Tick paralysis in dogs and cats
The paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is a small, eight-legged tick that produces a potent toxin. This toxin causes paralysis in dogs and cats, and is potentially fatal. Paralysis ticks are commonly found on the east coast of Australia, and favour warm, humid conditions. This unfortunately means that they are a serious problem for pets in the Sydney area, particularly the Northern beaches. It’s important to ensure that your pet is on tick prevention and that you search them daily for any potential ticks.
Some areas of Sydney are more prone to ticks than others, but none are absolutely tick-free, this is why we recommend tick prevention to be used all year round for both cats and dogs.
What does a paralysis tick look like?
- Are blue to light-grey in colour
- Range from approximately 2mm in diameter to over 1cm in diameter (usually the bigger ticks are engorged with blood)
- Have orange forelimbs
- Can feel like a small wart or lump to touch
When found on pets they tend to have their mouth parts buried in the skin. This creates a site of inflammation, which may be painful to touch. Once the tick is removed, it tends to leave a crater.
What are the signs of tick paralysis?
Signs of tick paralysis vary depending on the length of time the tick has been on the animal, as well as the potency of the toxin, which can vary between ticks.
- A change in bark or meow
- Increased or laboured breathing
- Excessive salivation
- Vomiting or regurgitation
- Weakness in the hind legs, which typically progresses to involve the forelimbs also
- Reluctance to get up or walk
Because the ability to breathe and swallow are affected, some animals will inhale saliva or food (aspirate) resulting in life-threatening pneumonia.
If you find a tick on your pet contact your vet immediately
The toxin produced by paralysis ticks is very potent. Even when the tick is removed, most animals get worse before they get better – this is because the toxin that is already in the animal’s body continues to circulate and attach to nerves for a period of time.
It is important to seek veterinary attention to determine whether your pet needs tick anti-toxin. Until then, there are some important steps you can take to reduce the risk of complications:
- Keep your pet calm, quiet and cool. Excitement, exercise and overheating can exacerbate illness associated with tick paralysis
- Remove food and water. Your pet’s ability to swallow may be compromised, putting your pet at risk of aspiration pneumonia
- Search for other ticks on your pet
How is tick paralysis treated?
Treatment of paralysis tick starts with tick anti-venom, which is administered as soon as possible by your veterinarian. Other treatments used depend on the severity of tick paralysis, but include:
- Intravenous fluids to maintain hydration
- Sedation to reduce excitement and prevent breathing difficulties
- Medications to decrease salivation
- Antibiotics for treatment of pneumonia
- Oxygen therapy
- Anti-emetics to prevent vomiting and aspiration
Can dogs and cats develop immunity to ticks?
Dogs and cats may develop immunity to ticks, but this requires repeated exposure to ticks – each time with the risk of paralysis and death.
Unfortunately where immunity does occur it is often very short-lived. There is currently no vaccination against the toxin produced by paralysis ticks.
Sydney Animal Hospitals’ approach to tick prevention
Prevention of tick paralysis is essential to maintain the health of your pet. There is a range of excellent products available to repel and kill ticks but nothing is 100% effective. The ideal prevention strategy depends on the lifestyle of your pet.
At Sydney Animal Hospitals we can offer your pet different approved tick treatments, which now include a new ‘spot on’. This is an effective tick treatment lasting for six months and has been seen to be 99% successful in repelling ticks.
Contact your nearest Sydney Animal Hospitals practice to learn more about a tick prevention program tailored specifically to your pet and its lifestyle.
Remember to search your pet each day for ticks – in our experience, most pets enjoy this ritual.