The tick season typically extends from September to March, but cases of tick paralysis can occur at other times of the year, especially in coastal areas.
Paralysis ticks attach to an animal’s skin to feed on blood. The toxin is released with the tick’s saliva as it feeds, and causes paralysis. Early signs include lethargy, weakness, wobbliness in the back legs, which progresses to involve the whole body. Excessive salivation and vomiting or retching can occur, and breathing becomes more laboured (often with a grunt, or groan). Eventually tick paralysis can result in coma and death. In some cases sudden death may even occur in the early stages of paralysis.
Tick prevention products for dogs include “back of the neck” spot-on products like Advantix and Frontline Plus, tick collars, sprays and rinses. Many cat owners use Frontline plus spot-on fortnightly on the back of their cat’s neck but its efficacy for tick prevention has not been proven. Please note that Advantix, while safe for dogs, is TOXIC to CATS. We don’t even recommend its use on your dog if it mixes closely with your cat. Products and directions for their use and a recommended program for your pets can be obtained from Warners Bay Vet.
Careful daily searching for ticks is always recommended in both dogs and cats, even if tick prevention products are in use.
The paralysis tick has eight legs and is a light grey or blue colour. When ticks first attach they are very small- about the size of a match head, but enlarge as they feed. Many ticks will be in the head and neck region but the whole animal should be thoroughly searched.
If you find a tick, remove it immediately by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers or a tick hook and plucking it quickly. Sometimes the tick has detached by the time signs of paralysis are seen, leaving a tick crater only- a skin reaction at the site of attachment. Even if your pet is showing no signs of illness when you remove the tick, it is important to realise signs may develop over the next 48 to 72 hours.
If you think you pet has tick paralysis, keep it calm, cool and quiet, do NOT offer it anything to eat or drink, and contact Warners Bay Vet immediately.
Veterinary treatment includes administration of tick antiserum and often requires a period of hospitalisation for supportive care. Veterinary intervention in many cases can be life-saving.