Ticks are the grey time bombs found in back yards, parks and in bushland, waiting to catch you unawares. Found predominantly along the east coast of Australia, the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) could possibly be fatal to your furry companion.
The major natural host for these killers is the bandicoot (other natural hosts include possums and wallabies). However, any warm-blooded animal is a potential host. Therefore paralysis ticks usually inhabit warm, humid bushland or scrubby areas.
I have no doubt that as you read this article, vets around the country, especially those near forest, will be treating pets in various stages of collapse from tick poisoning.
Although peak tick season is during the summer months, I have seen paralysis ticks throughout the year including windy cold August after a few unseasonally hot days. Furthermore, the life cycle of the tick varies from 4.5 to 14 months. This, combined with our climate, means you should be treating your pet for ticks all year round.
Only the female paralysis tick will attach to your pet. Once attached, the female begins to feed by burrowing into your pet's skin and sucking blood. After attachment and feeding, the tick starts to produce a very potent toxin contained within its saliva that affects your pet's central nervous system and causes a progressive paralysis. In the case of dogs, once your pet starts to show symptoms, the disease can progress very quickly and if left untreated, your dog could die.
The saying 'prevention is better than the cure' is definitely true when it comes to paralysis tick. Hospital treatment for paralysis tick does not always guarantee complete recovery, and some dogs may not survive despite receiving treatment.
It is important to be vigilant in checking your pet daily for ticks and if signs of toxicity appear, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Most ticks will be on the head and neck of your dog and away from easily groomed areas on your cat. Carefully feel all over your pet paying attention to the head and neck region, inside the ears, mouth, under the tongue, between the toes, and around the rear areas. Paralysis ticks are easier to find if you work your fingers through your pet's coat against the hair. Long hair may be clipped to a length of 2-3cm to make it easier. Your pet will find this type of massage soothing and will return for it nightly.
There are a range of tick prevention products on the market. Ask your vet for advice on the best product for the area in which you live - you may even require a combination of products.
If you find a tick on your pet
If you do find a tick on your pet it is important that you let your pet rest and keep it cool and relaxed. Do not give food or water and do not use a match or methylated spirits to remove the tick.
You could worsen your pet's condition by removing the tick incorrectly. Multiple methods are used so consult your vet before attempting to do this. A rapid pull technique with minimal handling of the tick is recommended. Again, your vet can advise you of the most appropriate method.
What to look for
Symptoms caused by the paralysis tick toxin may include:
- Weakness in the back legs, progressing to the front legs
- Appearing 'wobbly' and uncoordinated
- Change in tone of bark
- A grunt on breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Use a tick prevention treatment recommended by your vet
- Thoroughly search your pet daily
- To minimise the preferred habitat of the tick and its host animal;
- Clean gardens and use pebble mulch
- Dig composted material into the garden instead of using mulch
- Place Bandicoot netting 150mm under the ground to 500mm above
- Remove thick barked plants such as Grevillea and Melaleuca- Avoid Bamboo and dense hedges which harbour ticks.