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Common Conditions - Articles of Interest - Ticks


Everything you need to know about paralysis ticks!

What are paralysis ticks?

Ticks are small parasites that inhabit mainly scrubby areas in the warmer, humid months of the year.  They are found up & down the coast of South eastern Australia where the conditions are favourable.  They feed off warm blooded animals for nutrition & to breed, injecting a toxin into that animal as they do so. 

How are ticks spread?

Tick require a vector or "a lift" as they can't travel very far on their own.  They can however sense that a host is approaching and jump toward them. Ticks travel on any warm blooded creature including possums, bandicoots, birds, humans, dogs and cats.  They detach & fall off once they've had a blood feed which is how they spread from place to place.

How do paralysis ticks affect pets?

Ticks attach to your dog or cat and inject a toxin as they feed. The toxin is absorbed into the blood and then gradually diffuses into the nervous system, causing progressive paralysis of all muscles, including the chest muscles, the larynx or throat muscles and the heart (which is of course a muscle). The toxin also causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs.

The early signs of tick paralysis often suggest that your pet may have something caught in its throat or the back legs seem a little wobbly. Other commonly noticed changes are vomiting, heavy breathing with a grunt and alteration to your pets vocal sounds. While signs vary from patient to patient the usual course is a progressive paralysis with subsequent loss of use of back and front legs. Some animals, especially cats, may become distressed, anxious and confused. Eventually there is an inability to breathe in enough oxygen as the lungs develop fluid congestion and chest muscles become paralysed.

What should I do if I think my pet has a paralysis tick?

  • Do not give anything by mouth including food or water.
  • Contact your local Greencross Vet describing the symptoms that you observe.  Your healthcare team will likely recommend a check up - better safe than sorry!
  • Keep your pet cool and as calm as possible especially on the trip to the vet surgery. 
    If you see a tick on your pet, remove them immediately and take it to the vet with your cat or dog for identification. 

How is tick paralysis treated?

When an animal becomes fully paralysed, the chance of saving them is greatly reduced.

Treatment is by hospitalisation and multiple therapies including an injection of tick antitoxin, sedatives and in some cases, intravenous fluids, antibiotics and oxygen. It can take up to 24hrs to see any improvement &  several days to reverse the sign of paralysis. The success rate is higher if tick toxicity is treated early at the very first symptoms.

How do I prevent ticks on my pet? 

As with most diseases, prevention is better than treatment. There is no one treatment guaranteed to stop your dog or cat getting ticks but we can reduce the likelihood and ensure that any tick that does attach is killed before it has come to cause severe problems. For dogs, there are tick collars, top-spots and spray products available to prevent tick attachment. Cats are much more sensitive to chemicals, so there are no licensed preventatives for cats; daily searching is recommended and some flea products are better than nothing.

Whatever product you choose to use on your pet, the most important thing is to physically check your pet for ticks every day. Run your fingertips through the coat systematically checking the whole skin surface. Most ticks will attach around the head, neck, chest and shoulders but they can be sneaky and attach anywhere even inside the mouth and between to toes.

Your Greencross healthcare team can assist you in choosing the most suitable tick prevention regime for your pet.

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