How to: Protect Your Pets from Ticks This Season

As the weather warms up, it is more important than ever to make sure your furry friends are protected against ticks. Tick paralysis is a serious and potentially fatal condition requiring urgent veterinary attention. It is important to be aware of paralysis ticks and to actively protect your pets by following our top tips and knowing how to search your pet thoroughly for tricky 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.

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. Stress makes the toxin work faster so if searching for the tick is making your pet upset it is probably better to take it to a vet immediately.

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. When removing a tick, avoid disturbing the body of the tick (don’t squeeze the body).
  3. Aim to remove the tick by its head at the point of insertion into the pets’ skin because if mouth parts are left in, they are likely to cause a local infection.
  4. After removal, dab the area with a mild antiseptic.
  5. Contact your local veterinarian immediately.

A useful aid is a tick remover. It’s a fork like device that slides on either side of the tick and removes it without touching its body. After removal, dab the area with mild antiseptic.

If you do find a tick, remember to also continue to search for more ticks. Some animals can be infested with many ticks at one time.

What are the symptoms of tick paralysis?

  • Loss of coordination in the hind legs or not being able to get up
  • A change in the sound of the bark or voice
  • Retching, coughing (sometimes it is a moist cough), vomiting
  • Excessive salivation/drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Progressive paralysis to include the forelegs
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Grunting noises when breathing
  • Other abnormal behaviour

What should you do if your pet shows signs of tick toxicity or if you find a crater or a tick on your pet?

Take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible – tick paralysis is a serious and potentially fatal condition that requires veterinary attention. Stay calm and keep your pet calm and at a comfortable temperature (not too hot or cold). Search for ticks and remove them as soon as possible (see removal tips above).

Do not offer food or water or give anything orally. 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.

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.

How can I protect my dog 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: talk to your vet about tick control products which are safe and suitable for your pet.
  • 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 applied
  • Be aware of the symptoms of tick paralysis: if any signs of suspect paralysis are seen, a tick or a crater left by a tick is seen, then search and remove ticks as quickly as possible and take your pet to the vet immediately.

There are a number of products on the market that can help protect your pets against ticks and fleas. These range from washes, collars, sprays, tablets and more. You can purchase these items here. Remember that some dog tick treatments are actually poisonous to cats. Chat to your local vet about which products will work for you and your furry friends.

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