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Tick Paralysis In Dogs And Cats

What causes tick paralysis?

Tick paralysis is a toxicity resulting from the attachment of ticks to domestic dogs and cats. The tick releases toxin into the animal as it feeds causing muscles to become paralysed.

Where in Australia are they generally found?

There are two main types of ticks commonly found on dogs and cats.

1. The brown dog tick is considered to be non toxic; this tick is typically found in the cooler areas of Eastern Australia.

2. The paralysis tick is considered to be toxic, this tick is generally located in Queensland, NSW and north eastern Victoria including East Gippsland.

How do I tell what type of tick is on my dog/cat?

It is very difficult to differentiate between the two main types of ticks commonly found on dogs and cats. Identification usually requires examination with a microscope. Your local veterinarian will be able to advise you.

On what part of the dog/cat do ticks usually attach?

Ticks can often be quite difficult to find, particularly on animals that have long fur. The ticks can attach to any part of an animals body including inside ears and between pads and toes. Ticks can easily be confused with skin warts, wounds and scabs.

What do I do if I find a tick on my dog/cat?

It is best to take your pet to your local veterinarian for an examination if you are concerned there may be a tick on your pet. The vet can safely remove the tick and also accurately identify the type of tick.

If it is not possible to access a veterinarian immediately, you can attempt to remove the tick yourself. It is advised to pull the tick off without killing it first as the tick releases more toxin into the animal as it dies. Ticks can be removed by carefully grasping the head and mouth parts and pulling the tick straight out. The use of a plastic tick hook makes this process much easier. Do not twist or squeeze the body of the tick.

What are the signs of tick paralysis?

Watch very carefully for signs of tick paralysis if there is a history of being in a paralysis tick area during the previous5-7 days. People travelling may also bring ticks home in their luggage, which can attach to pets.

Animals may become agitated and unable to settle, they may start to stagger when trying to walk or even collapse, you may notice a change in their bark/meow sounds, they may appear to be breathing faster or having trouble breathing, they may make unusual grunting sounds, there may be coughing, vomiting or gagging behaviour noticed.

What is the treatment for tick paralysis?

After a thorough assessment/examination from the veterinarian and removal/identification of the tick, it is recommended that all patients be hospitalized and monitored for at least 48 hours. The reason for this is because there is often more than 1 tick attached to the animal, and also a patient can deteriorate for another 12-24 hours after tick removal.

The vet will need to give tick antiserum therapy to help prevent or reduce the effects of the toxin.This procedure includes giving a premedication to prevent the antiserum causing side effects such as anaphylactic shock. The antiserum is then given slowly, directly into the animal’s vein.

What are the risks associated with tick paralysis for my pet?

The risks with tick paralysis include:

  1. heart failure
  2. aspiration or upper respiratory tract obstruction
  3. sudden heart attack
  4. respiratory muscle paralysis

For these reasons, a patient should be rested for 3-4 weeks following discharge from hospital.

Will my pet recover completely?

There is a good chance your pet will recover completely if you seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you suspect your pet may be suffering from tick paralysis.

The longer the paralysis tick feeds on the animal, the more likely it is that the animal will suffer from serious health problems and the less likely there is of a full recovery.

In some severe cases, animals may die.

How much does it cost for my animal to be treated?

Tick paralysis cases can become very costly to treat due to the cost of the tick anti-serum, the many tests/medications required and the lengthy intensive care needed to aid a full recovery.