What you need to know about Tick Paralysis and your pet

Tick on dog

What you need to know about Tick Paralysis and your pet

There are around 70 species of ticks in Australia. Of these many ticks, you have probably heard of Ixodes holocyclus, or the paralysis tick.

Preventative medicine has thankfully come a long way in the last decade and we are lucky enough to have access to fantastic products such as Bravecto which protect our pets from paralysis ticks.

While the number of ticks on dogs we see per year is slowly declining, any more than zero is still too many.

What is a paralysis tick?

Ixodes holocyclus is a tick native to Australia and seen mostly in coastal areas, especially the south and central coasts of NSW. Paralysis ticks regularly attach to many domestic animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, sheep and cattle.

Thankfully, there are several modern preventative products which provide protection against the paralysis tick for cats and dogs.
It is a common misconception that the size of the paralysis tick is related to the severity of the toxin, so if any tick is found on an animal, they should be assessed by a veterinarian immediately.

When a paralysis tick attaches to a host, it begins to draw blood by creating a crater in the skin for the blood to pool in. It is generally after about three days that the host shows any clinical signs of tick paralysis, which means it is incredibly important to tick search your pets daily if you are in an area where paralysis ticks are an issue.

What are the clinical signs of tick paralysis?

Tick on dog symptoms are generally as follows:

  • Loss or change in of voice (laryngeal paresis)
  • Hindlimb weakness and/or ataxia
  • Change in breathing
  • Gagging or coughing
  • Regurgitation/vomiting
  • Dilated pupils

On presentation to the veterinarian, a patient is graded according to the severity of their clinical signs and their ability to both stand and breathe on their own. A higher grade generally carries a poorer prognosis however even low-grade cases can progress unexpectedly.

How is tick paralysis treated?

The best treatment is prevention and we recommend Bravecto every three months.
If an animal must be treated for tick paralysis, they require intensive care and antiserum. Prognosis is always guarded and there is also a chance that the patient may have an adverse reaction to the antiserum itself. However, great care is taken in reducing this risk by giving the antiserum very slowly, monitoring the patient closely and administering medications that counteract the adverse reaction.
Quite often, animals stay in hospital on intravenous fluids, sedation, pain relief and antihistamines.
Stay times can range anywhere from a day to a week or more. In severe cases where the tick’s toxin has paralysed breathing muscle, patients may require a respirator or an oxygen tent to aid in breathing.

What happens when my pet comes home?

It is very important when your pet first comes home that they stay very calm and quiet for a couple of weeks. This is because the antiserum can only counteract toxin that has not already been bound within the body. This, in turn, means that your pet will likely still have some toxin circulating within their body and this toxin and any excitement can cause a return of clinical signs.

It is also important to feed your pet small meals frequently, rather than a big meal once or twice a day, and under competent supervision. If any gagging or difficulty swallowing is noted, you should notify your veterinarian.

Additionally, tick searches should be continued daily and your pet should be covered by an effective preventative such as Bravecto. Take care to avoid any areas where ticks are likely to be found, such as scrubby areas or along creeks, and keep the pet indoors if at all possible.

The incident of ticks on dogs is thankfully reducing. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be vigilant, however. Call Southern Cross Vet, or book an appointment online if you’re concerned about a tick on your dog.