Blog post #3 – Part 2
“Tick Tock, Tick, Tick, Ticks” …are ticks a ticking time bomb for pets?
You will recall that in Part 1 of this blog post we started with a scenario of you talking you pooch for a walk and you ending up visiting him in the vet hospital a few days later on a ventilator!
We also discussed what ticks are, what their life cycle is and how they get onto a their host.
We also covered off the 3 most important ticks in Australia with respect to pets, that being the:
- Brown dog tick
- Bush tick
- Paralysis tick
If you have not read part 1, then click here and come back to part 2 once you have read that….don’t worry we’ll be here, we are not going anywhere.
If you have already read part 1, great job! Let’s get back to the tick discussion…
- The brown dog tick prefers dogs and cats as its host. The bush tick prefers cattle as its host but will still feed on dogs and cats. The paralysis tick feeds on many different hosts, including dogs and cats, and it does seem to have bandicoots as a preferred host.
What is a bandicoot? It is a little Australian marsupial with a pointed nose, prick ears and long back legs. It lives in the bush. Since bandicoots are nocturnal, they are not often seen. I have been fortunate enough to have seen a bandicoot in the wild!
- Female adult paralysis ticks have the potential to cause toxicosis and resultant paralysis in our pets. These adults are most abundant from October to December.
- Provided the microhabitat is suitable, the paralysis tick is primarily found across the eastern seaboard of Australia. It is not found in Western Australia, NT (Northern Territory) or SA (South Australia).
- Whilst the brown dog tick and the bush tick have the potential to transmit diseases to our pets, these vector borne diseases as mentioned, are fortunately not prevalent in Australia so we will focus our attention for the remainder of this discussion on the paralysis tick.
- Why is the paralysis tick of concern to us as pet parents?
- As the name implies, these ticks can case the paralysis and even death of dogs and cats.
- The paralysis tick is quite unique because while it is feeding it begins to secrete a neurotoxin after around 3-4 days of attachment and feeding. So in this instance they can be regarded as a ticking time bomb!
- Although some of the immature stages of the tick may cause paralysis it is the adult female tick that is of greatest concern for causing paralysis in our pets.
- What is a neurotoxin? Neuro refers to the nerves. Toxin refers to a poison. So a neurotoxin is a poison that has an impact on the nervous system
- And if it is having a detrimental effect on the nerves….it can lead to paralysis…hence why this tick gets its common name as the paralysis tick
- What does a pet affected by paralysis tick look like?
- Well initially the paralysis typically begins as a weakness in the back legs of our pets and progresses to a weakness and inability to use the front legs as well.
- If the host is a dog, the owner may notice a change in the pets’ bark.
- Sometimes the pet may lose its appetite, it may vomit and occasionally the pupils of the eyes may be different sizes.
- Death results from a paralysis of the respiratory muscles which means that the host is not able to breath effectively.
- Interestingly, Marsupials tend not to be as affected by paralysis ticks.
- Young children have been known to be affected by the toxin of paralysis ticks.
How are paralysed pets treated?
- Treatment of a paralysed pet can involve a number of steps
- One of the primary aims is to find the tick or ticks and remove them as quickly as possible.
- This may involve shaving the entire animal to help find the tick/s.
- In many cases it is just one single tick that can cause all the troubles, however it is important to make sure there are not more than one attached.
- The level of treatment will vary depending on the degree of paralysis
- Hospitalisation and close monitoring along with supportive care may be important.
- The pet may require the administration of intravenous tick antiserum so as to help neutralise the tick toxin.
- In severe and life-threatening cases, ventilation on a ventilator along with other intensive care support may be required
- What can I do to help prevent my dog from being infected?
- Firstly, use some sort of tick preventative
- There are many products available and it is not the purpose of this discussion to go into detail on these rights now.
- However, I will say that in my opinion, for paralysis tick, products that get into your pet’s blood stream are best, as opposed to those that just remain on the surface of the skin. This is not always the case and you should speak to your vet for advise specific to your pet.
- When the product gets into your pet’s blood stream it is far more effective against the tick because the tick ingests the product while it feeds and takes in its blood meal.
- Products that remain on the surface of the skin may not be in high enough concentrations over the animal’s entire body. If for example the tick attaches between the toes or on the ear tip, or some other remote area on the body.
