Dr David Fowler discusses the nasty paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) that can be found along the east coast of Australia. “This tick is incredibly toxic and potentially life threatening to pets,” David says. “The paralysis tick especially loves to reside in areas of native scrub and bushland, with long grass cover, which are places where various wildlife, who play natural host to the tick, tend to be found,” he adds. “But avoiding these areas does not reliably prevent a paralysis tick from latching onto your pet.

In our region, the risk of a pet acquiring a tick seems to exist regardless; but avoiding these sorts of areas does seem to reduce the risk. Also, most importantly, ticks can definitely be acquired at any time of year, however, there seems to be a sharp increase in risk from early spring onwards and well into summer.” After attaching, the tick feeds on the host’s blood, injecting small amounts of saliva into the dog or cat in the process.

The tick’s saliva contains a potent nerve toxin that causes the connection between nerves and muscles throughout the body to malfunction. This causes weakness, which can manifest in many ways, including wobbly hind legs and difficulty walking, with coughing, regurgitation, breathing problems and ultimately complete paralysis. The effects of paralysis can become so severe that your pet will be unable to walk or lift its head, and without treatment, the majority of affected animals will ultimately pass away.

If your pet shows any of the symptoms mentioned you must seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Even if you have removed a tick yourself, your pet is still not out of the woods. The toxin has already begun to spread throughout your pet’s system and, without treatment, progression of paralysis and worsening of signs is virtually certain.

“I recommend using a tick preventative all year round, this is the best way to guard your pet against ticks. There are numerous options in general and for dogs, the latest generation of preventatives come in the form of a chewable tablet which makes them easy to give,” says David. In addition to a preventative, it’s important to perform a thorough tick search daily on your pet by working your fingers through your pet’s entire coat. Pay special attention to their eyes, lips and mouth. If you think you have found a tick but are unsure, take your pet to the vet and they will assist you. David emphasises: “Simply trying to avoid these ticks is not a reliable way to stay safe, you really must ensure your pets remain up to date with tick prevention, and make a habit of doing a thorough daily tick search”.

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