Protect your pet from the paralysis tick
What is a paralysis tick
The paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is a small parasite that feeds on the blood of animals and humans. In the wild, the tick normally targets native animals such as possums and bandicoots. The tick can also bite dogs and cats, which unfortunately do not have immunity to the tick.
When the tick bites a pet, it releases a neurotoxin that causes paralysis and eventual death. Fortunately, a treatment serum can be administered to your pet by the vet once a paralysis tick bite has been positively identified, but the effect of the serum can be slowed while symptoms worsen. This is why time is of the essence when seeking treatment.
Where can the paralysis tick be found?
The paralysis tick can be found throughout Australia but is most common in warm, humid areas in New South Wales and Queensland. The risk of tick bite starts to pick up from spring through to summer, so it's important to be diligent from September onwards.
Ticks are most often picked up in long grass and bushland along the coast, but can also be found in suburban gardens.
What symptoms should I look out for?
You may not even see a tick once your pet displays symptoms, as it may have dropped off after biting them. As such, if you notice any of these symptoms, move very quickly and get your pet straight to the vet.
Cats can appear wheezy with a little grunt or gasp at the end of their breath. They also might meow more than usual, or their meow might sound different.
Dogs can appear quieter than normal or lethargic. They can suffer from difficulty swallowing or having an unusual sounding bark, which is caused by the setting in of paralysis around the throat. They can also suffer from coughing, vomiting, retching, gagging, swelling or loss of coordination.
How can you protect your pet from the paralysis tick?
First, have a chat with your vet about the various tick treatments on the market. Don’t medicate your furry friend without being sure you are using the right product and dosage – and NEVER mix up cat and dog medicine, as this can be fatal.
Check your pet thoroughly (and we mean thoroughly!) every single day. A good time is immediately after walkies, or whenever your pet comes in from playing in the garden.
Feel with your hands all around their legs, belly, ears, chin, torso and tail – the tick is often easier to feel than see (and take care to wash your hands if you touch one). Alternatively use gloves, a fine comb or part your furry friend’s coat with a hair drier if they enjoy this. Considering clipping your long-haired pets in the spring and summer.
Keep pests and local native critters under control around your house (for example, use possum guards on your roof). And always clear up long grass and plant clippings from around the house.
What should I do if I find a paralysis tick on my pet?
It’s possible you have stumbled across a brown dog tick or bush tick. Though these ticks can carry nasty germs, they generally aren't fatal.
If you do spot a tick and it is yellow or grey with long legs (or if you find any tick you are unsure about), don’t try to remove the tick or as this might make it release more toxins. Instead, call the vet immediately and await their instructions.
If the tick comes off, try to keep it in a ziplock bag or jar so your vet can identify it later.
In the meantime, keep your pet calm and quiet and avoid giving them any food or water in case they choke.
This all sounds frightening, but don't let it overwhelm you. Once you know how to avoid and prevent tick bites, the safer your furry friends will be.
Spread the word and make sure all your dog-walking, cat-cuddling friends know what to do in an emergency.