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Paralysis ticks (scientific name: Ixodes holocyclus) are a problem in Australia largely along the East Coast from North Queensland to Victoria. They love warm, humid weather so up North they are a problem all year around, and in NSW for example they tend to peak in Spring and Summer. When this tick latches on to feed on your fur kid (dogs + cats) they will also be injecting a poison which will cause your pet to become very sick and if left untreated, can result in death.
What do paralysis ticks look like?
The female paralysis tick is the cause of poisoning to our pets, unfed she is a brown, but after feeding she changes to a grey or bluish colour. She can be small, only a couple of mm, but with feeding she engorges, and can even get up to 10mm in size. She has 8 legs (4 each side of her body), and from her head to the bottom, her 2nd and 3rd pairs of legs are pale, and the 1st and 4th are brown.
What happens dogs and cats are poisoned by paralysis ticks?
The paralysis poison that’s injected into your mate can cause the following signs:
- a change in voice (i.e. bark);
- loss of appetite;
- weakness/wobbliness of the legs, progressing to paralysis (back legs first but can spread to the front legs too); and
- difficulty breathing.
If your pet is showing any of these symptoms it’s essential to have them checked out by your local veterinarian immediately as early intervention gives best chance of full recovery.
How do I prevent paralysis tick poisoning in my pet?
- Know if ticks are a problem where you are. Whether it’s where you live, or where you are visiting, it’s always a good idea to call the local Veterinarian for advice on whether ticks are a potential problem for you.
- Use a Preventative: Chat to a veterinarian about what works best for you and your pet, remembering some products are very toxic to cats and cannot be used (actually there are currently very limited options for cats and only one spray that is registered for this use). For dogs, options include sprays, collars, spot ons (reapplied 2 weekly), monthly tablets and the newest (and very exciting!) one is a very effective tablet that can be given orally every 3 months.
- Stay away from bushland. Ticks love it there.
- Tick Search. Don’t rely on preventatives alone. Do a tick search with your finger tips for 5 minutes every day- you are feeling for a lump on the skin, from the tip of their nose to their tail, and everywhere in between! Most ticks are found from the shoulders forward (ear and lip folds as well), but they can be anywhere and are also often found on the paws. Feel over your entire pet every night as part of your regular routine (they’ll love this part!).
First Aid when you find a paralysis tick:
This is where the information out there is a bit inconsistent to say the least, in Australia there is debate about whether they are best pulled off immediately or killed in situ and then simply allow them to fall off. Without trials to test which gives a better outcome there can’t be a universal recommendation about which is better.
We do know the longer the tick is on the animal the more paralysis inducing poison they can pass on, so my advice is:
- Remove the tick IMMEDIATELY.
There are a couple of options here.
- Tick Removal Tool : Best option. Buy one, no, buy two. One for in the car and keep one on hand. They are cheap and can be purchased from pet care shops / Veterinary clinics. They allow you to easily lever and twist the tick off your pet’s skin so that the tick’s legs and head are all removed and nothing is left behind to cause an allergic reaction or pass more toxin to your pet.
- No Tool? You can use tweezers or even your finger nails underneath the attached tick as close to the skin of your pet as possible. Do be careful not to squeeze the body of the tick, as this could cause increased risk of an allergic reaction, or risk more poison to be passed to your pet. This method may not remove all parts of the tick that are burrowed into the skin, but at least no more poison is being released.
- Collect Tick.
Place the tick in a sealed bag or container so you can show your local Veterinarian and ensuring it can’t escape to cause a problem to anyone else.
- Keep Calm.
You and your pet! It can be a number of days from the feeding of a paralysis tick on your mate until signs are seen. This means that even if things appear normal with your buddy after you have removed a tick, they are still not out of the woods, and you need to keep your pet quiet for a number of days afterwards. A common situation I’ve seen is that pets go away to a high risk tick area for the weekend, and it’s not until they’re home, on the Tuesday or Wednesday that they are showing signs that they have been poisoned.
- Seek Help.
See your local Veterinarian IMMEDIATELY if you have any concerns or see any of the signs listed above in your pet. The sooner paralysis tick poisoning is treated by your local Veterinarian the better the chance of full recovery. There is an option of tick anti-serum which mops up the poison not already attached to nerves to stop the condition progressing, as well as supportive care being provided addressing hydration, oxygenation etc. Lack of intervention can be deadly for your mate.
Take Home Points:
- Prevention is best. Preventatives AND daily checking.
- When found, paralysis ticks needs to be removed immediately.
- Clinical signs may not be seen for days after the tick has been feeding, or even has been removed. Continued monitoring is essential.
- When clinical signs are seen, even a change in the voice or vomiting only, see your Veterinarian immediately. Even if you are not aware of any ticks on your pet.
- Early Veterinary intervention gives the best chance of full recovery.
To chat about preventative options for ticks for your pet and your individual situation, book a vetchat consultation at https://vetchat.com.au/book From whereever you are, via video (Skype or FaceTime), text and voice chat.