So, What Are Paralysis Ticks?

With summer almost upon us, and the beginning of the much needed rain, this has lead to a recent surge in tick paralysis cases. This clinic has seen 5 confirmed tick paralysis cases in the past 2 weeks – that is more than the number of cases we have seen in the past 5 years!

So what are paralysis ticks?

They are little, blood-sucking parasites that usually attach to native wildlife on the east coast of Australia. Unfortunately, these little guys are not picky on who they get their next meal from, so they will also feed on our dogs, cats, birds, even ourselves! Ticks will wait on vegetation, such as grass or bushland, for a potential host to pass by. Once attached, they will gorge themselves on over 100 times their own body weight in blood. It is usually at this stage when they are noticed by owners, as they have grown to the size of your small finger nail.

But as these ticks are enjoying their feed, they are also releasing a toxin into the blood stream. This toxin can take 3-5 days to start to affect your pet, by which time, the tick may have already finished feeding and dropped off, leaving just a crater visible in the skin where it was attached. Signs to look out for include:

• Lethargy
• Unsteady or wobbly, unable to stand or move back legs
• Change in pitch, volume or sound of bark or meow
• Heavy panting or laboured breathing
• Vomiting
• Unable to swallow properly, gagging or dribbling
• Not all of these signs may be seen!

As signs progress, the paralysis extends from the muscles in the back legs to the respiratory muscles. If not treated quickly, full paralysis of these muscles will occur, and your pet will be unable to breathe, resulting in death. If any of these signs are seen, seek immediate assistance from your vet.

Tick paralysis is diagnosed by either observing the above clinical signs or by finding a tick or tick crater. A thorough exam is done to check for multiple ticks, which usually necessitates a full body clip, as these guys can sometimes be notoriously tricky to locate! Ticks can be found inside the ears, between the toes or inside the mouth.

Once diagnosed, your vet will give a tick anti-serum intravenously to stop and prevent the effect of the toxin. Close monitoring is critical during this time as some animals can develop an allergic reaction to the medication, especially cats. Sometimes a sedative will be needed, as stress can make the toxic effects more rapid. If clinical signs are more advanced, an intravenous fluid drip and/or supplemental oxygen may be required. Manual expression of the bladder may also be necessary if the back end of the body is paralysed. The first 24-48 hours of treatment is critical and, on average, most animals are hospitalised for 3-4 days. With appropriate and timely treatment, the majority of pets will survive.

So what can you do to prevent tick paralysis for your pet? There a variety of options available:

• Nexgard or Nexgard Spectra chew – monthly
• Bravecto chew – 3 monthly