Tick poisoning and your pet

tick on petThe paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, is found along the eastern coast of Australia. It is one of about 75 species found in Australia. They are prevalent in the bushy, seaside areas where there is an abundance of its natural hosts, the bandicoot and possum. The paralysis tick is very sensitive to climatic changes and so the life cycle will slow down in cold and dry weather, and will accelerate very rapidly in warm, humid weather. So, in Sydney the worst time for ticks is between September and February, however it is important to remember that they are present all through the year and their incidence is climatically controlled.

The life cycle of the tick starts by the adult laying eggs that hatch into tiny pinhead size larvae. These larvae attach themselves to a suitable animal (the host), suck blood, fall off when full, moult and develop into a nymph. The nymph, like the larvae then repeats the process and finally develops into the adult tick. The adult then attaches itself to a host, feeds until engorged, falls off and lays 2000 to 3000 eggs, which hatch into larvae and so completes the life cycle.

The paralysis toxin which the tick produces, comes from the salivary glands of the adult tick.Tick

For our dogs and cats, the result of tick paralysis could end in death. So let us speak firstly of prevention.

By far the best, if not the only means of prevention is to search your pet daily; this means running your fingers over every square inch of its body. Particular attention is needed for the head, neck, shoulders and forelimbs but do not forget between the toes, in the ears and even inside the mouth. Ticks can be found anywhere on your pet – SO BE VIGILANT! Ticks, even large ones can easily be missed, so the more members of your family that can spare the time to go over your pet the better.

Products are available; such as Nexgard and Bravecto (dogs) Frontline Plus (cats and dogs) Advantix (only to be used in dogs as very toxic to cats), Permoxin rinse (dogs only) and Scalibor Tick Collar (dogs only). More information on these preventative products can be found here

While use of these products does help, there is unfortunately no product that will give a 100% guarantee. This is why we highly recommend daily searching of your pet. Also, if your pet has a long or thick coat, having them clipped short for the summer months makes searching for ticks that much easier.

Suppose you have found a tick on your pet (remember if one is found always look for more. Do not start dabbing at it with methylated spirits, kerosene etc.- all that is going to do is further irritate the tick and burn the animal’s skin as well. Grab the tick firmly at the point of attachment next to the skin with your fingers or a pair of tweezers and pull the tick out. If the body of the tick breaks off leaving the head behind embedded in the skin, don’t worry, the tick has been killed and there will only be a slightly prolonged irritation at the site of attachment.

This is another time for close observation. If your pet is not showing any symptoms (remember symptoms can occur for up to four days after you have removed the tick), keep them cool, quiet and for the first eight hours withhold food, water and any medication.

If your pet develops any of the following symptoms:
* Wobbly or weak hind legs
* Lethargy
* Vomiting or retching
* Change in the sound of the voice;
* Coughing or distressed breathing

Contact your veterinarian now!

No vet will mind a phone call. Let us ascertain the extent of the poisoning and whether you should bring your pet in for treatment. It is far better to err on the early side, apart from the fact that your pet stands a much better chance of survival. Those pets in advanced stages of poisoning will often need a lot of other supportive therapy as well.

Lets explain why there is an emphasis on keeping your pet cool and quiet. As the tick poison circulates through the body, there is a gradual paralysis of the body’s muscles. If your pet becomes upset, too hot or you take him for a walk just to see if he becomes wobbly, you will aggravate the condition. This will cause more distress and exhaustion, which in turn further aggravates the problems. If you have to transport him to the vet, be calm, re-assure your pet, keep him cool, restrain him gently and generally keep him as quiet as possible.

The reason why most tick poisoning patients die is due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. However some animals can die from a tick toxin induced pneumonia, which can be caused by two things. One is exposure. Cats have a nasty habit of crawling off somewhere when they are ill. It rains during the night, the paralysis worsens and without shelter your pet is severely stressed by chilling, leading to pneumonia. The second cause is the reason why food and water must be withheld if you suspect tick poisoning: as the larynx is not operating as it should be due to the tick poisoning, the chances of stomach contents being vomited up and inhaled into the lungs by accident is a very real risk. When this happens a bacterial infection usually occurs and – pneumonia again.

To finish up, here are a few answers to some commonly asked questions:

  • No breed or crossbreed of dog or cat is more immune than any other is. All are equally susceptible
  • The age of the animal does not make any difference; all are equally vulnerable. However, the young and the elderly do have a higher mortality rate
  • At the beginning of the season, ticks do appear to have greater toxicity; therefore the death rate is higher.

Toward the end of the summer months as you continue to remove ticks from your pets, it is possible that they may have built up some immunity – but don’t rely on it! Immunity will lapse during the winter months when there are few ticks about, leaving your pet just as vulnerable when the new tick season starts.

The tick season generally from September to April

The Paralysis Tick’s annual life cycle is:

  1. Larva hatch and feed on a host in late February/March
  2. Moult in moist vegetation
  3. Emerge as nymph and feed on a host in about July
  4. Moult in moist vegetation
  5. Emerge as adults in September/October
  6. Males mate but don’t feed. Females feed on a host
  7. Lay eggs and die in December/January.

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