Tick paralysis in dogs and cats – emergency care
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 of Sydney are more prone to ticks than others, but none are absolutely tick-free.
What does a paralysis tick look like?
When found on pets they tend to have their mouthparts 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.
How do I find a paralysis tick on my dog or cat?
Paralysis ticks can be extremely difficult to find, even in animals with short coats.
At Sydney Animal Hospitals, we recommend:
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.
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.
How do I remove a tick from my dog or cat?
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.
Sydney Animal Hospitals' approach to tick prevention
Prevention of tick paralysis is essential to maintain the health of your pet. There is a range of excellent products available to repel and kill ticks but none is 100 per cent effective. The ideal prevention strategy depends on the lifestyle of your pet.
At Sydney Animal Hospitals we stock a range of products proven to prevent ticks but it is important that you select the right product for your pet.
Contact your nearest Sydney Animal Hospitals 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.