Beaware of tick paralysis with your pets this summer.

October 2, 2019

As the weather gets warmer and hopefully wetter, you may notice an exponential growth in the number of creepy crawlies around. One special arachnid, the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is of particular concern to veterinarians in Australia. Paralysis ticks produce a neurotoxin in their saliva that is injected into their furry four-legged hosts as they feed on their blood. This toxin binds to receptors and prevents the transmission of information between nerves and muscles, leading to paralysis usually within 2-3 days. While symptoms may present in a variety of ways, the most typical presentation involves wobbly gait, weak hind legs, a change in bark/meow, reduced reflexes, inability to protect their airways, and most importantly difficulty breathing. The clinical signs generally progress from the hindlimbs forward with paralysis of the respiratory muscles ultimately leading to death.

Treatment typically involves the use of acaricides to kill attached ticks and an intravenous infusion of Tick Antiserum to bind free toxin circulating in the body in addition to supportive care including fluid therapy, eye lubrication, bladder expression, and frequent turning. Even with prompt diagnosis and treatment, prognosis can still be guarded as they may continue to decline for 24-48hrs before improving.

As the old saying goes, prevention is far better than cure. Treatment requires at least 1-2 days of intensive hospital care and total costs can range from $1,000 up to $10,000+ especially if referral and ventilation is required, and all with no guarantee of survival. In contrast, prevention can cost as little as $20-30 a month. A range of products are registered to protect against paralysis ticks including chewable and spot ons, which typically need to be reapplied once a month or once every three months. It is also important to perform daily tick checks as no product is always 100% effective.

Ticks can be found almost anywhere, and no one is safe, even pets kept indoors. Ticks usually enjoy warm humid climates and tall grass but can be brought closer to home by marsupials and even be tracked inside by humans and other pets. If you do find a tick on your pet, it is important to remove the tick and its mouth parts with tick twisters or tweezers, keep the tick in a sealed vessel for identification (please don't squeeze or crush it), and call the clinic as soon as possible. The earlier the treatment, the better the prognosis!

More information on disease prevention can be found on our website.