Tick Paralysis is very distressing for everyone involved. Having nursed countless patients with Tick Paralysis I can tell you it is my least favourite part of summer. The disease process can be very distressing for the pet and the response to treatment is so variable, even with best treatment available there is no guarantee for survival.
What is a paralysis tick?
The Paralysis tick in its adult form is an 8 legged insect that produces a toxin which can cause flaccid paralysis in dogs and cats, and can be fatal. The paralysis tick is commonly found on the East Coast of Australia. There are geographical pockets where ticks have increased numbers, unfortunately including Wahroonga and surrounding suburbs of the North Shore.
Many vets in Sydney see an enormous amount of tick cases because of our beautiful warm, sunny weather and the famous Australian thunderstorms. This combination is ideal breeding ground for ticks.
Ticks can be found all year round but are more prevalent from September to March.
The season can be quite variable depending on weather conditions. Ticks like a warm humid environment and are particularly common in wetter, warmer seasons.
Paralysis tick prevention
Prevention is always better than a cure (and we will talk about this later on) but early detection can increase your pets chance of survival. Pets with tick paralysis die because as the toxin spreads it begins to affect the breathing muscles. The longer the pet struggles for breath, the quicker these muscles will become tired and eventually, stop working. Because of the ability to breathe and swallow are affected, some animals will inhale saliva or food and develop pneumonia.
The toxin produced by ticks is very potent. Even once the tick has been removed your pet will get worse before it gets better, as there is still toxin circulating in the blood stream.
It is essential that you seek veterinary attention to determine if your pet needs to be given the anti-toxin. It is also important to stay calm and keep your pet calm and at a comfortable temperature.
Treatment after a paralysis tick
One of the common misconceptions about tick paralysis is that the anti-toxin injection is magic and that it will instantly save the pet. This sadly isn’t the case as the anti-toxin only works on the poison that is still circulating in the pet’s system and isn’t doing any damage yet.
Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Bondi Vet will know the race around the clock many of the vets in Sydney (including us) face. Especially if the paralysis tick has gone undetected for sometime.
The toxin that is already attacking the patient does not abate from the anti-toxin, so extensive supportive treatment is crucial. We often need to provide a lot of supportive treatment, from anti-emetics to stop vomiting, antibiotics to prevent chest infection, intravenous fluids to maintain hydration, sedation to decrease stress levels, oxygen and sometimes ventilation.
The recovery from tick paralysis can be a long and difficult one. It’s hard on both pet and family alike. Patients usually cannot walk, toilet, eat, drink or be without extra oxygen for many days after they receive the anti-venom. So intensive nursing care is critical for the pet’s survival and comfort until your pet is out of the woods entirely.
Avoiding paralysis ticks before they happen
You can spot tick activity prior to the critical stages if you know what to look for. The paralysis tick will bury their mouth parts into your pet’s skin. This can cause an area of inflammation or a tick crater. Ticks range from about 2mm to 1cm in size so they can be very difficult to find even in short coated animals.
• Search your pet(s) thoroughly at least once a day, use your finger tips to feel through the coat, you may find it easier to go against the grain of the fur.
• Most ticks are found from the front legs forward, but still search the entire pet.
• Start at the nose and work backwards checking inside the ears, in skin folds, up the nose, the corners of the eyes, under the arms, between the toes.
• Look underneath your pets’ collar.
• If you find a tick keep on searching as there may be more than one.
There are a variety of symptoms that your pet could exhibit when affected by tick paralysis.
These include some or all of the following:
• Loss of coordination or weakness in the back legs
• A change in bark or meow
• Retching, coughing or vomiting
• Salivating or drooling
• Progressive paralysis to include the front legs
• Difficulty breathing, panting, rapid or heavy breathing
• General lethargy
Prevention is always better than cure
It is very important to prevent the attachment of ticks to your pet. There is an excellent range of products available to kill and repel ticks but none them are 100% effective. Keeping your pets coat clipped short will help you see any ticks that are attached.
It is important to select the right product for your pet(s). Come and visit us at Fox Valley Animal Hospital so that we can tailor a tick prevention program for you and your pet.
Our preventative products for dogs are ADVANTIX every 2 weeks and Scalibor collar changed every 3 months.
Tick prevention for cats has only one true option and that is Frontline Spray every 3 weeks.
Remember to follow instructions carefully as a DOG treatment on a CAT can be LETHAL. Never mix your pet’s medications.
The final word on tick paralysis
Watching a pet struggle with tick paralysis really hurts. It hurts the pet and makes them incredibly vulnerable; it causes the pet’s family no amount of fear and distress, and it breaks the heart of the Fox Valley Animal Hospital team each and every time we see it.