- Bear in mind that there are some products that are applied topically but still get into the blood stream and carry out their effect via the blood i.e. they are applied topically but go systemically. These would be as effective as those products that are given orally.
- The key point is …use some sort of tick preventative that is effective no matter where on the body a tick might attach.
- Whichever product you decide to use,
- make sure you are using it at the right dose given the weight of your pet,
- make sure you are giving it on time at the frequency recommended and
- make sure you are following all the user instruction on the product label to ensure you are using it correctly and safely
- Even the best products on the market cannot protect your pet or be used safely if administered at the incorrect dose or incorrect frequency.
- The other thing to do is to perform daily and thorough tick searches of your pets, particularly when you have been walking in vegetation
- This daily routine is important even if your pet is on a tick treatment
- Given the life-threatening nature of paralysis ticks it is best to rather err on the side of caution and check regularly
- Firstly, use some sort of tick preventative
Bear in mind that cats can wander around on their own and we don’t always know what they get up to and where they go. This means tick searches on cats are also important.
- What do I look for when searching?
- The idea is to engage your senses, both sight and touch when searching for ticks. You are aiming to see and feel for the ticks.
- Remember that you are searching for all sorts of ticks, engorged, unfed, tiny ones or large ones.
- Run your hands through the coat of your pet paying particular attention to anything that may feel like a slight protuberance from the skin
- If you detect something, stop and investigate further
- Brush through the skin against the fall of the fur. The idea is to lift the fur by brushing your fingers across the coat. By doing this you will lift the fur and have a much better chance of seeing an attached tick
- Ticks can hide in obscure places such as in cracks and crevices in the body so besides searching over the entire body, also spend search time around the head, including inside the ears. Also search around the perineal/genital area and around the feet.
- Pay particular attention when your pet has a heavy coat of fur.
- Note that the tick can look and feel like a skin outgrowth so they can be easily missed
How do I remove an attached tick?
- Avoid techniques such as burning them with a match or dousing them with some sort of oil.
- One of the ways to safely remove a tick is to simply get a small pair of tweezers and grasp the tick on its mouthparts as close to its point of attachment on the skin as possible. Sometimes you may need to first push down on the skin with the tweezer tips to better expose the sunken head and mouth before grasping with the tweezers
- The key is to grasp the tick on its head and mouthparts as close to its point of attachment to the skin as possible.
- Avoid grasping the body of the tick as this can mean that the head is more easily left behind and that the contents of the body can be somewhat squeezed back into the pet. Sort of like squeezing a toothpaste tube. You wouldn’t want any more toxin or bacteria etc injected back into your pet if you can avoid it.
- Then with the tweezers grasping the head and mouth, pull at 90 degrees away from the skin with gentle but firm and constant tension …. Remember the mouthparts are buried in the skin.
- Eventually, the mouthparts will give way and they will pull away at the point of attachment, sometimes bringing a tiny bit of skin tissue along with it.
- Destroy the tick and flush it down the toilet.
- It is always best to seek advice from your veterinarian when dealing with ticks.
Let’s loop back to your earlier walk in part 1 of this post and how you ended up in the vet hospital with your dog on a ventilator?
While out walking, your dog picked up a paralysis tick from vegetation it brushed up against. Because your dog was not protected with a tick prevention product, and daily checking was not performed, the tick was able to attach and remain attached for days and inject the toxin which had a detrimental effect on its nervous system.
Fortunately, all the great care that your dog received at the vet hospital; the fluids, antitoxin and the ventilator, helped pull your dog through this life-threatening ordeal. Sadly though, not all cases end up being fictional stories with happy endings.
- So let’s sum up:
- Do get out and about and enjoy time outdoors with your pet
- Do make sure your pet is protected with a good tick preventative
- Do use the product as instructed on the package insert e.g. correct dose, correct frequency, correct route of administration
- Do regular daily tick checks
- Please share this post with those pet parents you think need to see this… If we can prevent just one pet from the potential perils of ticks, we would all have done a great deed.
- Tails up to that!
Author: Brett the vet
- Barker, S.C.; Walker, A.R. 2014. Ticks of Australia. The species that infest domestic animals and humans. Zootaxa. Magnolia Press. Auckland
Ettinger, S.J; Feldman, E.C. 2005. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 6th Ed. Elsevier Saunders.