The main tick of concern for pet owners is the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus) as it can cause paralysis and death within 2-4 days of attachment. Whilst Paralysis Ticks occur naturally only in certain geographic areas (mainly along the coastal eastern seaboard of Australia) they can attach to pets who visit these areas during the warmer months, particularly if they are allowed to run through scrub. Ticks may also hitch a ride back with you or a neighbour in cars, rugs, towels or plants.
Symptoms of Tick Paralysis
If your dog or cat lives in or visits a high risk area for paralysis ticks, it is important to watch for symptoms of paralysis. Symptoms of poisoning may occur up to 5 days following the initial tick attachment.
The symptoms to watch for are:
- Loss of coordination in the hind legs
- Change in voice or bark
- Retching, coughing or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Progressive paralysis to include the forelegs
- Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
Not all cases follow a simple progression and the animal can die suddenly in the very early stages of paralysis.
What To Do If Your Pet Shows Symptoms Of Tick Paralysis?
- Keep your pet calm, in a cool, dark place until you take it to your vet.
- Do not offer food or water, as this may lead to pneumonia and breathing difficulties if your pet can't swallow properly.
- Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Your veterinarian can give your pet an anti-toxin to help in recovery. The antitoxin (or serum) is expensive since it comes from dogs bred for their immunity to ticks. Other specialised procedures such as sedation and treatment for respiratory complications may be vital for your pet's complete recovery. Your pet will probably require hospitalisation for several days.
How to Protect Your Pet from Paralysis Ticks
a) Avoid the tick habitat
During the tick season, don't take your dog walking in bush areas known to harbour large numbers of ticks. Keep lawns and shrubs short and remove compost material from backyards.
b) Search pets every day for ticks
The most essential preventative measure is a thorough search of your pet's skin and coat every day, even if tick control products have been applied. This method gives you 2 or 3 chances of finding a tick before serious tick paralysis occurs, since the tick must generally be attached for at least 3 days before causing paralysis.
Be systematic with your search.
- Use the fingertips to feel through the animal's coat. Ticks or tick craters can be felt as lumps on the skin surface.
- Start at the animals nose and slowly examine the face, ears, lips and eyes.
- Most ticks are found forward of the front legs, especially on the face, neck and ears, however be careful of skin folds around the lips and ears
- Search around the eyes and on top of the forehead carefully before checking the neck
- Remove collars and search through the skin folds in the neck. Continue down the shoulders to the forelegs; remember to check between the toes and under the armpits. Examine the chest, back, belly, around the tail and anus and the back legs.
- If you find a tick, remove it (see section c) and don't forget to search for more. Some dogs can be infested with many ticks at one time.
c) Remove ticks
As soon as a paralysis tick is found it should be removed as soon as possible. Quickly remove the tick without squeezing the engorged abdomen. Your vet can do this or show you the best method. A special hook or tweezers may be useful.
d) Preventatives for paralysis tick control
In addition to daily searching, application of products specifically intended for tick control can greatly reduce the risk of tick paralysis for your pet.
We are more than happy to show you how to do a thorough tick search, please call us to discuss.