Summer is here! While the long awaited warmer weather means we can head outside and enjoy the sunshine with our pets, it unfortunately has also encouraged some creepy crawlies to show themselves as well. The combination of recent rains and the warm conditions have resulted in the perfect environment for paralysis ticks to flourish.
Whilst usually more common in coastal areas, at Bligh Veterinary Services Centre we have had reports of ticks popping up in unexpected places.
Paralysis ticks are small insect with a distinct pale grey body. They tend to thrive in warm and wet conditions and usually live in bushy areas, however can sometimes be found in parks and even gardens. As they grow they seek out higher branches and leaves, then as an unsuspecting animal walks past they will drop on to them and begin feeding.
As suggested by their name, it is this feeding process that will cause paralysis to the unlucky victim. As the tick feeds it will secrete a powerful neurotoxin into the bloodstream, resulting in a profound paralysis.
This toxin will generally take anywhere between 2-3 days for signs to manifest, but in smaller animals may be quicker. Once signs develop they can progress quickly and form what we call an ‘ascending paralysis’.
The paralysis tends to ascend from the hind limbs, up through the body towards the head over hours or days. Wobbly back legs are often the first visible sign, however presentations can vary substantially. As the syndrome progress, the animal will be completely unable to walk as all the limbs become affected.
The toxin will then start affecting all muscles throughout the body, inclusing those that control swallowing and barking and most importantly, the muscles of the chest that allow an animal to breath. If left unattended, this paralysis will leave an animal unable to breath and result in death.
Signs that tick paralysis are developing include weak or wobbly movement, breathing difficulties, changes in bark or vocalisation, vomiting and regurgitation.
Fortunately tick paralysis can be treated by means of an antiserum, but due to the way that tick serum binds to muscle, even after they are treated, most animals will still get worse for some time before they get better. Additionally, even mild cases of tick paralysis will still require long hospital stays and require significant supportive care to recover fully.
This is absolutely a case where prevention is better than cure and fortunately there are a wide range of effective tick preventatives on the market today for both dogs and cats. When given regularly, these products almost completely negate the risk of deadly tick paralysis.
Whilst classic knowledge has often reccomended only giving these products through summer, our changing climate has led us to see ticks popping up even through the winter months, and as such we recommend year round preventative medication be given to your pet.
If you have any questions or are worried about your pet, feel free to call us at Bligh Vet Services Centre.