Ticks in Australia
Image courtesy Southern Animal Referral Centre
The paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, is one of the deadliest parasites affecting dogs and cats.
We are fortunate (so far), that the distribution of this small killer hasn’t extended to the cold climate of the Crookwell district. That means pet owners in this district are often unaware of ticks, their potentially lethal effect on pets, and their control and prevention.
At Crookwell Veterinary Hospital we frequently treat dogs or cats with tick paralysis 5 to 7 days after they return from a trip to the South Coast or Sydney with their owners. The treatment is intensive and expensive and tick paralysis can still be fatal.
We strongly recommend tick control measures and preventative medication for your cats if you travel to known tick areas (the east coast of Australia, see the map on this page). A 24 hour trip to Sydney is all it takes for your pet to bring home a paralysis tick.
And if you travel regularly outside the district with your pets, year round tick protection is essential.
Symptoms and treatment
When a paralysis tick attaches to an animal's skin to feed, it releases toxin from its saliva. When in tick areas, be alert for a change in voice (a cough or different bark) and difficulty swallowing – these are some of the first signs. These are followed by lethargy, vomiting, weakness, and wobbliness in the back legs. Eventually the whole body is paralysed, and breathing becomes increasingly labored.
Veterinary treatment involves administration of the tick antiserum and intensive care in hospital for a number of days, depending on the severity of the paralysis.
Tick paralysis is an emergency! Call us immediately if you have any concerns.
Tick control products and prevention
At CVH we stock a range of tick prevention medication and many products also kill fleas. New, more effective products are coming online regularly so it's really important to speak with our vets - they can help you develop a safe and suitable tick preventative regime specifically for your pet. We also stock Tick Twisters – neat gadgets that make removing a tick fast and safe.
Most importantly, if you are medicating a cat, please note some dog products are toxic to cats.
Ring and speak with one of our veterinarians or nursing staff to discuss the different preventative products, and to talk about managing your pets when in tick prone areas.
While the products above will significantly reduce the risk of tick paralysis, their use does NOT guarantee prevention of all cases of tick paralysis (because ticks are not killed immediately after contact with the chemicals).
Careful daily searching for ticks is essential in both dogs and cats, even if tick prevention products are in use. 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, face and neck region but the whole animal should be searched thoroughly.
In addition to ensuring your pet is receiving tick prevention products, it’s essential you develop a regular daily routine when in tick prone areas:
- Make sure you search systematically and pay particular attention to hidden areas – in the ears and ear folds, under armpits, between the toes, under the tail – ticks like to attach in hard-to-find places, and they can be very small when they first attach, enlarging as they feed over a number of days.
- If ticks are found during this search, they should be removed immediately.
- If you find a tick, remove with tweezers or a tick hook (we stock Tick Twisters, a simple gadget that makes removing ticks easy and safe).
- Grab the tick firmly at the head as close to the skin as possible, and pull firmly and quickly, making sure you don’t squeeze the body (this makes the tick inject more toxin). The cleaner the tick removal, the less toxin is injected into your pet.
- Remember, even if you’ve removed the tick, signs of tick paralysis can still develop over the next few days – ring us immediately if you are in the least concerned about your pet.