Tick Paralysis – A General Guide

 
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Paralysis ticks are small arachnids that can cause serious illness to pets. The major host for the paralysis tick is the bandicoot so you can find them anywhere that is bandicoot habitat. This will generally include eastern coastal areas of Australia such as the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Ticks will generally be found in places with a warm climate. They are suited to humid environments and can perish in unseasonably hot or cold conditions.

 

What does a paralysis tick look like?

Embedded tick in human skin. Mouth parts beneath the surface.

Embedded tick in human skin. Mouth parts beneath the surface.

Ticks are generally small before a feed and become larger once engorged with blood after a meal. Larval ticks are often only visible to the naked eye once they are engorged. Nymph ticks may be 2-3mm diameter once they reach the engorged stage. And adult ticks may be approximately 8-10mm long once fully fed. The appearance of ticks before and after a feed can vary greatly. They key to identifying a paralysis tick is by looking at its legs as they can have variable body appearance. Generally, they will have one dark leg, two lighter legs and finally one dark leg, on either side. This may be harder for larval ticks as they have only 6 legs. Nymph and adult ticks have 8 legs with the pattern described above.

Engorged ticks of different stages – larval, nymph and adult

Engorged ticks of different stages – larval, nymph and adult

Unengorged and engorged tick – note the colour change.

Unengorged and engorged tick – note the colour change.

Classical signs of tick paralysis include coughing, wretching, regurgitation, increased effort breathing, sometimes dilated pupils, wobbly back legs increasing to all 4 legs and culminating in paralysis. Sometimes the animal will have a different sounding bark or meow or salivate excessively.

If you suspect your pet has a tick as it is showing some of the above signs, engage in a tick search, rubbing your hands all over their body and try to identify a small bump. It is often important to look in the ears, nostrils and even the anus or vulva. If you do not find a tick but signs are progressive, then you should present to the nearest vet hospital. If you do find a tick remove it and keep it for identification. Tick twisters are very useful for removing ticks appropriately (see picture below). You should take your animal to a vet for assessment once the tick is removed. It is important to keep your animal calm during the trip to the vet as excitement and exertion can result in increased paralysis. Do not offer your pet any food or water.

 

Treating Tick Paralysis

It is important to keep the animal calm and relaxed. Sedation is often used to achieve this. Antivenom may be indicated as it floats around in the blood and will neutralize the tick venom by binding to it. As the animal often can not or should not eat they may need intravenous fluids to keep them hydrated and provide their body with some sustenance. Antibiotics may be used in situations where aspiration pneumonia is suspected. This will help the animal recover faster and prevent complications associated with pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia occurs sometimes as the animal’s swallowing function is affected by the tick toxin.

As the animal may have reduced capacity to oxygenate itself due to reduced breathing function, supplemental oxygen may be administered to allow the animal to appropriately oxygenate it tissues. This helps aid recovery and can prevent life threatening situations.

Prevention is better than cure. A good preventative all year-round is the best for animals living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Some preventatives provide superior protection, and some can last up to 3 months. Daily tick searches during spring and summer can identify ticks early and further prevent the possibility of paralysis.

 
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