Tick season in Sydney is already underway, but with the weather warming up, outbreaks will not be a surprise. Tick paralysis is one of the most common preventable deaths in cats and dog, and each year hundreds of animals require urgent veterinary care because of it. It is extremely important that we are doing right by our pets, by having them on tick prevention and being aware of the response required if you do find one on your four-legged friend.
What are paralysis ticks and how do they cause paralysis?
Paralysis ticks are grey in colour, and usually range in size from 2-3mm up to 10mm in size. They are a dangerous parasite that can attach to an animal and consumes blood from them. As they feed, they release a toxin into the bloodstream of the animal they are feeding from, which affects the nervous system. This toxin is result in extremely serious illness and can be fatal, it can continue to cause signs even after the tick has fallen off, leaving a “crater” or “dent” in the animal’s skin marking where it was attached.
What are the signs of tick paralysis?
Signs and symptoms can vary, but common ones include:
- A change in the sound of bark or voice
- Regurgitation or vomiting
- Not eating
- Breathing changes – difficulty breathing often characterised by grunting sound
- Wobbliness in the back legs which worsens to paralysis and an inability to stand
- Excessive drooling/salivation
- Progressive paralysis to the back legs
- Other abnormal behaviour
- Sound of meow might change
- Unusual breathing often with a soft grunt at the end of breathing out
- Weakness, though this is not as obvious early on
- Gagging or retching
- Not eating
- More advanced stages include staggering, difficulty in walking, swaying
- Other abnormal behaviour
How can I protect my pet from the paralysis tick?
Prevention is the best medicine when dealing with paralysis ticks. Tick prevention products include monthly or three monthly chews, top spot products, tick collars and rinses, with your local vet able to offer free advice on the most suitable product for your pet. *Safety warning* Never apply dog tick products to cats as some dog products can kill cats. Your veterinarian can discuss safe options available for your cat.
Careful daily searching of your pet’s coat in spring and summer is also recommended in both dogs and cats, even if tick prevention products are in use.
How do I search my pet?
It is particular important to search your pet for ticks after being outside.
- Search your pets thoroughly at least once a day. Use your fingertips to feel through the animals coat, ensuring you are making contact with their skin. Tick or tick craters can be felt as lumps on the skin’s surface.
- Start at your pet’s nose and slowly examine the face, forehead and ears (outer and inner surface). Also search the eyes and lips and skin/fur around the eyes and lips, making sure to examine all skin folds.
- Continue the search via the shoulder area and then down the shoulders to the front legs. Remember to check between each toe and under the surface of the front feet.
- Examine all of the chest area, all along the back, sides, belly, groin area, around the tail and anus and the thighs, back legs, in between and underneath the back-leg toes and feet.
How do you remove a tick?
If a tick is found it should be removed immediately. Your local vet can show you the best way to remove a tick.
- If possible, wear disposable gloves and have a container (filled with some alcohol) with a lid ready to put the tick in. Tweezers or a tick remover are helpful when removing ticks.
- When removing a tick, avoid squeezing the body of the tick. Aim to remove the tick by its head at the point of insertion into the pet’s skin. Twist are you pull it out to help remove the mouth parts as well.
- Contact your local vet immediately. If it is after hours, contact a 24/7 emergency vet hospital. Do not wait until the next morning. Always contact a vet, even if they are not showing signs of tick paralysis.
If you do find a tick, calmly do a quick search for any other ticks are some animals can have more than one tick.
What should I do if my pet is showing signs of tick paralysis or I find a tick on my pet?
If you are worried that your pet may have a tick or tick paralysis, keep them calm and quiet. Do not offer them anything to eat or drink, and contact your vet immediately. Veterinary treatment including an antiserum, intravenous fluid therapy (a drip), and a period of hospitalisation (for supportive medical care) may be required and can be life-saving for those cats and dogs affected by the tick toxin.