Tick paralysis

Dogs affected by tick toxin become ill 3-5 days following tick attachment with rapid and progressive deterioration 24-48 hours later.

OVERVIEW

Mainly found on the East Coast of Australia, the paralysis tick can be life-threatening to our pets. This tick contains a toxin that when injected can cause paralysis in dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, goats and even kangaroos.

Paralysis cases peak in spring and early summer particularly in wet, warm weather but can occur any time of the year. They live in bushy areas and long grass often where natural hosts such as bandicoots, possums and wallabies inhabit.

Your local veterinary clinic will be able to tell you which areas have the paralysis tick and during what season.

Tips to help identify the paralysis tick:

  • The larva has a long snout with a grey body
  • The nymph has orange legs with a pear-shaped grey body
  • The adult has a pear-shaped, grey body with dark bands on the sides and a very long snout

Bringing in a tick or taking a photo is useful as your veterinarian will be able to help identify the type of tick.

SIGNS

Common signs of tick paralysis:

  • Vomiting or gagging
  • Loss of voice
  • Dilated pupils
  • Off food
  • Instability on hind limbs or paralysis
  • Change in bark or meow
  • Difficulty in breathing

Most dogs become ill 3-5 days following tick attachment with signs rapidly and progressively getting worse 24-48 hours later.

Tick size or duration of attachment does not seem to affect the seriousness of toxicity signs.

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosis can be complicated if the tick or the crater in which the tick may have attached, cannot be found.

MANAGEMENT

In the case of tick paralysis, urgent veterinary care is required.

Veterinary treatment may include:

  • Sedation to try to locate the tick or crater
  • Application of tick treatment to stop toxin production
  • Tick antiserum
  • General anaesthesia for dogs that have respiratory problems
  • Medication to control respiratory and gastric secretions, and regulate the heart rate and rhythm such as Atropine
  • Medication to stop vomiting such as Metoclopramide or Maropitant (Cerenia)
  • Antibiotics if there are concerns for aspiration pneumonia
  • Diuretics if fluid buildup occurs within the lungs
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Artificial tears to maintain eye lubrication
  • Urinary catheters if there is concern for urinary output

Pets are at their most critical within the first 24 hours. Regular monitoring and nursing care are required and animals are placed in a quiet and dark area of the hospital to reduce stress.

HOME CARE

Tips to help manage the pet at home, following veterinary treatment:

  • Avoid overexcitement for at least 2 weeks
  • Feed only small meals 2-3 times a day for 5 days
  • Check for ticks daily
  • Avoid walking in tick areas such as long grass
  • Good quality tick treatment

TIPS

Tips to help prevent ticks:

  • Using good quality tick preventatives
  • Avoid areas around the home where fleas and ticks like to live
  • Avoid bringing wild animals into your home, as they can carry bugs
  • Check your pet's skin (ears, belly, face, between toes) regularly for ticks, especially after a walk. Correct removal is required to prevent the mouthparts from remaining
  • Avoid forest areas
  • Keep grassy areas short
  • Control rats and mice around the house

Unfortunately, no tick preventative is 100% effective throughout the whole treatment duration, so it is important to comb through your pet's coat after being outdoors and ensure you apply good quality tick treatment according to the label.

Tips on how to remove a tick:

  • Always grab the tick by the head, not the body
  • Use an approved tick remover tool
  • Do NOT use metho, kerosene or turps

If you are unsure, seek veterinary assistance as poor removal may result in worse symptoms.

REFERENCES

Atwell, R. (2010). Tick Paralysis in The Merck Veterinary Manual, 10th Edition. Merck & Co., INC., Whitehouse Station, NJ, USA. Pp. 1204-1210.

Shaw, M. (2000). The Australian Paralysis Tick in Newsletter of the Friends of the Far North Flying Foxes Inc., Edition 5.

Wylie R. (1984) Tick Paralysis. Post Graduate Committee in Vet. Sc., Uni. of Sydney. Control & Therapy No. 1815.

Atwell, R. (2011). Treatment of Tick Paralysis and Heartworm- Continuing Education Series, seminar sponsored by Merial, Shellharbour, July 2011

Atwell RB (1991), Treatment and Prevention of Tick Paralysis and Heartworm- Continuing Education Series, seminar sponsored by Merial and Provet, Wollongong, September 2001.

Atwell RB, Campbell FE and Court E (2000). The Attachment Sites of the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus) on dogs, Aust Vet Practit, 30(2)

Ottaway, S & Newby,K. (2003). Paralysis Ticks. NSW Agriculture, Agnote DAI-267, 2nd edition September 2003.

Anon, (2007). Australian Paralysis tick fact sheet. Queensland Museum. June 2008.

Atwell, R. (2010). Tick Anti (Toxin) Serum – An overview of Knowns and Unknowns. A Technical Bulletin for veterinarians. Merial, Bulletin 3:May 2010.