Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
American Dog Tick - Dermacentor variabilis
Brown with white markings, the American dog tick is one of the largest common ticks in Florida. They are usually found on vegetation beside paths and trails where they spend most of their life waiting patiently for an animal to walk past. Adult ticks can live for nearly two years without food, but when a warm-blooded animal brushes past by they quickly let go and attach themselves to the animal. Some people believe that ticks drop on you from the trees, but this is not true, they usually wait in bushes and grass at or below knee height.
When they have been attached to your dog for a while, these ticks become engorged with blood and blow up into a fingernail sized gray-green blob with tiny legs.
Dog ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, and they can also cause something called “tick paralysis”. As strange as it sounds, it is not uncommon for dogs, deer, raccoons, humans and even snakes, to become paralyzed by a toxin transmitted through the saliva of the dog tick. Though tick bites are common, tick paralysis is rare, and seems to happen most often if the tick attaches to the head, base of the neck or the spine and remains attached for several days.
The first signs of paralysis appear as weakness and lack of coordination in the hind limbs, the symptoms then affect swallowing, feeding and breathing. The animal become extremely lethargic and finally dies of respiratory paralysis. A single tick can paralyze and eventually kill, an adult deer, a dog or a human being. If you can find and remove the tick, the animal usually recovers within a few hours.
Until I saw my next-door-neighbor’s dog recover from what seemed to be a near death state, I thought “tick paralysis” was part of Florida folklore, but having watched the paralyzed and almost comatose dog get up and start running around, I am now a believer! A wildlife biologist friend tells of finding a paralyzed white-tailed deer fawn on his property. He thought it might have been hit by a car, but remembering tick paralysis, removed several ticks from around the deer’s head and neck, and left it in a safe place. A few hours later the fawn was up and walking.
top of page | Home