Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are small grey coloured arthropods that live on our native wildlife, but will happily climb onto dogs, cats or people that pass under trees or brush through bushes where they are hiding.
Paralysis ticks are very common in all the bush land areas of the Sunshine Coast, especially around areas with long grass, and although more prevalent from August to February, they can be found throughout the year.
What is the life cycle of the paralysis tick?
The paralysis tick uses three different hosts to complete its lifecycle. The first and second stage (larvae and nymphs) rarely cause problems in pets. It is the adult stage, where the tick will engorge on the host’s blood before dropping off, that the release of toxins occurs.
When the tick attaches to your pet, it digs in and starts to suck blood while releasing the toxin that causes paralysis.
At the time of attachment, the tick is very small and dark brownish in colour. As it grows bigger it becomes a light grey colour. The tick will produce signs of toxicity and weakness up to 2 to 7 days after attaching and is usually 3-5mm across at this stage.
How do I remove the tick?
If you find a paralysis tick on your dog or cat, remove it immediately. To do this grasp it with tweezers around the head and pull it out. Specially designed tick hooks are also available that will remove ticks with greater ease. If you find one tick, there is usually a good chance that there will be more, so look over your pet thoroughly.
Symptoms of paralysis
The common symptoms are:
Altered breathing; fast in the early stages, then slow and laboured
Hind leg weakness; difficulty getting up, and wobbly when walking
Altered bark or meow
Vomiting or regurgitation of food or water
If your pet has any of these symptoms, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. If left untreated, death can occur between 18-31 hours after the onset of symptoms. Patients with mild symptoms usually require less intensive care and have a shorter stay in hospital.
The symptoms of tick paralysis can be variable. If your pet has none of the early signs of paralysis after removing the tick, keep them cool and quiet and watch carefully for the next 48 hours. Even after you remove the tick your animal can develop signs of paralysis up to 2 days later.
Treatment is based on the use of canine anti-tick serum.
Dogs and cats with tick paralysis are also treated with other drugs to control symptoms such as vomiting, pneumonia, high blood pressure, heart problems, allergic reactions to the serum, throat spasms and respiratory difficulties. dogs that have been made hyperimmune to the paralysis tick from repeated exposure. As exposing each dog to long succession of ticks develop immunity is time consuming and only a small amount of serum can be collected at one time, it is quite expensive.
Recovery from tick paralysis can require a hospital stay of 2 days onwards. We do not recommend your pet go home until we are satisfied that they can eat, drink and stand without vomiting or aspirating. In some cases this can take up to a week or longer.
Tick paralysis can be fatal. Even with treatment, numerous factors and complications can interfere with the successful recovery of your pet. We treat a large number of pets with tick paralysis every year. However, it is still a condition that is unpredictable and every animal reacts differently to the toxin.
How do I prevent ticks?
If you live in an area near bushland or have native animals like possums in your yard, then you should use preventative measures to reduce your pet’s risk of intoxication. None of the tick preventatives are 100% effective, so it is important to run your fingers through your pet’s coat on a daily basis to search for ticks. If your pet has a long or thick coat, consider having them clipped in spring and again in summer to make it easier to see ticks. Carefully feel all over the body paying particular attention to the face, head, neck, and shoulder areas. Always remove the collar and remember to look between the toes, ear fold and around the anal and genital areas.
Here is a great demonstration of a thorough tick search, and by making this part of your pet’s daily routine, your pet will love you!
There are several tick preventatives for your dog, but no one product suits every situation. Some are not suitable if you have young children, others are ineffective if you dog swims or is bathed regularly. Please speak to our staff for the best product to suit your needs. Products include fortnightly spot-on treatments, sprays, and tick collars.
There are very few tick preventatives that are safe to use on cats. Under no circumstances should you use a product designed for dogs as these invariably will poison your cat.
Tick Prevention Products
Nexgard for Dogs: This monthly chew will treat dogs from 8wks of age.
Advantix Top Spot for Dogs: This spot on product is applied to the back of the neck every 14 days. (Toxic to cats.)
Permoxin Concentrate: Applied as a leave-on rinse once a week. This product is water soluble and needs reapplication after bathing or swimming. (Toxic to cats.)
Fidos Flea/Tick Concentrate: Applied as a leave-on rinse every 3 days. This product is water soluble and needs reapplication after bathing or swimming
Tick Collars: Generally last 5 weeks. Need to be removed for swimming or bathing as the collar shouldn’t get wet. Does tend to have a strong odour.
Currently there are only two products registered for use on cats
Frontline Spray: Spray the complete animal every 2-3 weeks.
Fidos Flea/Tick Concentrate: Applied as a leave-on rinse every 3 days.