.

Day 4:  Shortly after 11:00 a.m., he went outside and was barely able to stand up.  His right front paw kept curling under and he was limping around.  Then the left one started curling under.  All he could do was lie down.  He was panting like crazy.  And he hadnít defecated for two days.  So this is the day I decided to take him to the vet.  Unfortunately, it was Memorial Day and there was only one emergency place around.  I had to pay $900 for them to keep him overnight on an IV and manually remove his bowel contents.  They also put him on steroids which are supposed to help some neuromuscular conditions.  The vet briefly mentioned ďtick paralysisĒ but didnít push the idea.  I had almost forgotten about it until I typed ďdog paralysisĒ into Google and a ton of information came up about it. 

Day 5:  Darwin was picked up at the animal hospital around 1:00 (otherwise it would be another $500).  He could not even lift his head more than an inch above the ground.  He couldnít wag his tail.  His legs were stretched straight out and were really stiff.  The vet wanted to put him to sleep.  They did not seem to feel that taking him back home was a good idea.  In fact, just before he was to be picked up, when they were asked if he had defecated yet or if they manually removed the feces, they said no and they did it in a big hurry before he was picked up.  His anal area was covered in feces and lubricant.  He has fluffy hair so it was a huge mess.  They should have shaved him before even attempting such a procedure.  His tail end had to be washed and shaven by me instead.  I had to hold his body up and he could drink small amounts of water at a time.  He was urinating like crazy due to the steroids and I was very worried he would dehydrate.  The vet even prescribed another week-long steroid treatment, but I decided not to give them to him after reading that dogs recovering from tick paralysis do not benefit from steroids..  I ground up his dry food in a mini-chopper and let it soak in water.  I made kind of a soup that he could lap up.  He only got down about half the amount he normally eats.  He has to be flipped like a burger every 2-3 hours to prevent lack of circulation.  By this evening, I was about 99.9% certain he had tick paralysis.  Hereís a summary of what I found out on the internet:

Tick Paralysis Basics:

Basically, there are many different types of ticks that produce a neurotoxin while they are attached and blood-feeding.  If the tick is removed, the symptoms will start to fade right away.  But if not, paralysis results.  It is an ascending paralysis, which means that it travels from the hind legs to the front legs.  It has even been observed in children (especially little girls with long hair) and it proceeds the same way (from legs to arms).  Breathing becomes difficult because the diaphragm muscle is affected.   This is what kills most animals afflicted.  In Australia, it is a huge problem among herding dogs, which are a necessity.  There is a special colony of dogs in Lisbon that is specifically raised to produce antibodies that can be harvested and injected into afflicted dogs as an antiserum against the neurotoxin.  Thinking this would help Darwin, I tried contacting all the area vets I could find and asked them if they had the antiserum.  The receptionists at several places I contacted said that it sounded like I was trying to self-diagnose my dog and that Iíd have to bring the dog in before they can tell me if they have the antiserum.  It seemed like they already knew they didnít have the antiserum but they just wanted your money.  Finally, my mom got a hold of a vet she was going to recently and he was helpful.  He called up his distributor and did some of his own research and even called my mom back himself.  He told her that unfortunately, the antiserum isnít available in the U.S.  So it seems that the majority of the vets in my area are putting dogs to sleep when they get tick paralysis.  Most pet owners wouldn't even know enough to do anything different.  But I wasnít ready to let my buddy go yet.  I figured that if I kept his muscles in shape and kept him fed and hydrated, once his own antibodies kick in, he should start getting better.  One article I read said it could be up to three months before an animal recovers from tick paralysis.  Luckily this happened shortly before my summer vacation so I was home to give him the care he needed.

Day 6:  The recovery started today.  Yesterday was the absolute worst day of his whole ordeal with paralysis.  He was able to wag his tail slightly and frequently.  He could now raise his head for 20-30 minute periods.  His left hind leg occasionally twitches.  He finally defecated for the first time since being home.  It was covered in a thick, dark blood.  They really messed him up at that place. 

Day 7:  Today he didnít defecate at all and would only eat half his normal amount again and had to be coaxed.  He moves his hind legs slightly back and forth on occasion.

Day 8:  Today he defecated at 7 a.m. and it was very bloody again.  Since he wasnít enjoying his food much, I decided to try some soft food.  He ate Ĺ can of Pedigree at lunchtime.  He is laying more curled up today rather than flat on his side.  He ate another Ĺ bowl of the dry food/water soup mixed with a little soft food.  Every day, I have been pumping his leg muscles to keep them toned.  Today was the first day that there was actually a response to the pumping.  After about 10 pumps, he would pull the hind leg back on his own.  At 9:00 he did something incredible---I was leaving the house and he didnít want me to go so he actually crawled several feet!

Day 9:  Today, he was carried outside to try to go to the bathroom.  He defecated out there at 11 a.m. and also emptied his bladder outside.  His feces is still bloody.  He was an exceptionally well-housetrained dog and it has been bothering him to go in the house.  I could tell it was making him uncomfortable and he was holding it in.  Today, he pulls his hind legs back after only 3-4 pumps.

Day 10:  Today at 8:45 a.m., he defecated and it wasnít quite as bloody as the last several days.  At 12:30 p.m., he ate almost a full bowl.  He can support his upper body longer and more fully while lying down, especially with his left shoulder.  It seems like his right side has been weaker than the left.  He defecated a large amount at 7:45 p.m. and it was slightly bloody, but more moist and normal looking.

