Spring is yet to start and we have already treated several cases of tick paralysis in dogs and cats this month at Sydney Animal Hospitals.
Ixodes holocyclus is the official name of the paralysis tick which inhabits coastal bushland areas. This species of tick is only a problem in Australia – another deadly creature unique to down under! These ticks are normally most active in the warmer months especially after wet weather which initiates hatching of eggs in the environment and activity of the larval stages which feed on mammals.
After attaching to a host these ticks inject a neurotoxin (or nerve toxin) as part of their feeding process. After the tick has been attached for a day or two, enough poison will have been injected to cause significant neurological disease in pets due to blocking of nerve receptors at the nervemuscle interface.
The most common symptom is a weak or flaccid paralysis starting in the hind limbs due to nerve signals being blocked from accessing the muscles of movement. As time progresses the paralysis ascends up the body to eventually affect the muscles of breathing and swallowing. This process causes significant illness and death unless an antiserum is administered to neutralise the toxin before it attaches to more nerve receptors.
Other symptoms of tick paralysis include vomiting, coughing, excessive panting and grunting, an altered bark or meow or limping if the tick is lodged in a foot or leg.
Tick poisoning is common, severe and very preventable. Our top tips for tick prevention are:-
• Daily tick searches on your cat and dog, if your pet has long hair ask your groomer about a ‘Tick Clip’.
• Administration of highly effective and safe tick preventatives such as Bravecto, Seresto collars (dogs and cats) Nexgard (dogs only). Never rely on an animal’s natural immunity against ticks or herbal or natural remedies that have not been properly tested and proven to be effective and safe.
• Avoid taking your pet into long grasses and bushland.
• Know the symptoms of tick paralysis and seek veterinary attention immediately if your pet appears unwell, is vomiting, is wobbly and weak or has difficulty breathing.
• Ensure that you have adequate pet insurance for your pet and that this covers tick paralysis. sydneyanimalhospitals.com.au