We saw a cat presented with tick paralysis at The Pines Vet last week, so I’d like to remind everyone that even though it’s getting cooler, the ticks are still out and we need to be vigilant about both checking your pet and using preventatives.
Tick paralysis is caused by the Ixodes holocyclus tick. There are other types of ticks in Australia, but this tick can cause a serious and often fatal condition, especially if it is left untreated. Tick paralysis requires urgent veterinary treatment with tick antiserum if any symptoms have developed.
What you need to know:
Paralysis Ticks are parasites that attach to the skin of dogs and cats. As they suck blood from them they also secrete a toxin that affects their nervous system causing paralysis. These ticks are common along the east coast of Australia especially during the humid months in bushy areas. Tick season peaks in December, but ticks can be found year round, especially if the winter is mild. Ticks can also be found inland in suitable habitats. The natural hosts of the paralysis tick are native wildlife like bandicoots, possums and koalas.
Ticks have to be attached for 2-4 days for signs of tick paralysis to occur. Not every animal will get paralysed but if an animal is already wobbly on its back legs it will need tick antiserum to recover. The paralysis is progressive starting at the back legs and moving forward to include the front legs, and respiratory muscles. The ability for the animal to swallow is also affected and if left untreated, death can occur between 18-30 hours after the initial onset of symptoms. Pets with mild symptoms usually require less intensive treatment and have a shorter stay in hospital. If the respiratory muscles become paralysed treatment with a ventilator is required at a specialist facility.
Always watch out for these signs:
- Wobbly in the back legs
- Lack of coordination
- Voice/bark change
- Noisy, laboured breathing
- Paralysed in the back legs
- Progressive paralysis to include front legs
- Any other abnormal behaviour or symptom
The best ways you can protect your pet are:
1. Use a tick prevention product like Nexgard to prevent paralysis ticks form biting and injecting toxin.
2. Avoid Tick prone areas, such as bush or scrub areas known to harbour ticks, especially after wet warm weather.
3. Search your pets daily for ticks - this gives you a chance to find ticks before they can inject enough toxin to cause symptoms.
4. If you find a tick remove it immediately by grabbing close to the head and pulling the tick off and contact us as soon as possible. Keep searching for more ticks as some pets can be infested with many ticks at one time.
5. Urgent veterinary treatment is required if your pet has any unusual symptoms. Symptoms can develop up to 24-48 hours after a tick is removed.
6. If your pet has symptoms and no tick can be found, your pet may still have tick paralysis. The ticks can fall off after 1-5 days. In this case we may find a small foreign body reaction (tick crater) were the tick was attached and your pet will still require treatment.
7. Do not offer any food or water if your pet has tick paralysis as the toxin can affect their swallowing ability which could lead to aspiration.
What do paralysis ticks look like?
Their legs are bunched up at the front of the body.
The middle 2 pairs of legs are lighter in colour.
They have a long mouth part which is called a snout.
When engorged with blood, they have a blueish to light grey colour.
If you have any questions about tick paralysis and prevention, please contact us at The Pines Vet on 5665 7116. If your pet develops signs of tick paralysis after our normal opening hours (8am-5pm Weekdays, 8am-12pm Saturdays) please contact Animal Emergency Service on 5559 1599.