Gray fox with hundreds of ticks

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!

  • Had no idea ticks could paralyze an animal like that. Thank you for rescuing this beautiful fox and making him healthy again. I am curious, who had the where with all to stop and pick up the fox – animal control? And to determine the tick infestation and bring it to Lindsay? Jennifer Blau

  • I had no idea that wild creatures could be so impacted by tick bites. Up to now I had only associated them with humans. Thank you for this meaningful story and the work you do.

  • What an amazing story – you are all so awesome for all you do! What a thrill it must have been for you to watch this beautiful fox regain his health and be able to return to the wild. You inspire all of us!

  • Thank you to the caring and knowledgeable staff at Lindsay and for the caring citizen who thought to bring in that sick fox!!! You have done it again! THANK YOU!!!

  • Is it true that this year is one of the worst ever for ticks? I took my dog on a short hike in Briones. By the time we were back at the trailhead, she had at least 60 ticks on her and she’s a small 15 pound animal!

    • Hi Simone
      Not sure if this year is the “worst” for ticks or not. We do often see adult mammals covered in ticks. Deer can also have hundreds on them as well. This fox was truly exceptional!

  • Reading this story possibly answers my questions about two foxes recently seen in Redwood Regional Park, during May of 2012. One fox was dead, by a major trail, but appeared to be without injury. Several days later there was another fox by the trail, still alive but laying on the ground. It raised it’s head but some dogs that were passing by saw it and quickly killed it. We were wondering why foxes would be dying off if not killed for food.

  • hello love your story now what i picked up from this is that there is a cure for this tick and fleas situation for our adorable fury friend ,,,so why is the cure so expensive ? Is this because we enjoy to see them suffer or what ….

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