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What is a Paralysis tick & where can they be found?

The Australian paralysis tick is a very dangerous little creature responsible for the death of hundreds of dogs and cats each year. It lives in bushy coastal areas along the eastern coast of Australia, ranging from north Queensland to eastern Victoria. Ticks are most prevalent from spring to autumn; however they may occur at any time of year.

Paralysis ticks can be identified by their grey bodies with their legs positioned around the head piece. They have four legs on each side of the body, with the middle set lighter in colour than the outer pairs.  

Ticks are very small creatures, generally no bigger than the nail on your smallest finger. Once they have found a host they burrow their mouth parts into the flesh in order to feed on the host’s blood. Owners may not often find a tick on their pet until it has become engorged with blood. 


What is it that makes Paralysis Ticks so dangerous?

The paralysis tick contains a powerful toxin in its saliva that it excretes into the bloodstream of its host once attached. Australia’s native wildlife are the natural hosts for the paralysis tick and have adapted over time so that they are not usually affected by this toxin. Our introduced,domesticated pets are not so lucky. The toxin affects the function of the nervous system and causes severe health concerns. One of these is ascending flaccid paralysis, usually beginning in the hind legs before progressing to the rest of the body. The toxin also affects the animal's ability to swallow and any food or water taken may be inhaled.

Without the tick being found and removed, and the animal treated, death is almost certain.


What are the signs I should look for?

The earlier a tick is found and removed, the better the prognosis is for the animal. The degree and intensity that the pet is affected by a tick cannot be predicted as every animal is different. Some pets will have varying signs and others may have very few.

The most common signs of tick paralysis include;

  • Weakness, wobbling or paralysis of the hind legs, progressing to the front legs if the animal is left untreated

  • Change in the pet’s voice

  • Coughing

  • Lethargy

  • Loss of appetite

  • Gagging or vomiting

  • Salivation

  • Difficulty breathing

Should your pet be experiencing any of the following, take it immediately to your local veterinarian for assessment and possible treatment.


What do I do if I find a tick on my animal?

Firstly the tick must be removed. Secondly the animal must be brought to a veterinary clinic for assessment and possibly treatment.

There are a lot of rumours about how to successfully remove a tick. Some suggest Dettol, or methylated spirits. Some outrageous tales suggest even burning the tick off.
All of these rumours are fallacies, and although they may kill the tick, they could injure your pet as well as cause the tick to secrete more toxin. The best way to remove a tick is by gently pinching the thumb and forefinger around the tick and pulling until the tick comes free. Forceps or a special hook may also be used. Sometimes the mouth parts will detach from the head and remain embedded in the skin of the animal. This is not a problem.

If you do not feel confident enough to remove a tick yourself, immediately take the animal to the nearest veterinary surgery and one of the trained staff will assist you.

Once the tick has been removed, the animal will need to be assessed by a veterinarian to evaluate its overall health. If the animal is experiencing any of the signs of tick paralysis, it is likely that it will need to remain at the veterinary clinic for treatment. This is because the toxin that has already been secreted under the skin and will continue to be absorbed, even though the tick has been removed. This will see the signs of toxicity in your animal continue to worsen.

Treatment of tick toxicity involves the administration of tick antiserum as well as close monitoring throughout the initial recovery. Trained veterinary staff need to be at hand to regulate the animal’s temperature, ensure the airway is free and clear, monitor vitals and administer fluids should the patient be dehydrated.

The likelihood of an animal making a full recovery from tick paralysis is increased from speedy treatment. Unfortunately, advanced cases of tick toxicity cannot be guaranteed successful treatment. The cost of treatment will vary, depending on the size of the patient and the severity of the animal’s signs.

What can I do to reduce the chance of my pet succumbing to tick toxicity?

Religiously using tick prevention and checking your pet daily for ticks is the best possible form of prevention. There are a diverse range of tick prevention agents available; topical solutions, tablets and collars. Each have varying active time periods and you should always check the packaging before using them.

It is important to realise that no tick prevention will 100% cover your pet. Using tick preventions will not always stop ticks from attaching to your pet but they should eventually kill the tick before too much toxin has been injected.

Daily checking to find any ticks that may have attached to your pet is must for all pet owners living on the east coast of Australia.

Ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide and are mostly found in front of the animals shoulders around the face and neck. Running your fingers through the fur and feeling for any lumps or bumps can be the best chance of finding a tick early. Be sure to check in the ears, around the lips and eyes. This exercise is not only beneficial in finding any lurking ticks, but means that your pet will be more easily handled and used to having their head examined.


Fleas! Even the mention of the word can be enough to get you feeling itchy! Flea infestations are something that most pet owners would happily do without.

The most common type of flea to infest the family cat or dog is the ‘cat flea’(Ctenocephalidesfelis). These little bloodsuckers are found in all environments, including even the most hygienic of households. It is possible to see fleas with the naked eye, but because they burrow deeply into the animal’s fur, it can sometimes be difficult to spot them. A sure way of telling whether or not your pet does indeed have fleas is to look for the ‘flea dirt’. This is the flea’s faecal matter and is reddish-brown in colour. It can be seen from running a flea comb through the animal’s fur, and will taint the water the same colour when the animal is bathed. Most pet owners will not realise that their pet has fleas, until such time as the population numbers have reached an‘infestation’ level.

Knowing a bit about the life stages of the flea can greatly help in eradicating a flea infestation.



The Adult Flea:

Adult fleas are found in all sorts of environments. They are attracted to an animal by the vibration of its movement, its body warmth or the carbon dioxide produced by its breathing. Once they have found a host, they rarely jump between animals. Instead they burrow down through the fur to the skin where to feast on the animal’s blood. Within 8 to 24 hours of choosing a host, the adult fleas will find a partner to mate with. The adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day.


Flea Eggs:

Flea eggs do not stick to the coat of the animal, as human head lice do. Instead, they fall into the environment within 8 hours of being laid. Depending on the temperature and humidity, the eggs will hatch within 1 to 10days.


Flea Larvae:

Once hatched from the eggs, the larvae are mobile and light sensitive. They feed on the partially digested blood in the faecal matter of the adults which falls off the host and into its environment. They may also eat other organic debris found in the surrounding environment, which can include carpeted areas that the animal host frequents, the pet’s bedding or in the soil. The larval stage lasts anywhere between 5 to 18 days. The larvae then spin a silken cocoon known as the pupae.


Flea Pupae:

This is the last stage before the flea is an adult. Within the cocoon, the flea cannot be killed by any household chemicals. The flea can stay within this cocoon for anywhere from 3 days to over a year. Stimulation such as warm temperatures, humidity or vibrations can encourage the flea to emerge from the cocoon as an adult.


Flea & Tick Prevention Regimes

Prevention of fleas is a much better and simpler option than trying to eradicate a booming flea population. There are several different preventative treatments available. If you would like advice on the best options to use on your pet, stop in and see our friendly staff or make an appointment to see one of our vets and we can create a plan, specific to you pet and needs.

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