Tick Paralysis

Our story

This is our experience with tick paralysis.

The Pin-Chin-Sky Loop is a beautiful, yet challenging experience that includes significant elevation gain and loss along with technical terrain. There are some breaks from the challenge, of course, and those include calm stretches of shady forest along creeks, and our nemesis, long stretches of overgrown grassy trail.

As with any seasoned hikers, our major concern within these areas are snakes. This is the Southeastern US, of course… it’s snake country, Y’all!

I’ve always viewed ticks as more of a subject of disdain than anything really life-threatening. I mean, logically I know the potential is there for Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, general infection, etc. Tick paralysis never really crossed our minds.

When it came to any actual perceived risk, though, my rose-colored glasses were always on. Our experience over the past weekend changed everything!

Our backpacking trip started with a night at Turnipseed Campground on Sunday 7/29 so we could get an early start leaving from Adams Gap on 7/30. Everything went off without a hitch (just kidding, but that’s for another post). 12 miles on the 30th and another 11 on the 31st, and we were exhausted and back at the car, heading home.

The real story begins.

Based on the number of ticks we had pulled off of ourselves during the trip, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me with these little long-haired dogs once we got back home. I checked both of them every night after work, and pulled off more ticks than I can count from each dog. It’s a bad season for them, from what I understand.

Just to provide a little background information: each dog has worn a Seresto collar since April, which places the collar well within its functional limits of 8 months. This collar, although aimed at flea control (for which it has been flawless on both dogs), is also indicated for tick control. I thought I’d give it a shot this year, since Frontline Plus no longer works for either of the dogs, and my vet has told me on more than one occasion that it is simply ineffective these days.

Porter cannot tolerate Nexgard at all, so I took that option off the table and went for the Seresto. Since both are senior dogs, I always hesitate to try something new on them, but both have tolerated the collar very well, so I decided to just be extra vigilant on tick picking after each trip.

After this particular trip, I noticed that roughly 40% of the ticks I found on Porter were already dead. That’s not great, but for a dog that has already had an adverse reaction to Nexgard, it’s acceptable. For Hagrid, it was a different story. Maybe 20% of the ticks I found on him were dead. At the rate I pulled ticks off of these dogs, that’s really not good. The rest of the week was normal as can be, until it wasn’t.

Timeline of our experience.

Saturday, 8/4

9:00 AM

I got up as usual to get ready for work. The dogs went out and I noticed that Hagrid looked a little wobbly. This is unusual, despite him being nearly 16 years old. Then again, we did complete the toughest hike he’s been a part of just a few days prior- I chalked it up to delayed onset muscle soreness.

12:30 PM

I got a call from Jack saying that the unsteadiness had rapidly progressed to stumbling and loss of balance. Panicked, I went home immediately to find an emergency vet, as my usual office is an hour away and is closed after 12:30 on Saturdays.

2:00 PM

We found a highly rated emergency vet and Hagrid got an exam and bloodwork. All bloodwork came back completely normal. The vet briefly discussed tick paralysis (and found 3-4 ticks during the exam), but diagnosed Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. This is a disorder that is somewhat common in old dogs, and affects the inner ear to the extent that the dog has trouble maintaining balance. The condition normally resolves itself within 4-5 days. They sent us home with an anti-nausea medication and we were instructed to let him rest.

Tick paralysis
Little sad face.

8:00 PM

Hagrid has never really been one to lose appetite, and he ate and drank and took his pill without issue that night. He still looked pretty wobbly, but the symptoms didn’t seem to progress.

The next day

Sunday, 8/5

8:30 AM

Hagrid was completely unable to stand. There was no muscle tone, and when I picked him up it was like picking up a 20-pound wet noodle. He wouldn’t accept water and would barely eat a treat- this, of course, was VERY unusual.

9:00 AM

I called the emergency vet, who recommended bringing Hagrid back to keep him overnight until the neurologist returned Monday and could give a neurological exam/tests. We hemmed and hawed on this for a bit, because honestly, what are they going to be able to tell us without the neurologist there?

Very much out of character for him.

 

10:00 AM

I was an absolute mess. Jack reminded me of the possibility of tick paralysis and encouraged me to keep looking. I said “But the vets already looked for them! They found a few, I’m sure that’s all that were left. I think he’s dying.” I had a good cry and tried to prepare myself for the worst.

11:00 AM

I figured what the hell, I’ll try to find some ticks… really go over this dog head to toe, and then do it again, and again. I got the comb and tweezers out and started checking.

2:30 PM

The real-deal, Hail Mary tick checking is done. 11 more ticks in a Ziploc bag to take to my regular vet on Monday, just in case he can test them or do something. I found 4 of them just between his toes! How could I have missed so many when I had been looking every day?

