Although ticks are found all over the world, the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is only found in Australia. It is restricted to the humid east coast of Australia.
Each spring and summer we see an influx of animals bitten by paralysis ticks
Paralysis ticks are prevalent on the east coast of Australia
Where are they found?
Possums and Bandicoots are the natural hosts of the paralysis tick, and as with other Australian native wildlife, are usually unaffected by their toxin.
The paralysis tick will feed on dogs, cats and humans. Ticks attach to our pets as they walk through grass or bushes where native animals, particularly possums and bandicoots have been.
This means that all the National parks and bushland around the Bundaberg are high risk areas. We have had cases from Sharon, Mt Perry and animals travelling up from the coastal regions.
Most cases we have seen pets become affected without even leaving their backyard.
The bandicoot – a natural host of the paralysis tick
The possum – a natural host of the paralysis tick
The worst time for tick paralysis is from August through to February.
The paralysis tick life cycle
After hatching from an egg, the larval tick climbs onto nearby vegetation, waiting for an animal to come by. Usually this would be a possum or bandicoot, however if a dog or cat wanders by, they don’t discriminate. The larval tick burrows its mouthparts into the animal’s skin and starts to suck blood, injecting a neurotoxin as it feeds. Although the tick starts off small, it grows in size as it fills with blood. Once the larval tick has had its fill, it drops off, moults and becomes a nymph tick. The feeding and moulting process is then repeated using a new host animal. After this stage the tick becomes the most dangerous life stage, an adult paralysis tick. Once the female adult paralysis tick has filled with blood, she drops off her host and lays up to 3000 eggs, ready to start the whole cycle again.
The sizes of paralysis ticks through their life stages
Signs of tick paralysis
As they feed, female paralysis ticks inject a neurotoxin that binds to the point where nerves meet muscles. It usually takes about 3-4 days of feeding before enough toxin is injected to cause signs of illness. Initial signs are vague, but progress over the following few days. The most common clinical signs that we see are:
Vomiting, regurgitating or refusing to eat
A change in voice (bark or meow may become hoarse)
Weakness in the back legs
Lack of coordination or inability to climb stairs, (may progress to collapse and paralysis)
Breathing problems – panting, coughing or slow laboured breathing
It is important to know that occasionally patients will not develop the usual signs of tick
paralysis, and may show other signs of illness.
As the poisoning progresses, pets become unable to stand and have extreme difficulty breathing. Eventually, untreated tick poisoning will result in death.
Removing a paralysis tick from your pet
If you are ever unsure if something is a tick or not, please do not hesitate to phone and make a time for one of our vets or nurses to have a look and let you know. Adult paralysis ticks have very long barbed mouthparts which embed in the pet’s skin, which makes them hard to remove. Ticks can be removed with tweezers by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible, or preferably with a Tick Twister.
How to use a Tick Twister
Please take care and monitor your pet very closely after removing a tick. Do not exercise them and only offer small amounts of food and water. Due to the slow action of the tick toxin, a pet may develop tick paralysis up to several days after a tick has been removed.
If your pet is showing any signs of illness at all, or if the tick you removed was large, please phone Sugarland Animal Hospital immediately to arrange an appointment. The sooner your pet is treated, the better their chance of recovery.
A bottle of Tick Anti serum
Tick paralysis treatment at Sugarland Animal Hospital
If you suspect that your pet may have a tick, or if you find a tick on your pet, please phone Sugarland Animal Hospital immediately. We will ensure that your pet is seen as a priority.
On arrival, we will examine your pet thoroughly, assess the grade of tick paralysis and provide any emergency care that is needed. Tick patients are given an injection of a sedative to ensure they are calm and not stressed. We then place an intravenous catheter in one of the forelegs and administer the tick antitoxin via a drip. This product is made from the serum of hyper immune dogs, and as a blood product, is given with great care. The tick antitoxin is not an antidote. It can only neutralize the toxin that has not yet bound to the nerve endings, and hence is most effective if it is given as soon as possible. It does not give patients ongoing immunity to ticks. Pets are tick searched and tick rinsed to ensure there are no remaining ticks.
A paralysis tick being identified and removed
Most pets with tick poisoning develop paralysis of their larynx and their oesophagus. They lose the ability to swallow food and water and move it down to their stomach, and are at an increased risk of regurgitation and severe pneumonia. It is essential that we do not add to this problem by giving them food or water. At Sugarland, we regularly assess their ability to swallow, and once they are able to we offer them water and then food. Additionally, we suction out any fluid that pools in the back of their throat to make breathing easier.
It is common for tick paralysis patients to need eye care if they lose the ability to blink, and bladder care if they lose the ability to pass urine. Importantly they all need calm, quiet and tender loving care.
Pets often need intravenous fluids in order to maintain their hydration. Unfortunately some pets develop pneumonia and more severe breathing difficulties. They may need radiographs, intravenous antibiotics, blood gas analysis, intubation, and ventilation. All of this treatment can be done at Sugarland Animal Hospital.
Hospitalisation is important for recovery from tick paralysis
It is important to note that tick paralysis can be very unpredictable. Patients can occasionally get worse suddenly and unexpectedly. Some also have a very slow recovery. We will keep you updated with your pet’s progress, prognosis and cost of treatment, however if you have any concerns please do not hesitate to ask.
At Sugarland Vet, we strongly recommend two important components of tick prevention. Both need to be done.
A daily tick search: This must be done every day during the tick season, even if your pet is on tick prevention. Most ticks are found on the pet’s head, neck or shoulders. The most effective way to tick search is to systematically run your fingers along their skin until you have checked their entire body. You are more likely to feel a tick with your fingers than see one. Don’t stop searching if you find a tick, as many pets will have a second one. Grooming and clipping long haired animals in spring and summer makes it easier to find a tick.
A paralysis tick in the fur and an engorged paralysis tick
You can use an oral medication or topical/spot on product.
Bravecto chewable tablets – Treatment and control of paralysis ticks for 4 months. Bravecto is unaffected by swimming or bathing and is safe to be given from 8 weeks of age.
Nexgard is a monthly chewable tablet that controls fleas and paralysis ticks. Nexgard is unaffected by swimming or bathing and is safe to be given from 8 weeks of age.
Advantix is a topical product that is applied to your dog’s skin (back of the neck) every two weeks for tick control. It also controls fleas. Dogs should not swim or have a bath within two days of application of Advantix. It is safe to use in puppies from 7 weeks of age. Advantix is highly toxic to cats. It should never be applied to a cat and care should be taken when using it on a dog when there is a cat in the family.
Tick Collars: There are several tick collars on the market (Seresto) which may be used as an adjunct to one of the above methods in dogs only.
Bravecto Topical – Treatment and control of paralysis ticks for 4 months. Bravecto is safe to be given from 8 weeks of age.
If your pet has a tick, or you are concerned that they may have one, please phone Sugarland animal hospital Immediately on 41513550. We are open from 8am to 6pm on weekdays and from 8am-12pm on Saturdays. Outside these hours please phone our number and you will be directed to our Veterinarian on call.