Paralysis ticks are native to Australia and their natural hosts are marsupials, principally bandicoots, but also others such as echidnas, possums and wallabies. They also infest cattle, horses, other livestock and domestic pets. Native animals are usually immune to the paralysing toxin because of their frequent exposure to tick infestation. However, they do maintain a reservoir of paralysis ticks in a particular area. Paralysis ticks tend to be associated with bushy or scrubby areas which harbour the native animal hosts but they can still be picked up in open paddocks and suburban areas. Summertime is their favourite but Ticks can be found any time of the year so PLEASE check your pets daily, keep your grass short, your pets' coats short if possible and keep up to date with their tick prevention treatments.
Signs of tick paralysis
The first signs are usually seen between 2 – 7 days after the tick attaches. The tick may have dropped off by then, or been removed. Signs can appear up to three weeks after attachment, if you have your animal away on holidays with you in a tick area, due to moulting ticks not feeding normally with the climate changes.
Signs to watch for:
• The tick may appear as a tiny dark coloured insect or a fat engorged parasite that has it’s head burrowed into the skin of the animal.
• They can be anywhere on the body, commonly found on the ears inside or out and on the feet or legs.
• The area around the tick maybe red and swollen.
SIGNS SHOWN BY THE ANIMAL
• Gagging, coughing /vomiting.
• Changes in voice (croaky, husky bark/unusual meow).
• Progressive hind limb wobbles (ataxia) to paralysis. Which ascends toward the head. (Paralysis moves from the tail to the head).
• Anxiety, salivation, vomiting.
• Difficulty breathing (laboured) mucous membranes bluish colour.
• Dilated pupils.
• Increased blood pressure / decreased heart output.
• Eventually death from respiratory failure due to paralysis of the chest muscles.
First Aid treatment for ticks Once signs have started
treatment becomes urgent although you may have up to 24 hours before the animal dies if there is only one tick. The sooner treatment is started the better the chance of the animal making a full and speedy recovery (saving you money in hospitalisation fees etc.) Cats are less susceptible to ticks toxins compared to dogs. Some animals can gradually acquire immunity or resistance to the toxin if they live in a tick area.
Look for ticks or craters ALL over the body from the tip of its nose to the tip of the tail, especially the mouth, eyes, under collars, ears, under the tail, groin area and between toes, and don’t forget the genital areas, ticks like warm areas. When in a known tick area, make these checks daily to protect your pet; early detection may save your pet going to the vet hospital.
If the animal is showing any signs take it to a veterinarian for treatment even if you have found and removed the tick/s as the toxins are in the body and treatment with tick anti-serum and other medications are needed to stop the toxin affects on the body.
A tick rinse can be done to kill any missed ticks if the animal in out of danger.
Avoid stressing any animal that is showing signs.
DO NOT give an animal, which is gagging, or showing signs anything to eat or drink as they may choke, take then to a veterinarian first.
Methods for tick remove are changing all the time and from Veterinarian to Veterinarian. Check with yours for their preferred method.
• (Only remove the tick if you are confident, because by squeezing and irritating it, you may stimulate more toxin to be injected into the animal. If you are not confident, please leave for the vet to remove)
Pull the tick straight out with tweezers (eyebrow tweezers work well). There are tick removers available from veterinarians. OR if you are not confident to do that You need to kill the tick by dabbing, dropping or spraying it with a concentrated tick killing product like frontline, tick rinse or tropical strength RID or Aerogard insect repellent straight on the tick. Then once the tick backs out or dies to pull it off with fingers or tweezers. Then crush the head of the tick to be sure it is dead. If you are not sure of the type of tick it is placed it in a container and take to the veterinarian or take the animal to a veterinarian to remove it for you. If you are concerned about leaving the head behind contact your veterinarian.
Prevention is better than a cure. Remember it is VERY expensive to treat tick paralysis once it is showing signs and is progressing.
Things you can do:
* Daily searches for ticks.
* Insecticidal/tick washes.
* Frontline applied as directed for ticks not fleas.
* Tick collars.
* Clipping longhaired animals for easier searching.
* Advantix (Toxic to cats)
* Frontline plus
The tick lifecycle
Adult female ticks lay eggs, from which hatch, immature ticks or larvae. These larvae then feed to engorgement before dropping off and moulting to the nymph stage. The nymphs again feed, usually on a different host, and then drop off to moult to the adult stage. These immature ticks are sometimes called "seed ticks". As an adult, the female tick mates with the male off the host, they must take a blood meal to provide the nutrition it requires for successful egg laying. This is the stage where tick attachment to your pet, and then engorgement may occur. Toxic effects generally occur 3-7 days after the female commences feeding.
How the tick affects your pet
As the female feeds, the toxin is passed from the tick’s salivary glands into your pet. The toxin named Holocyclotoxin, has two major effects. The first is the typical muscle paralysis involving the muscle of walking, swallowing and most importantly breathing! The second effect involves the blood vessels of the body constricting, especially those in the lungs. Like your household plumbing, if you were pumping the same amount of fluid through suddenly smaller pipes, something has to give! The blood vessels are permeable and thus allow the passage of fluid out of the vessels when the pressure inside increases. The toxin, therefore, causes the lung vessels to constrict, and fluid to accumulate in the chest. If the animal is having trouble using its respiratory muscles, the last thing it needs is fluid in the lungs to clog up the works as well.
Treatment and prevention
An antiserum is only available through your vet. Given to the affected animal early enough, this will prevent the toxin having its maximum effect. Other treatments are aimed at alleviating the accumulation of fluid in the lungs and decreasing the blood vessel constriction. If you suspect your animal is suffering from tick paralysis, CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.
The early signs and what to do if you find a tick
The early signs may include a loss of appetite, a change in your pet's bark or meow, or possibly a discharge from the eyes. Difficulty walking and wobbliness follows with possible vomiting and respiratory distress. The signs of paralysis are very variable and rarely follow a set pattern.
DO NOT try to remove the tick because by squeezing and irritating it, you may stimulate more toxin to be injected into the animal.
DO NOT apply kerosene or methylated spirits to the tick. These liquids are very irritant to the skin.
Ticks are easy to kill with TROPICAL STRENGTH RID or AEROGUARD and pyrethrin based tickicides (e.g. Permoxin). Simply spray the tick or apply with a cotton bud. Leave the tick where it is and leave it to die and fall out by itself.
DO NOT try to feed your animal or offer it water. Your animals swallowing reflect is vital to its breathing ability. Your pet may panic when you stick food or water in its mouth when it cannot swallow.
DO NOT put your animal in front of the fire or heater. The toxin has an increased activity when heated. Your animal is best kept in a cool but not cold area.
DO NOT excite your animal. An excited animal with a chest full of fluid may have a heart attack and die. Remove all sources of excitement eg. other pets, food, kids and noise etc. Keep the animal in a cool dark isolated place until you can get it to the veterinary clinic.