Village Vets Australia

How to Protect Your Pet from Deadly Ticks

Paralysis Ticks are among the most dangerous parasites that can affect your pet. When it comes to protecting your furry friends from these potentially fatal tick bites, prevention is the best approach.

Dr Anthony Bennett and Dr James Carroll of Village Vets Australia show you how to best care for our pets when it comes to prevention of tick paralysis.

What is Tick Paralysis?

Tick Paralysis is a serious and potentially life threatening condition caused by the Australia Paralysis Tick, Ixodes holocyclus, and is considered a veterinary emergency. Paralysis Ticks attach to their host and proceed to suck their blood. As they feed, the tick secretes a toxin from their salivary gland, which affects the nervous system of the host. Paralysis begins with a loss of coordination in the hindquarters which then spreads throughout the body, eventually affecting breathing when the chest muscles become paralysed. Once paralysis occurs, it is possible that the animal will die unless it is treated with tick anti-serum.

Where are Paralysis Ticks found?

Paralysis Ticks are found all along the east coast of Australia and tend to be associated with bushy areas and parks. Bandicoots are the definitive host for paralysis ticks and are generally immune to their toxin, however introduced species such as livestock, horses and domestic pets are far more sensitive to the toxin.

What time of year are Paralysis Ticks most common?

Tick season tends to begin in spring and finishes in late autumn. However some practices will see tick paralysis all year round. In bushy coastal areas in particular it should be considered a year-round problem, and pets should be treated with preventatives accordingly.

What do Paralysis Ticks look like?

The best way to distinguish a paralysis tick is by its legs. Paralysis Ticks have a pair of brown front legs and a pair of brown hind legs while the two pairs of legs in the middle are distinctively paler. The engorged tick often has a greyish body colour. If you find a tick on your pet and you are unsure what type of tick it is, the best option is to remove the tick and bring it in to the vet with your pet.
What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

If you find a tick on your pet remove it immediately and take your pet to a veterinarian. The best approach is to use a tick remover which will remove the tick whole. If you are worried about removing the tick, then leave it on and your veterinarian can remove it for you. Do not apply any chemicals to your pet apart from registered tick treatments for animals. The quicker an animal is brought into a vet clinic and treated, the better the chance of survival. It is also important to do a full body check to ensure there are no other ticks on your pet.

What are the symptoms of Tick Paralysis?

Early signs
• A change in voice such as the meow or bark becoming softer or a change in pitch
• Weakness in the back legs such as walking along, then sitting down suddenly which can be a common early sign
• Vomiting, especially if it happens several times in a day

Later signs
• Wobbliness in the back legs or inability to stand
• Excessive salivation and vomiting
• Panting, progressing to loud breathing, even grunting noises
• Many dogs will exhibit a moist cough
• Difficult or exaggerated breathing

How is Tick Paralysis Treated?

Treatment of paralysis tick starts with tick anti-serum, which is administered as soon as possible by your vet. It is important to note that tick anti-serum will only bind to toxin that is free in the blood. It will not affect toxin that is already bound to nerve tissues, so your pet’s condition may worsen before they get better. As such, it is likely that your pet will need to spend several days in hospital as they recover.

Other treatments used depend on the severity of tick paralysis, include:

• Intravenous fluids to maintain hydration
• Sedation to reduce excitement and prevent breathing difficulties
• Oxygen supplementation

Treatment can become very expensive, very quickly and is not always successful with some animals still dying from severe toxicities. Therefore when it comes to paralysis ticks, PREVENTION is key!

What products should I use to protect my pet from Paralysis Ticks?

1. Chewables
NexGard (DOGS ONLY) is a new beef-flavoured chewable that provides excellent monthly control of both ticks and fleas and is the preventative of choice for dogs. Based on a new compound called afoxolaner, it has few side effects, is safe from eight weeks of age and kills ticks and fleas within hours of ingesting your dog's blood.

2. Topical Applications

Advantix (DOGS ONLY) is a topical applied every fortnight but importantly should NEVER be used on cats as the active ingredient, permethrin, is very toxic to them. Washing  or swimming will reduce the effectiveness of the product.

Frontline is a topical that is safe to use on both dogs and cats applied fortnightly, however your pet should not be washed or allowed to swim for 48 hours after application. Frontline spray is the only registered tick preventative for cats.

3. Tick Collars

Tick collars are an effective adjunct to a top-spot or chewable to control Paralysis Ticks. While these collars can last as long as six months, keep in mind they take up to three weeks to initially develop full protection for your pet. Also the active compound can be washed off your pet and washed out of the collar, so collars should be removed prior to swimming or washing.

Remember no treatment has a 100 per cent guarantee, so we also recommend performing daily tick checks. When checking your pet for ticks remember that 80 per cent of ticks attach in front of the front legs, however it is also important to check inside the lips, nasal cavity, ears, the corners of the eyes, between the toes and under the arms, legs and tail.

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