4:00 PM

Time for another serious check, just in case…. this one turned up nothing. I removed his Seresto collar, on the off chance that it could have caused neurological side effects after 4 months- another Hail Mary.

8:00 PM

Hagrid started drinking water for the first time since Saturday, and even ate a half portion of his dinner. I pulled him up to a sitting position, and his front legs were strong enough to support his weight for a few seconds. This doesn’t sound like much, but it was a huge improvement!

8:30 PM

The third tick check of the day revealed a big nasty one on the back of his left leg, close to the base of his tail. Once again, I was shocked that I missed it after multiple head to toe checks. Into the bag it went.

10:30 PM

Hagrid crawled about 2 feet across the bed to get a french fry. I was ecstatic!

11:30 PM

Hagrid stood up on his own! I carried him down the deck stairs to pee outside, and he even took a few steps. Great sign! He went to bed in his favorite closet shortly after.

Monday, 8/6

7:30 AM

As Hagrid is profoundly deaf, I tapped him to wake him up for morning pee time. To my surprise, he got right up, walked down the stairs, and did all his business, with no help!

11:00 AM

Finally, my regular vet was able to see Hagrid! By this time, I had no doubt that his actual diagnosis would be tick paralysis, but I wanted him to get a checkup anyway because research told me that tick paralysis can cause heart arrhythmia.

I had a Ziploc bag of 12 nasty ticks, just in case, but as I suspected it would have been prohibitively expensive to send them for analysis so they weren’t needed. My vet listened to Hagrid’s heart and confirmed that there was no arrhythmia.

I described the backpacking trip, and my vet was shocked that such an old guy could tough it out for 23 miles! He actually said that Hagrid is one of the healthiest 15-year-old dogs he has ever seen.

I left with a 7 month supply of Nexgard (Hagrid has had it before and tolerated it well, Porter will stick to Seresto for now), and an off-label use of Capstar. This is officially indicated only for fleas, but may help with any remaining ticks. I’d say that I got them all, but if this awful experience has taught me anything, it’s that you never really know.

6:40 PM

As I’m writing this post, we’ve been home from the vet for about 5 hours now. Hagrid has begged for Popeye’s chicken, snuck out of the garage to meet the new neighbor children, and just generally been his wonderful pain-in-the-ass self.

Conclusion

I will never again underestimate the potential nastiness of a tick bite, in dogs OR humans. Please remember to ALWAYS check your dog, and yourself for ticks. This includes between the toes and around the pads!

If you have a dog that is able to tolerate Nexgard (dogs generally do very well on this, I just have a rare exception with Porter), it is definitely worth the cost for the peace of mind.

If your dog does NOT tolerate Nexgard or other preventatives, consider buying a dose of Capstar after your tick-infested hike just in case- it is indicated for fleas only, so tick control is technically off-label use, but my vet says that it can help with ticks as well. At any rate, it’s 12 bucks.

And humans- tick paralysis is very rare, but can happen to us too! Be vigilant and be safe! Tick paralysis in humans is most common in children and for some reason, young girls are the most susceptible.

 

Cheaha Wilderness: Overnight on Nubbin Creek Trail

Nubbin Creek Trail

Nubbin Trailhead Parking Area

Nubbin Creek Trailhead is just outside of the Cheaha Wilderness Area in the Talladega National Forest near Anniston, Alabama. The trailhead is located on a small gravel culdesac off Nubbin Creek Rd. The turn is well marked with the typical yellow and brown FS trailhead sign.

After pulling into the culdesac there are two trails: one to the left and one to the right. The trail to the right is Nubbin Creek Trail. The one on the left has an oddly placed fire ring directly in the middle of the trail and I’ve read there is a secluded campsite at the end, but I can’t confirm that first hand.

Taking the trail to the right, you will see a trail sign telling you that you are on the right path. You can also access Cave Creek Trail and the Odum Scout Trail from here as well. Just ahead you will see an FS kiosk to the left.

Cheaha Wilderness
About 50 feet in on the right.
Cheaha Wilderness
About 100 feet in on the left.
Cheaha Wilderness
NIce clear path

Planning The Trip

I planned this trip as an easy overnight to just get away for the weekend. We wanted to do some easy camping and just relax for this one. It being Labor Day weekend, we knew car camping would be a no go. Primitive campgrounds would be full of loud drunks and amateur campers. I’m not even going to go into the State Parks. I knew that Nubbin Creek Trail doesn’t normally have very much traffic and decided that was our best option to get away for the night.

