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.


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.


Our first trip into the Cheaha Wilderness

Turnipseed Campground
Kiosk at Turnipseed Campground

Like most people, Marcie and I don’t have a lot of leisure time, due to our hectic work schedules. So when we decide to enjoy our time off, we try to make the best of what we enjoy the most, being outdoors. That being said, when we take a trip we usually leave on Saturday evening and get to our destination late in the evening, or even after dark sometimes; because we want to wake up in our campsite the next morning and enjoy the day to fullest. This trip we went to Turnipseed Campground, Talladega National Forest

 On this particular trip, it was Easter weekend and we were able to get to Turnipseed Campground, Cheaha Wilderness around 5:30 on Saturday evening, which was definitely a great score for us. We have set up camp plenty of times after dark and that can just be a hassle; to say the very least. We can assuredly attest that looking for firewood in the dark after a long work day isn’t what we would call an exhilarating experience. In fact, I think it is probably the true definition of a chore. Okay, enough complaining, now to the good stuff.
  Being that it was the Saturday before Easter, the campground was moderately populated, but not crowded; much to our relief. We have recently started experimenting with hammock camping, so the first thing I usually do; after unloading the car, is start rigging our shelter. Which consists of an A-frame constructed with two 6′ x 8′ tarps attached to a ridge line, with prusik knots and toggles usually made from sticks we find on the ground.
Two tarp shelter.

  We set up a pretty basic camp this day because our plans were to get up early the next morning and head into the Cheaha Wilderness for our real adventure of this trip. We gathered just enough firewood to cook some hot dogs and beans for dinner. After this we went to bed pretty early, so we could wake fresh in the morning, and start our hike into the wilderness.
  I usually wake up before the sun comes up when I’m camping and make coffee my first priority, and I’m usually working on a second pot by the time Marcie wakes up. She gets up early every day for work, so I try to let her sleep as long as possible when we are camping. After Marcie woke up, I went and filtered some water, then made us some breakfast to fuel us up for our hike. We broke camp, packed the car and parked in the day use area of the campground.
  Turnipseed Campground is a trailhead for the last two mile stretch of the Chinnabee Silent Trail. Which connects to the Pinhoti and Odum trails in two miles at Little Caney Head Mountain.
  Heading southeast there is a kiosk on the left and the trail continues into the wilderness.  To enter the wilderness you cross a crystal clear little creek, which is also a reliable water source year round.
Cheaha Wilderness, Talladega National Forest
  So we crossed the creek and off into the wilderness. We knew before we even started that this was going to be a challenging hike with our heavy packs, from planning with our topo. The Chinnabee Silent Trail is six miles and the last two are definitely the most challenging. This portion of the trail is rocky and pretty much uphill the entire way, but it is really beautiful and we love a challenge. If you are just going to do it as a day hike, it’s not that difficult; however, with a fully loaded overnight pack, it wasn’t easy. Just about the time that I was thinking to myself that “this isn’t that bad” is when it got pretty challenging. At about a mile we did lose the trail for about ten minutes, because of side trails that lead nowhere. There are no blazes on the Chinnabee in the wilderness. The last 3/4 of a mile are pretty strenuous. Once you hit 2000′ it starts to level out a bit. Just as you get to the top there is a little spring/creek on your right. We reached Little Caney Head Mountain and the end of the Chinnabee Silent Trail where the Pinhoti and Odum trails intersect. The elevation here is about 2100′. There are also several campsites here, but they are right on the trail, so this isn’t a spot to choose if privacy and seclusion are what you are looking for. I imagine that for a tired thru-hiker, though, that these spots would be just fine. Especially since there is a water source so close by. I believe this is also the previous home of the Cheaha Falls Shelter before it was relocated after this area was dedicated a wilderness. Odum point is just south and the trail of its namesake heads south as well.
  After resting, having a snack and taking some pictures we headed north on the Pinhoti toward Cheaha State Park. Our Pinhoti trail map said that the trail isn’t blazed in the wilderness, but we found that to be inaccurate. The trusty blue blazes are plentiful through the wilderness. Our plan was to hike until we came across the Lower Cave Creek connector trail. The views to the west and rock outcrops to the east were equally amazing. I read that this one the best stretches of the Pinhoti when it comes to scenery and we were not disappointed, that’s for sure. The trail is rocky and has a lot of roots as well, which makes it a little tricky to navigate with a full load. One good thing is that it maintains a pretty level elevation at this point.
Marcie, Hagrid, Porter and a blue blaze.

I love rock formations like this one.

The landscape through here is absolutely stunning. This looks like it is part of the trail, but it’s not. It is just a random cut that I noticed when we were taking in our surroundings.

This was a killer view of the foothills.

I thought these cloud formations were sweet.

This was really cool. Although the picture doesn’t do it much justice.
I thought it was interesting how the trees were bent over here.
There are rock walls like this all along this portion of the trail.
   We made it to the Lower Cave Creek connector. The Pinhoti trail map shows the connector heading east for about a 1/8 of a mile; however, it actually heads straight up at the beginning and more south than east. We reached the Cave Creek Trail and headed north. You can also head south on the Nubbin Creek Trail, but that’s another adventure. The Cave Creek Trail runs parallel to the Pinhoti and joins it at Hernandez Peak. As we continued along the trail we could start to hear Cave Creek in the distance to the east. We came to the creek at about 3/4 of a mile, where you have to cross. Here we came across a couple with a dog and their newborn baby. Our dog Porter actually broke one his toenails crossing the creek, because he his a complete spaz, when it comes to crossing water. Come to think of it, he is pretty much a spaz when it comes to anything.

Creek crossing.

Where I got our water.

Not the best picture I’ve taken.
    After crossing the creek and filling up our bladder with water, we headed east a short distance uphill toward where I had chosen on the map to scout for camp sites. We got to the top of a ridgeline and the Cave Creek Trail continued north and to the south, there was a campsite, but it was pretty much right on the trail. So I walked a little further on the side trail through the site and found the perfect spot about fifty yards in. This site was everything that you could ask for. It had a huge fire ring, a great view, plenty of firewood close by and a nice tall tree to hang our food in.
   We took our load off and rested our feet a bit. What a relief! It was only a little over four miles, but I had not carried that much weight, that distance, in a long time, and it was a first for Marcie. After our well-deserved break, we got down to business and started setting up camp. I set up our A-frame tarp shelter, and, Marcie hung our hammocks. Then it was off to find firewood.
Our A-frame tarp shelter.
While we were gathering firewood, this guy got into our food bag and ate our bacon.
  Once we had gathered ample firewood, we had some lunch and relaxed for while before doing a few more chores to ensure our comfort for the night. On this trip, we used backpacking stoves to cook dinner and breakfast and used the fire for light and warmth. This was an amazing Easter weekend! The solitude was just what the doctor ordered to recharge us from the draining daily life of residing within Atlanta’s metro. We only saw a handful of day hikers for two days. It was the two of us, our dogs and the sounds of the southernmost chain of the Appalachian mountain range for this particular adventure, and that was all we needed. The next morning we had breakfast relaxed for a bit hiked out.

Our forest

for that moment.

Marcie resting her feet.

Nice little fire.

Scavenger dogs.
Pinhoti blue blaze

Hiking out.

Marcie enjoying the view on the way out.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about this adventure and that it has inspired you to explore the Cheaha Wilderness Area for yourself. Remember to always use leave no trace principles and treat the Earth with the respect she deserves.
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Thanks for reading.