Recently, the wildlife hospital received an adult gray fox that had been found on the side of the road. The fox was paralyzed except for a slow blink response from his eyes. Usually when an animal has been rescued so close to a road, it is assumed a car might have hit it. The initial exam found no evidence of trauma, but what it did find was that the fox was loaded with ticks…hundreds of them!
Most wild animals carry a level of ectoparasites (fleas, ticks) but usually they are not life threatening. In this case, the level of parasites overwhelmed him and caused tick paralysis (caused by a neurotoxin secreted by the tick while feeding). Paralysis usually starts in the hindquarters and slowly moves toward the head until the entire animal is paralyzed. Eventually, if not treated, the toxin causes paralysis of the respiratory system and death.
It took hospital staff about an hour to carefully remove the ticks from the fox. A blood sample showed the fox was anemic from the numerous parasites that had been feasting on him. Staff gave the animal subcutaneous fluids for dehydration and a medication that would kill any remaining ticks.
What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Slowly, over the next several hours, the fox began to move! First, his eye blink became more regular; next, he started growling when we approached the cage, a sign that his faculties were coming back. Then he started to move his upper legs, and finally, his lower legs! He came in flat out with no movement and by the next morning, he was able to move normally and was curled up in a much more natural position.
Treatment for tick paralysis involves removal of the ticks and supportive care. Removal of the ticks halts the release of toxin and slowly, over a period of days to a week, the animal recovers. In the case of our gray fox, he has made a complete recovery! After rechecking blood values, he was given a clean bill of health and released back to the wild!