Day 11:  Today is the first day he was able to eat a full bowl of food.  This was at 6:30 a.m.  Then he ate almost another full bowl at 5 p.m.  I am still mixing it with lots of water so that he stays hydrated.  He also started turning himself today.  He has really hated being turned by my boyfriend, Brian and me.  He has also had a warm nose this whole time.  Today is the first day his nose was cold again.

Day 20:  Darwin has made slow but steady progress for the last 9 days.  Each day it is evident that he is getting stronger and is gaining more mobility.  Today, he took a few steps on a couple occasions.  He is now going outside to urinate and defecate (no more doing 4 loads of towels each day).  He canít stand up for more than about 10-15 seconds before his legs collapse.  He has a lot of problems with the right front paw curling under.

Day 21:  After trying so hard yesterday, he was very sore and weak today.  He did not want to do much and it was obvious he was feeling bad.  He didnít like being picked up today and was snarling and growling.

Day 26:  Darwin can now stand for 30-second intervals.  When something exciting happens (someone enters or leaves the house), he gets up on his own to see whatís going on.  On his last trip outside today, it was his first time not falling down once.

Day 33:  Darwin likes to shake sometimes (like an animal does to dry off) and when he was trying to do that before, heíd lose his balance and fall over.  Today, he could shake without falling.  Two more firsts---he can now defecate while squatting (instead of laying down) and can urinate standing up (he used to lay in the grass) although he still canít lift his leg.  He is getting back to his normal self and is trying to follow when I change rooms.  I have to keep him confined to the hall and 2 bedrooms though because he slips on the tile and wood floor.  But he is trying to walk on his own and is falling down a lot less.  He couldnít do a 180-degree turn without falling over until today either.   

Day 36:  Darwin continues to show improvement.  For the first time since the paralysis, he ate his last bowl of food  tonight while standing up.  He normally lays down for the whole bowl.  He even drank his water standing up.  

Day 42 :  This morning, he was able to lift his leg to urinate and didn't fall over.  He has tried many times before but has not been able to maintain his balance until today.  He has been running in short bursts too.  He is starting to get back to his normal behavior of following me into whatever room I'm in.  The only problem is that he is confined to the main floor living room and 2 bedrooms because he still can't hold his ground on wood or tiled surfaces.  He's fine on carpet, cement and grass though.  

Day 53 :  He is now able to walk up the one short step inside the house and the two taller steps up to the kitchen.  He can make it down the short step just fine, but sometimes stumbles down the two steps.  He is able to walk on all surfaces of the house now, including the slippery tile and wood flooring.  Almost everything is back to normal except that he can't handle any more than two steps.

Day 70:  He is back to most of his old antics, like tapping his feet on the ground and spinning in circles when he's really excited.  Everything is back to normal except that he is reluctant to jump up and stand on his hind legs when asked to and he used to enjoy this behavior.  I am also keeping him away from the two large flights of stairs.  He can make it up just fine, but I'm worried about him getting down.   

Day 76:  Today, I allowed Darwin to try going down the basement stairs, which is 7 steps in a row.  He went up and down four times today without falling!

Day 87 (August 21):  Well, some of the literature I read about tick paralysis stated that it can take up to three months for a full recovery.  I'd say that's pretty accurate.  There are no longer any gates up to block the stairs.  Darwin is going up and down both flights of stairs with no problems whatsoever.  One thing that is different is that he used to enjoy sleeping upstairs at night, but now he likes to stay in the guest room where he did most of his recovering.  It's interesting because he rarely ever went in that room before he was paralyzed.  He's back to normal except that he won't try jumping up on the bed anymore and he used to think of it as such a privilege.  I'm going to consider his story completed, except for an update on when he decides to try to jump on the bed, if ever.  It's been a long and difficult journey for all involved, and I'm so glad he made it through.

May 24, 2005 --- It's almost a year to the day since Darwin became paralyzed.  He still hasn't jumped on the bed.  He's a very happy dog and is doing everything else he used to with no problems.  The only thing different is that his front legs tremble sometimes when he sits, especially in the morning.  It doesn't seem to affect his cheerful mood though.  I hope I can report on his good health again at this time next year.

June 19, 2005 --- Darwin jumped up on the bed today!!!

December 2006 --- I had to put up a gate to block the upstairs because Darwin has fallen down the steps a few times.  He enjoyed sleeping in my room during the day when I was at work, so I felt bad having to keep him out of his favorite place, but I didn't want him to get injured, especially when I'm not home.

February 2008 --- One thing I didn't really notice over the years is that he had stopped wagging his tail when he was happy (like when he was about to be fed or if I just arrived home).  A few months ago, he started wagging again and I realized how long it had been since I'd seen that.   Must have been some remaining neurological damage that was preventing him from using his tail the past 3 1/2  years.  Darwin is not able to go down the smaller flight of stairs into the basement anymore either---I have to keep a gate up to prevent him.  He is even having trouble with the three steps to get outside.  Sometimes he asks to be carried up or down.

May 2009 --- Over the past year, Darwin's walking abilities have deteriorated.  For the last few months, he has needed help getting up and guidance while walking.  On May 11th, he stopped eating.  We made him gourmet meals like steak tips and everything, but he made the decision not to eat.  He didn't eat for a whole week, only drank water.  On May 18th, he died in the presence of me and Brian.  He got tick paralysis on May 21, 2004, so that means he survived 5 more years!!!  Never underestimate hope and dedication, and of course, the dog's drive to live.


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