The Danger of Paralysis Ticks
The two most common ticks in Australia are the Paralysis Tick and the Brown Dog Tick. The Paralysis Tick is by far the most dangerous as it secretes a paralysis toxin when it feeds on mammals that affect the nervous system. Once paralysis occurs, the animal can rapidly deteriorate and must be treated immediately by a vet.
The Paralysis tick is most commonly found along the East coast of Australia, however, can be found in places with high humidity and mild weather. They do not tend to survive in cold climates. The primary Brisbane tick season, and in Southern parts of Australia, is from Spring to Autumn, but in Northern Australia, Paralysis ticks can be found all year round.
Signs of Tick Paralysis
Early signs typical of the paralysis tick include altered barking/meowing and vomiting, as the toxin first causes them to lose control of their voice box. Some animals show a loss of appetite. The toxin then causes weakness in the hind legs that progresses up the spine to result in total paralysis of all four limbs. Wobbling and heavy breathing can occur alongside this. The paralysis toxin can also lead to respiratory and heart failure if not treated.
Checking for Ticks
If you live in a tick-infested area, you should examine your pet for ticks daily. This is also important if you have taken your dog camping or for a walk through the bush. To find ticks, it is easier to feel for them instead of look for them. They are very distinctive when rubbing your fingertips through your pet’s coat. Most ticks are found in the head and neck region, but it is important to check around your pet’s whole body, including ‘hidden’ places such as under their collar, between their toes, their paws and inside their ears.
If you do find a tick on your pet, Paralysis ticks can be distinguished by their grey colour and legs bunched towards the front of the body (not spread along the side).
Treatment of Tick Paralysis
If your pet shows any signs of being affected by the Paralysis toxin, your first priority is to get them to your vet for treatment. If your pet appears healthy and unaffected, you can remove the tick using your fingernails, fine tweezers or a tick-removing device, by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling firmly yet gently to remove it in one steady motion. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick, as this is where the salivary glands are found and where the toxin is secreted from. If you are not able to remove the tick yourself, bring your pet in to the clinic and we can remove it for you.
Even if you have successfully removed the tick yourself, you still need to bring your pet to see a vet as there can still be harmful effects and paralysis from the toxin residues under the skin. The poison is slowly absorbed, and even if your pet shows no immediate signs, the toxin can still cause paralysis hours or even one or two days after the tick has been removed.
Preventing Tick Paralysis
Tick paralysis can be prevented with tick control, but this is easier with dogs than with cats. There are many spot-on and spray-on products, as well as collars and tablets, available from Better Pets, and new products are being released regularly to make tick prevention easier and more reliable. Before choosing a product, check with your vet what is the best prevention program for your pet. Make sure you know how to properly apply it, and that you are using the correct product and dose for your pet.
It is important that your pet is routinely checked for ticks, daily if your area is prone to ticks. This can eliminate tick paralysis as paralysis is usually only caused if the tick remains on the animal’s body for more than two days.
Paralysis ticks are the most dangerous parasites that can affect your pet. Prevention is essential, as it is one of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid the effects on your pet.