I found a spot on the map that appeared to be suitable for camping and figured that there should be an established campsite with water not too far. The spot I chose was on a ridgeline about 2 1/4 miles in, where the trail begins to head west toward Parker High Point and the Odum Trail.

Time to Hike

We began our hike heading north on the trail and the persimmons were in full fruit. Eventually, we made our way to Mill Shoal Creek and there was a trail to the right, but we continued left with the creek on our right.  We could hear the cascades in the background, but this time of year it is still too overgrown to really get a good view from Nubbin Trail. There are spur trails that head down to get a view, but this wasn’t our plan for this trip. We decided that we would come back once the leaves had fallen and given way for a better view in the late fall or early winter.

Nubbin Creek Trailhead
Maps and walkie-talkies.

A close call with a resident

As we were making our way up the trail we came across a timber rattler sunning itself right in the middle of the trail. He was was just a little guy, about three and a half feet long. I immediately had, Marcie keep the dogs behind her and I tried to push him off the trail with my walking stick. He was not having any part of it. It seemed that he liked his little sunbathing spot and was yielding for no one.

My attempt to get him off the trail with my stick only convinced him that he should take his defensive posture and coil while shaking his rattle. I took some pictures of him and tried to wait him out, but to no avail, he was parked and not going anywhere without a little more force. I pushed him with my stick and I was completely expecting him to strike but he didn’t. Then I pushed him back a good foot or so and he just kept rattling at me. Finally, after I had poked at him a few more times with my walking stick, he moved off of the trail and rested under a rock beside the trail.

 

Cheaha Wilderness
Fat little guy.

Back on Track

The trail continued along the Mill Shoals Creek for a short distance. The trail dipped south and separated from the creek and then U-Turned back north. There are a lot of dried up old creek beds and at least one small brook crossing on this part of the trail. I doubt this brook is a reliable water source year round, but I can’t say for sure. Nubbin continued north for about half a mile until we met up with Mill Shoal Creek again, this time crossing it and witnessing a beautiful little waterfall to the left. The trail jogged east for about a 1/8 of a mile and then to the west for about another 1/8 of a mile, before coming to another creek crossing. This area of the trail also had quite a few dried up creek beds and another brook.

Cheaha Wilderness
NIce waterfall on the Nubbin Creek Trail

After the creek crossing Nubbin veers to the east for a small jaunt and then back to the north. This part of the trail opens up and there is clear view of the valley to the east. After about 1/4 mile the trail comes to a series of small knobs on a ridgeline and then heads west. This is where we found our campsite (just as I had predicted from looking at the map). The campsite we found was about 250 feet after the trail headed west on the right. There was an old fire ring and plenty of trees to hang our tarp and hammocks from.

Exploration Was In Order

After camp was set and I had a snack, I looked at my map and plotted a little trip to take to check out Cave Creek. I found the spot I wanted to check out,  set the bearing on my compass and off I went. After walking for about ten minutes I found an old jeep track and decided to follow it instead of my original route. The jeep track headed down a steep hill and it was evident that no one had traveled this road in a while. Along the way, I saw some old beer cans with the old peel off lids. The only tracks I saw were animal tracks and there were a few blowdowns blocking the path.

I love walking old roads in the backcountry because you never know what you’re going to come across along the way. That was definitely the case on this old road. I came upon some bearing trees and a property marker at a corner of the Cheaha Wilderness boundary. I find these things pretty cool myself, but hey, I admit that I’m a dork.

Cheaha Wilderness
Cheaha Wilderness Boundary Marker
Cheaha Wilderness
I found this on the edge of the Cheaha Wilderness
Cheaha Wilderness
Cheaha Wilderness Boundary Marker
Cheaha Wilderness
Corner of the Wilderness

Continuing to Cave Creek

After taking the pictures of the markers I followed the road for a little longer until I found an area that was clear enough for me to make my way to the creek. I built a small cairn and found a unique looking tree to mark my spot and headed for Cave Creek. After walking for about a thousand feet, climbing over a few downed trees and scraping my legs up on some thorns along the way. I got to the creek bank and I had to climb down about six feet to actually be able to stand at the edge of the creek. The bank on the other side of the creek was nice and level and no climbing was involved at all.

Cave Creek is crystal clear and the water was just above frigid. I decided to take the opportunity to dip my visor in the water to cool my head off.  It was nice and quiet back there. All I could hear was the occasional bird chirping, squirrels rustling about and the water flowing. There were a few of what I like to call smurf waterfalls that were beautiful, so I snapped a couple of pictures.

Cheaha Wilderness
Notice the tree is growing in the middle of the creek.
Cheaha Wilderness
Crystal clear water on Cave Creek
Cheaha Wilderness
Roots forming a smurf waterfall
Cheaha Wilderness
I don’t know how I find these spots.
Cheaha Wilderness
A little closer look at the tree.

