Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are among the most dangerous parasites that affect your pet. It is estimated that more than 20,000 domestic animals are paralysed by this tick in Australia each year and, unfortunately many die.
Where do we find paralysis ticks?
Paralysis ticks are found on the eastern sea- board, from Queensland to Northern Victoria. But can be found a long way inland in suitable habitats. In the northern parts is may be found all year round, while in the southern regions the season begins in spring and finishes in late autumn.
The tick sucks blood form the host animal and secretes saliva that contains protein which is fatal when absorbed into the animal’s bloodstream, causing signs of tick paralysis.
Symptoms of tick paralysis
If your dog lives in a high-risk area it is important to look out for symptoms of paralysis.
The first symptoms may be the loss of coordination in the hind legs, however the animal may only have a change in voice or may start to retch, cough or vomit. As the paralysis progresses, the hind legs become paralysed, followed by the front legs. The animal will have a lot of difficulty breathing and may not be able to stand or walk. Eventually tick paralysis can result in coma and death.
The time sequence for paralysis varies from a few hours to a week. Not all cases follow a simple progression and the animal can die suddenly in the very early stages of paralysis. Factors which can influence the toxicity of ticks to pets include the season and the geographical area plus variation in individual dog’s immunity.
What to do if your pet shows symptoms of tick paralysis
It is important to seek veterinary attention as soon as you pet show symptoms of tick paralysis.
If you suspect the your pet may be suffering tick paralysis, don't offer food or water, as it may lead to pneumonia and breathing difficulties if your pet can’t swallow properly.
It is important not to stress the animal, so allow it to rest in a cool, dark place until you can take it to your vet. Once at the clinic your vet can give your pet an anti-toxin to help in recovery. Other specialised procedures such as sedation and treatment for respiratory complications may be vital for your pets complete recovery.
Symptoms have the potential to worsen in the next 3 days particularly in high temperatures.
a) Search pets EVERY day for ticks
The best preventative measure is a thorough search of your pet’s skin and coat every day during the tick season. This should be done even if tick products have been applied. This method gives you two or three chances of finding a tick before serious tick paralysis occurs as generally the tick needs to be attached for at least 3 days before causing paralysis.
It is important that a systematic approach is used when searching for ticks. It is not just a visual search but involves using the fingertips to feel through the animals coat.
Ticks and tick craters can be felt as lumps on the skin surface. Start at the animals nose and slowly examine the face, ears, lips and eyes. Most ticks are found forward of the front legs, especially on the face, neck and ears. Be careful to search in the skin folds around lips and ears and also inside ears and lips. Search around the eyes and on top of the forehead carefully before checking the neck. Remove collars and search through the skin folds in the neck and continue down the shoulders to the forelegs. Search between the toes and pads, under the armpit and on the tip of the elbow.
Check both forelegs before going to the body. Examine the chest, back, belly, around the tail and anus and the back legs.
If you find a tick, rapidly remove it but continue to search as dogs can be infested with many ticks at one time.
b) Remove ticks
As soon as a tick is found it should be quickly removed. If the tick is manipulated excessively before being removed, the tick paralysis may get worse.
Rapid removal is vital. Quickly remove the tick without squeezing the engorged abdomen.
Use tweezers or a 'ticktwister' which are available at most vet clinics.
c) Preventatives for paralysis tick control
In addition to daily searching, application of tick control products can greatly reduce the risk of tick paralysis for your pet. Ask your vet for their recommendation.