Has your pet been to the coast recently? If so, it may be at risk of tick paralysis. Tick paralysis is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition caused by the attachment of the tick Ixodes holocyclus. The paralysis tick is typically found in bushland near the eastern coast of Australia and is most active between Spring and Autumn.
The toxin released by the tick causes paralysis beginning as weakening of the hind limbs and change in voice. The paralysis progresses to all four limbs and increased fluid production in the lungs. This increase of lung fluid and any vomiting may then be inhaled into the lung as the animal is unable to swallow effectively. This can lead to lung infections or aspiration pneumonia. Ultimately, if the paralysis tick is not removed or killed using insecticide, death will occur due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles required for breathing.
The signs of tick paralysis do not usually occur until the tick has been attached to the animal for three days. The first step is to do a thorough tick search. This may require clipping the fur and checking the whole body, in particular between the toes, and around the neck and ears. If any ticks are found, they are removed. It is important not to squeeze the body of the tick when removing; as this will cause more toxin to be injected. Removing the tick will stop more toxin entering the animal; the toxin already in the animal will continue to have an effect. We will often wash the animal in an insecticide to help kill any ticks that may be missed during examination.
Tick antiserum should be given to neutralise the active/free toxin in the animal. Usually one dose of antiserum is enough to neutralise the toxin and the animal will recover within 24-48 hours. In a small number of cases, there may be a reaction to the tick antiserum. To decrease the chance of any reaction, the antiserum is given slowly and the animal monitored whilst the treatment is occurring.
If the paralysis is advanced before the animal is presented to the vet, further supportive treatment may be required. This may include antibiotics to prevent lung infection, temperature monitoring as animals lose their ability to maintain body temperature and in severe cases artificial ventilation may be required to assist the animal in breathing.
Preventative measures include daily searches of your pet’s coat while visiting the coast and subsequent removal of any ticks found on your pet. There are a wide range of products available that may kill ticks; some of which need to be applied every two weeks while in tick prevalent areas. There are also tick collars available.