How to protect your pets from deadly paralysis ticks this season Posted on December 29, 2019 As the weather warms up, it is more important than ever to make sure your furry friends are protected against deadly ticks. Tick paralysis is a serious and potentially fatal condition requiring urgent veterinary attention. Tick paralysis is one of the most common preventable causes of death in dogs and cats along the east coast of Australia. It is important to be aware of paralysis ticks and to actively protect your pets by following our top tips, including knowing how to search your pet thoroughly for ticks. What are paralysis ticks and how do they cause paralysis? Paralysis ticks are dangerous parasites that can attach to an animal and consume blood from them. As they drain the blood, they secrete a toxin which affects the animal’s nervous system. The toxin causes serious illness and is potentially fatal. What do paralysis ticks look like? Image: Creature Clinic Australia The paralysis tick can look different depending on whether they are engorged with blood or not. When engorged with blood they have a blue-ish to light grey colour. Familiarise yourself with their appearance – your local vet clinic will usually have posters and photos of paralysis ticks or do an online search for an image of ‘Ixodes holocyclus’. Once on the animal, the tick finds a site of attachment where it becomes deeply and firmly embedded in the skin. When an adult tick feeds on blood, it increases in size dramatically. When a tick attaches to the skin, the area becomes red and a raised thickening or “crater” may appear. A crater is also considered evidence of a prior tick attachment. Where is the paralysis tick habitat? The paralysis tick can be found along the east coast of Australia stretching from Queensland, New South Wales and down to Victoria. Some inland areas also have paralysis ticks. Paralysis ticks usually live in bush land or scrub. Pets can pick up a paralysis tick when they travel to the coast or a bush/scrub area for holidays or at home in their backyard or local area depending on where they live. Native animals are their natural hosts however paralysis ticks can also attach to pet cats and dogs (and humans too). Paralysis tick season usually stretches from spring to autumn, with most cases occurring in spring and summer. However, they can occur at any time of the year. What are the symptoms of tick paralysis? Symptoms can vary but common signs can include: Dogs A change in the sound of the bark or voice Gagging/retching Regurgitation or vomiting (sometimes with froth) Breathing changes – difficulty breathing often with a characteristic grunting sound Wobbliness in the back legs which worsens to paralysis and an inability to stand (sometimes owners describe it as ‘my dog has gone in the back legs’) Excessive salivation/drooling (sometimes frothing around the mouth area) Coughing (sometimes it is a moist cough) Not eating Progressive paralysis to include the forelegs Other abnormal behaviour Cats Agitation Sound of meow may change Unusual breathing pattern with a soft grunt at the end of expiration (breathing out) Weakness, though this is typically less obvious to owners early on Gagging or retching Salivation Not eating More advanced stages include a more obvious difficulty in walking, staggering and swaying Other abnormal behaviour Occasionally pets will not develop the usual signs of tick paralysis and may show other signs of illness. How can I protect my pets from the paralysis tick? Avoid the tick habitat: during the tick season, don’t take your pet walking in bush areas or scrub areas known to harbor ticks. Keep lawns and shrubs short and remove compost material from backyards. Apply tick control products as recommended by your veterinarian: talk to your veterinarian about tick control products which are safe and suitable for your pet. *Safety warning* – never apply dog tick products to cats as some dog products can kill cats. Your veterinarian can discuss safe options available for cats. Search your pet for ticks every day: the most essential preventative measure is a thorough search of your pet’s skin and coat at least once a day even if tick control products have been used. Be aware of the symptoms of tick paralysis: knowing the symptoms will mean that you can identify a tick paralysis problem as early as possible and this improves your pets chances of survival as veterinary treatment can be given faster. If any symptoms/signs of tick paralysis are seen or a tick or tick crater is seen, stay calm and keep your pet calm. While staying calm, do a quick tick search and remove any ticks found then contact your veterinarian immediately. If it’s after hours, contact a 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital. Do not wait until the morning. How do I search my pet? It is important to conduct regular searches of your pet to ensure they are tick free. This is particularly important after spending time outside. Search your pets thoroughly at least once a day. Use your fingertips to feel through the animal’s coat. Ticks or tick craters can be felt as lumps on the skin’s surface. Most ticks are found forward of the front legs, especially on the face, neck and ears. However, it is very important to search your entire pet. Start at your pet’s nose and slowly examine the face, forehead and ears (outer and inner surface of the ear flap). Also search the eyes and lips and the skin/fur around the eyes and lips. Carefully examine all skin folds. Remove any collars and search the neck area thoroughly including the skin folds of the neck. Continue the search, searching the shoulder area and then down the shoulders to the front legs. Remember to check between each toe and under surface of the front feet. Don’t forget to check under the ‘armpits’. Examine the chest area, all along the back, sides, belly, groin area, around the tail and anus and the thighs, back legs, in between the back-leg toes and feet (including the under surface). How do you remove a tick? If a tick is found it should be removed immediately. Your local veterinarian can show you the best way to remove a tick. Stay calm and keep your pet calm which is important in tick paralysis cases. If possible, wear disposable gloves. Have a container with a lid or zip lock bag ready to put the tick in with some alcohol to kill it. Tweezers or a tick remover (a fork like device that slides on either side of the tick and removes it without touching its body) are helpful when removing ticks. When removing a tick, avoid disturbing the body of the tick (don’t squeeze the body). Aim to remove the tick by its head at the point of insertion into the pets’ skin. Twist as you pull it out to help remove the mouth parts as well. If you do find a tick, calmly do a quick search for any other ticks as some animals can have more than one tick. Then contact your veterinarian immediately. If it is after hours, contact a 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital. Do not wait until the next morning. Always contact a veterinarian even if you cannot see any symptoms so they can provide critical advice What should you do if your pet shows signs of tick toxicity or if you find a crater or a tick on your pet? Stay calm and keep your pet calm and at a comfortable temperature (not too hot or cold). Do a calm and quick search for ticks and remove them. Do not offer food or water or give anything by mouth. Pets affected by tick paralysis cannot protect their airway when they swallow (as a result of the toxin) and this may lead to aspiration of food/water into their airways which can cause aspiration pneumonia and serious breathing difficulties. Contact a veterinarian immediately for advice. It is important to seek emergency veterinary care even if you remove the offending tick(s) and even if you find a tick but can’t see symptoms. If it is after hours, contact a 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital. Do not wait until the morning. If you’re not sure but suspect tick paralysis, still contact a veterinarian immediately as it’s better to be safe than sorry. What treatment do veterinarians give to help pets with tick paralysis? If your pet has tick paralysis, they will need to be treated by a veterinarian – with a higher rate of successful treatment the sooner they are seen by a veterinarian. Veterinary treatment mainly involves administration of tick antiserum, intravenous fluid therapy (a drip), and a period of hospitalisation for supportive medical care. Are there other ticks that my pet can get? Animals can be infested with other ticks including the brown dog tick, the bush tick and the kangaroo tick, especially if living in rural or semi-rural areas with a hot and humid climate. These ticks consume blood but may also transfer diseases such as Tick Fever, which may be a problem for pets newly arriving from a non-tick area. It is best to check your pet every day for ticks and remove any that are found immediately. If you are not sure about the ticks in your area, please contact your local veterinarian. There are a number of products on the market that can help protect your pets against ticks and fleas. You can purchase these items here. Remember that some dog tick treatments can kill cats so always talk to your local veterinarian first about which products will be safe for your furry friends before applying.