The Paralysis Tick and Your Pets
Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holycyclus) are found throughout most of Brisbane but are particularly prevalent in the Western Suburbs due to the large areas of dense bushland still found in these suburbs. Ticks thrive in this environment where they feed on native wildlife such as possums and bandicoots, which are generally unaffected by the tick toxin. Although ticks are more prevalent in summer, they genuinely pose a year-round threat in South East Queensland, owing to our temperate climate.
How Do Ticks Paralyze Dogs and Cats?
Ticks rapidly attach to dogs and cats as they brush past long grass and vegetation. Although a single tick can have deadly consequences, many pets will pick up several ticks at once if they are walking through a tick-prone area. The tick burrows its mouth-parts into the skin, creating a very secure attachment. It then engorges itself with blood for several days, whilst simultaneously secreting its toxic saliva into your pet’s bloodstream. The toxin attacks the nervous system directly, leading to loss of voluntary movements of the affected animal. An adult tick may be as small as a pinhead when it first attaches to your pet, but over several days can grow to the size of a thumbnail once fully engorged.
What Do Paralysis Ticks Look Like?
There are several species of ticks in Brisbane but only 1 species causes paralysis. Although it can be difficult to differentiate between tick species, there are physical differences that allow us to identify paralysis ticks. Paralysis ticks are generally grey in colour with all of their legs being concentrated towards the head of the tick (see diagram). If you are not sure what type of tick is on your dog or cat please contact The House Call Vet immediately to assist in identification. Tick paralysis poses a very real risk of death if not treated promptly and professionally by a registered vet.
How Do I Know if My Dog or Cat Has Tick Paralysis?
In most instances the dog or cat will show signs of tick paralysis within 3-4 days for the tick attaching itself to your pet.
The signs that you will most commonly see if your pet is affected are:
- Change in the tone of bark or meow
- Coughing, gagging or vomiting
- Lack of appetite
- Obvious drooling and lack of swallowing
- Trouble standing up
- Wobbly on legs
- Unable to use or weakness in back legs
- General weakness or lack of co-ordination
- Trouble blinking, usually starts in one eye
- Difficulty breathing, will sound like the pet is grunting when breathing out
It is essential for your pet’s survival that you contact your vet immediately if you think they are affected by a tick or you find a tick on your pet. Tick paralysis in dogs and cats is life threatening!
What Do I Do If I Find a Tick?
Remove the tick immediately – grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible using your fingers or a set of tweezers. Then firmly pull on the tick to remove it. Do not worry if you burst the tick or leave part of the head behind – this will not result in more toxin being injected. Once you have removed the tick, contact The House Call Vet on 0439 145 990 anytime day or night for over the phone advice and to arrange for Dr Ben to attend to your pet quickly.
How Do I Protect My Pet Against Ticks?
There are several tick prevention products available including spot-on applications, tick collars and tick rinses. Please contact The House Call Vet to discuss tailoring a tick prevention program that suits you and your pet.