The glorious warm weather is ideal for taking your dog out walking, but it is also when you are more likely to have to deal with the dangers of paralysis ticks. And the risk extends to your cats and other pets too.

Here our guest contributor Dr. Tegan Hunt, Emergency Veterinarian, explains more about ticks and the tick paralysis symptoms that you may see if your pet has been bitten.

In the picture

This little flirt in the picture is Maple. She had several ticks found on her but luckily her mother had her on prevention and the ticks were dead. Prevention saved Maple from a potentially fatal disease.

Paralysis tick prevalence

The paralysis tick (Ixodes Holocyclus) is a common parasite to coastal areas of NSW and Queensland, while also being found in Central Queensland. Ticks are present all year round; however, their prevalence increases in hot months and after rain. Bear in mind that paralysis ticks may even be present in suburban back yards, especially in areas like the Northern Beaches in Sydney. Read more here.

How ticks cause paralysis

When feeding the tick injects saliva containing toxins. Their Holocyclotoxins act at the nerve-muscle (neuromuscular) junctions leading to paralysis of hindlimbs, lungs, larynx and also local paralysis (e.g. eyelids). The toxins can also affect the heart, however, this is not commonly identified. It takes approximately 3-5 days after tick attachment to your pet for the toxin to cause clinical signs within the patient.

Tick paralysis symptoms

The clinical signs and symptoms of tick paralysis include:

  • weakness
  • wobbly back legs (ataxia)
  • respiratory difficulty
  • blue gums (cyanosis)
  • changes in bark/meow, and
  • vomiting/regurgitation

If your pet shows any combination of these signs, please bring them to the Veterinary Clinic without delay.

Initial treatment

Your pet will be assessed on arrival at the Veterinary Clinic. Depending on the severity of the disease the patient may be taken directly to the treatment room to be stabilised. This will include oxygen supplementation and sedation, as anxiety and stress make the patient’s condition worse. If your pet is considered to be in a severe category, they may require a tube to be placed into their airway to help them breathe.

Assessment and categorising

Here are the grading systems that we will use to assess and categorise the patient. We categorise from 1-4 for their gait and then A-D for their ability to breathe (respiratory score).

GAIT SCORE

    1. Mild ataxia
    2. Can stand but can’t walk
    3. Cannot stand, but can right self into sternal recumbency
    4. Unable to right self into sternal, remains recumbent on side

RESPIRATORY SCORE

A. No compromise

B. Mild compromise (mild increase in rate)

C. Moderate compromise (increased rate and effort)

D. Severe dysfunction, cyanosis (blue gums) and death if not attended to immediately. Ventilation may be necessary.

Complications of paralysis tick symptoms

Some of the complications that may occur as a result of tick paralysis symptoms are:

  • Laryngeal paralysis (may require intubation, as this can obstruct the airway)
  • Megaoesophagus (flaccid esophagus, leading to regurgitation)
  • Aspiration pneumonia (from vomiting or regurgitation) and
  • Death, which can be due to –
    • lung muscle fatigue or paralysis
    • laryngeal paralysis, and/or
    • aspiration pneumonia
  • Ventilation may also be required
  • A combination of all of the above can occur
  • Occasionally electrical failure of the heart can occur

Early intervention is important

As you can see, the complications of tick paralysis can be dire, therefore early intervention is important in tick envenomation.

Dog walks mean tick checks

One of the dog walking dangers is paralysis ticks, and also if you live in those suburbs where paralysis ticks are common, or near bushland. So, make sure you check your pet for ticks.

 

Check your dog for ticks after every walk

If you live in suburbs known for the presence of paralysis ticks, check your pets daily

Be very thorough

Check every part of your dog, running your fingers through their coat and feeling for bumps on the surface of the skin

Don’t forget to check under collars and also carefully feel in all the folds of their skin

You literally need to check them from the tip of their nose to right between their toes! 

Should you find a tick, carefully remove it and bring your pet to the Veterinary clinic immediately. If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a paralysis tick, you can read how your Vet will make the diagnosis of tick paralysis here. And always use tick prevention measures, your Vet can help you find that right product for your pet.

 

More about Dr. Tegan Hunt, BVSc.

Tegan is an Emergency Veterinarian that practices in Brisbane, Australia. She is passionate about all things animal-related, including educating pet owners. You can follow her adventures on Instagram – dr.teganadel_vet

And here are some more blogs by Tegan:

Dog walking dangers: tick paralysis diagnosis

How does my Vet diagnose snake envenomation?

How does my Vet treat snake envenomation?