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Paralysis Ticks and Brown Dog Ticks in Dogs and Cats

Ticks of different varieties are found throughout Australia. The most common types of ticks are the paralysis tick, bush tick, cattle tick and the brown dog tick.  The tick that poses the greatest threat to the health of our pets is the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus). Each year thousands of dogs and cats are hospitalised with paralysis due to this tick. Despite treatment, the outcome may be fatal if the tick is found too late or if the signs have progressed to causing paralysis of breathing and swallowing. Puppies, kittens and smaller breeds are particularly susceptible. 

Ticks can also carry other diseases which can affect domesticated animals and occasionally humans. In 2020, ticks within parts of Australia were detected to carry Ehrlichiosis canis, a bacteria which can cause disease in both pets and people.


Where are paralysis ticks found in Australia? 

Paralysis ticks are found along the east coast of Australia. They can target dogs and cats, as well as native wildlife such as bandicoots, possums and koalas. Scientists believe that there are increasing numbers of ticks due to global warming and the growing bandicoot population in recent years. Outdoor dogs and cats that interact with wildlife or have access to coastal or inland bushy or grassy areas are more likely to be impacted.

In Western Australia, ornate kangaroo ticks and brown ticks are quite common and in South Australia, brown dog ticks can be found. Although these ticks are not as harmful as paralysis ticks, infestations of ticks are uncomfortable and blood borne bacteria can be transmitted, so prevention is recommended.


Paralysis tick - impact on dog and cat health

Paralysis occurs when a paralysis ticks attaches to a dog or cat and feeds on the pet’s blood, injecting saliva into the pet at the same time. The saliva contains a toxin that interferes with the neuromuscular junctions of the pet, resulting in weakness and paralysis.  Common signs of tick paralysis include a wobbly gait, weakness, vomiting or retching, a change in pitch in the meow or bark, difficulty breathing and collapse. If any of these symptoms are observed, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Upon careful investigation, a vet may observe one or more ticks attached to your pet. If the tick is no longer present, they may find an inflamed crater-like area left by it.  Paralysis ticks can attach anywhere, but can be hidden deep inside your pet’s ears, near the anus or in between the toes. A vet may need to clip your pet to try to find an attached tick.


Prevention, Treatment and Management of Paralysis Ticks

Routine monthly protection in the form of a chew for dogs or topical spot on for cats is the recommended treatment for tick prevention. Appropriately selected products have active ingredients that treat, control and kill paralysis and other types of ticks.

In addition to tick prevention treatments, it is a good idea to check for ticks after walks in the bush, especially during the warmer months. Particular areas to search and pay attention to are the folds of the neck, underneath the collar, between the toes, as well as behind and in the ears.

Preventing ticks and the clinical signs associated with tick paralysis is much safer and more cost effective than managing the treatment, which requires removal of the tick, administration of antiserum as well as supportive care. This may involve intravenous fluids, hospitalisation and even oxygen therapy.  Some cases of paralysis are too severely affected to respond to treatment and the outcome can be fatal

Pet Lovers Club delivers complete personalised parasite protection directly to your door every month, making the product choice easy, ensuring you never forget and most importantly optimising the health and lifespan of your much loved pets.

By Dr Lydia Matheson BVSc
Pet Lovers Club Vet

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