 

Back to Camp

I took it all in for a little while, listening to nature speak her language. I am always more at peace when I am out in the wilderness. In a comforting way, it makes me feel more human. Marcie was probably wondering where I was, so I had to leave this little spot and head back to camp. I headed back toward the old road, found my tree, made a right and saw my cairn. I headed back the way I had come and on the way back I found a turkey feather. I’m not sure why, but I stuck it into the ground as if I was marking my path.

As I mentioned before on the way in the road went down a steep hill. So obviously, my trek back was all uphill. Did I mention that it was a steep hill?

Our camp was in sight when I noticed that there was a small brook about five-hundred feet. This was a total score because I thought the closest water source was the last creek we had crossed on the way in. This offered me a little relief because it’s always nice to have a water source close by.

Getting Ready For The Night

It always makes us happy when firewood is in abundance. This one of the many reasons that we love the backcountry. We have never had any problem finding firewood in the Cheaha Wilderness, or any wilderness for that matter. As much as we love to car camp. It can be a challenge to find wood, even in the most primitive campgrounds.

I got a chance to try out the new manual chainsaw that I had just bought from Wal-Mart, of all places. Never underestimate the camping section at Wal-Mart. I have found some pretty cool stuff on their shelves. The saw worked pretty good for what it was, and even though I got some blisters from it. I give it a thumbs up. The best part is, it’s pretty lightweight and very packable.

We used our backpacking stoves to make our Knorr’s pasta sides and cooked the sausages on the fire. The Johnsonville precooked sausages are great for the first night on the trail. I would even go as far as packing them for two nights. The Knorr’s sides are a buck and come in a huge variety of flavors. It only takes 1-2/3 cup of water and you can put some powdered milk with them and then cook for about 7-8 minutes. They make a great backcountry meal.

Yipping and Howling Through the Night

After dinner, we hung the remainder of our food and then settled into our hammocks. We listened to some audiobooks on my phone and just chatted about the day, and how we wished that we could stay longer than just a night.

Every time we are in Alabama we hear the same strange bird call at night.  Neither of us has any idea what it is, but it sounds weird, not creepy or freaky, just weird. After about an hour or so, we started to hear the coyotes in the distance. They were really far at first, but they were definitely getting closer.

They make those yips back and forth to each other and have a trick where they can make two or three sound like a pack. Marcie had been asleep for about two hours when they got so close that they woke her. At this point, we were well aware of each others presence. We heard them start howling and I’ve read that they usually only howl when threatened, or use it as a warning. They were probably only about fifty to seventy-five yard away from us. They got close enough that I had to yell at them and scare them away. I don’t really worry about them hurting me or, Marcie, but our dogs are small and that’s what worries me. Our little old guys would make a nice meal for a couple of hungry coyotes.

It seemed that my yelling scared them away, but it was hard for me to sleep after that. I made sure to keep the fire going all night, and from time to time, I could still hear them in the distance. I guess I scared them pretty good because they were pretty far off, and in a completely different direction. Maybe it was another group. Who knows?

Time To Say Good-Bye

The morning came around and I got up and pulled the food bag from the tree. The first business of the day was to put on the coffee. Shortly after, Marcie woke up and we had morning coffee together. We decided to skip cooking breakfast and just have some snacks before packing up and hiking out. Our dogs are old and they get tired if we get started too late in the day. So the decision was made to get back to the trailhead and drive down and check out High Falls. It’s a good thing too because Hagrid (14-year-old dog) was dragging that day and making little to no effort at hiking. We got back to the car, put our gear in and made our way to the falls.

Cheaha Wilderness
A little toad we saw on the way out.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a secluded place to do some overnights, Nubbin Creek Trail is a must do. The cascades on Mill Shoal Creek are supposed to be really nice to view in the fall and winter and we are looking forward to going back near the end of the year. The Nubbin Creek Trail ends at the intersections of Cave Creek Trail and the Odum Scout Trail. It’s a nice little gateway into the Cheaha Wilderness from the back door.

I think this trail is overlooked, which is probably a good thing for those of us who like to be alone in the wilderness. I saw no one out there on Labor Day weekend, and, Marcie told me that when I was out on my excursion that two backpackers had walked through. That’s it, another couple, that’s all there was out there. That being said, you would think a trail that lightly trafficked would not be maintained very well. To the contrary, the Nubbin Creek Trail is well maintained and easy to navigate. I highly recommend that you get out to the Cheaha Wilderness and give the Nubbin a whirl.

Cheaha Wilderness
Mushroom action.

 

Click the bubble for directions.