Tick paralysis in dogs and cats
Dog Rescue Newcastle - Australia
31 October · 2014
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.
The tick is found commonly on the east coast of Australia, and favours warm, humid conditions. Unfortunately an increase in rainfall means that we are seeing an increase in the number of paralysis ticks in the environment.
Ticks may be carried by wildlife such as bandicoots, which may be found in urban backyards. Some areas along the eastern coast of NSW are more prone to ticks than others, but none are absolutely tick-free.
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.
Paralysis ticks can be extremely difficult to find, even in animals with short coats.
we recommend: Gently feeling your animal’s skin, going against the grain of the fur.
Looking inside the lips, nasal cavity, ears, the corners of the eyes, between the toes and under the arms, legs and tail/anus and under collar.
If you find a tick, don’t stop searching. Often animals have more than one tick on them.
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 very short-lived. There is currently no vaccination against the toxin produced by paralysis ticks.
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
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.
I found a tick on my pet but my pet is not showing signs. Should I seek veterinary attention?
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 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.
Ticks burrow into the skin and can be difficult to remove. Here's how to remove a tick:
Avoid squeezing the body of the tick as you remove it – this will inject more toxin into your pet.
We use a tick hook, which slides under the tick and allows the tick to be removed in full.
Do not apply any chemicals (apart from registered tick treatments for animals) to your pet as this may well be toxic to your pet as well as the tick.
Your veterinarian can remove ticks for you, but this needs to be done as a matter of urgency (do not wait all day or overnight).
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
drugs to decrease salivation
antibiotics for treatment of pneumonia.
How are ticks prevented?
Prevention of tick paralysis is essential to maintain the health of your pet. There is a range of products available to repel and kill ticks but none are 100 per cent effective. The ideal prevention strategy depends on the lifestyle of your pet.
Contact your nearest vet practice for 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.
— with Nathan Reynolds.