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Symptoms of Tick Paralysis

By David Loneragan | Dated September 18, 2015

Ticks are found all over the world but the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is only found in Australia. It is restricted to the humid east coast region from North Queensland to Northern Victoria. Paralysis ticks inject a toxin into dogs and cats which can cause death through paralysis. Many Australians are not aware of the risk. A recent survey revealed that 60% of dog owners living in a paralysis tick area were not aware that they did and were therefore unaware their dog was at risk.

How does my pet pick up a Paralysis Tick?

paralysis tick prevention, paralysis tick symptoms, paralysis tick treatments

A paralysis tick in the fur and an engorged paralysis tick

Possums and bandicoots are the “natural host” of Paralysis Ticks. This means that ticks live on them without causing any harm. However, the paralysis tick quite happily feeds on dogs, cats and humans where they do cause harm! Ticks attach to pets as they walk through grass or bushes where native animals, such as possums and bandicoots live. Many pets become affected without even leaving their backyard as ticks may fall out of a tree onto a pet, or crawl onto them from the ground. Many Australian backyards have possums and bandicoots inhabiting them! The worst time for tick paralysis is from August through to February, but a few cases are seen all year round.

What is the Paralysis Tick Life Cycle?

paralysis tick prevention, paralysis tick symptoms, paralysis tick treatments

Paralysis Tick Life Cycle

After hatching from an egg, the Larval Paralysis Tick climbs onto nearby vegetation, waiting for an animal to come by. They prefer possums and bandicoots, but they don’t mind if it is a dog or cat! The larval tick burrows its mouthparts into the animal’s skin and sucks their blood, injecting a neurotoxin as it feeds. The tick grows as it engorges with blood. Once the larval tick is full, it drops off, moults and becomes a Nymph. This process is then repeated on a new host animal. After this the tick becomes its most dangerous – an Adult Paralysis Tick. Once the female paralysis tick is full of blood, she drops off the animal and lays up to 3000 eggs, starting the cycle again.

What are the symptoms of Tick Paralysis?

Female paralysis ticks inject a neurotoxin which affects the point where a pet’s nerves meet their muscles. It results in paralysis of different body parts. It usually takes 3-4 days of feeding before enough toxin is injected for symptoms to appear. The initial signs progress over a few days.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Weakness in the back legs – hind leg paralysis, then foreleg paralysis
  • Lack of coordination or inability to climb stairs, (may progress to collapse and paralysis)
  • Vomiting, regurgitating or refusing to eat – caused by oesophageal paralysis
  • A change in voice (bark or meow may become hoarse) – caused by laryngeal paralysis
  • Breathing problems: panting, coughing, slow laboured breathing – becomes respiratory paralysis

It is important to note that some pets will not show the usual signs of tick paralysis. They may also only show one non-specific sign such as vomiting. As the poisoning progresses, pets become unable to stand and have extreme difficulty breathing. Many develop paralysis of their larynx and their oesophagus, so they cannot swallow food and water. They are at risk of regurgitation and severe pneumonia. Eventually, untreated tick poisoning will result in death.

What if I find a Paralysis Tick on my pet?

If you find a paralysis tick, it is best to call your vet immediately. They will advise you to go straight in for an appointment. They can then remove the tick professionally. Adult paralysis ticks have very long barbed mouthparts which embed in the pet’s skin, which makes them hard to remove. They will use a tick twister to remove it, ensuring none is left behind. Due to the slow action of the tick toxin, a pet may develop tick paralysis several days after a tick has been removed. So always monitor your pet very closely after tick removal. Do not exercise them and only offer small amounts of food and water. Call your vet if you are concerned.

I suspect Tick Paralysis, but cannot find a tick. What should I do?

Once again, the best thing is to call your vet immediately. The sooner your pet is treated, the better their chance of recovery/survival. The vet will examine your pet thoroughly, assess the presence and grade of tick paralysis and provide emergency care if needed. They will do a tick search to locate the suspected tick(s). Tick paralysis is treated with a tick antitoxin given intravenously. The dog or cat is given supportive care to minimise life threatening complications. Food and water are with held until the ability to swallow returns. Hospitalisation at the vet is important for tick paralysis recovery.

How do I prevent Tick Paralysis?

If your pet recovers from tick paralysis, they will be put on regular tick prevention to reduce the chance of them being affected again! There are different pet products available. Dog products should NEVER be given to cats as some are poisonous. Your vet will also demonstrate how to do a thorough “tick search” on your pet at home. This must be done EVERY day during the tick season, even if your pet is on prevention. The most common places to find a tick are on the head, neck or shoulders but hidden places include the toes and lips.

Written by David Loneragan

David grew up and still lives locally and has worked at Gordon Vet since 1985. His love of animals and interest in all things veterinary started when he was a young boy spending time with his own pets and working on a country farm. David’s post-graduate studies have been in the fields of medical problems of dogs and cats and diagnostic ultrasound and radiology. In addition, he is interested in dermatology, cardiology and ophthalmology.

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I can't rate Gordon Vet Hospital any higher. I took my 11yr old staffy in for surgery with the beautiful Imogene Ewen (amazing surgeon) and was managed by incredibly professional front office staff (Maddie). My dog, Coco was in the best of hands. The after care service is detailed and their love of animals is so very clear to all who enter. Exceptional service for the North Shore.
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Best vets and nursing staff. Great advice. Convenient and always easy to book.
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Great service and very prompt with appointments. Lovely staff
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Great service my dog loves going there! The staff are very caring and the vets very knowledgeable and do not over service.
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The Vets are fantastic and so are the support staff. My dogs have been with Gorden Vets for over 10 years.
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Helen was great. Took great care of our dog.
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I took our little girl Coco for her very first vet visit yesterday. Dr Helen gave Coco a thoroughly check-up and provided me with useful information as the first time puppy owner. Coco is now enrolled in the puppy school and will return back for her 2nd vaccine in a couple of week!
Claire Turner
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Care & attention for your furry friends second to none.
Kimba
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Dr David and the team have provided real care, support and expertise for our furry family members over 25 years. They've also readily taken in injured wildlife. A great team of Vets and nurses - thanks for all you do!
Jayna Hirani
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Quality care and advice at every visit. The staff are friendly and informative and genuinely care about your pets. I am 100% confident that my cat and dog always receive the best pet healthcare and as pet parents that's all we want.
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Gordon Vet has looked after my golden retriever since she was 9 weeks. Everyone has been amazing and caring with lots of experience. I have been able to ask any questions and always been welcome. Even one day when she stepped on a bee in the evening, they stayed open until we got there and helped her get it out. Thanks to all the staff :-)
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We just moved to Gordon couple month ago and need to get my cat vaccinated. We found this hospital through google and I need to say they provide excellent service and very professional! The doctor really knows cat. Highly recommended!
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08:15 27 Nov 19
Exceptional veterinary hospital. I have been taking my dog here for many years and although I now live in the Eastern Suburbs, I still drive across town to see the Vets at Gordon. The staff are highly skilled, compassionate, friendly and helpful. My 9 year old dog has had 2 knee operations (1 on each knee!) and the outcome of these surgeries far exceeded my expectations. I have been incredibly impressed with the care provided during all of our visits. I would highly recommend Gordon Vet Hospital.
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Very friendly staff. Wonderful care for all our animals A++
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Fantastic and friendly staff who you can tell really care about your pet. Their follow up service is also very reassuring. I also board my cat with Gordon Vet and I feel very comfortable to know he's in safe and caring hands. I'm so glad I found this clinic.
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20:24 03 Oct 19
We took our dog there and Dr. David take care of his skin issues. he was so caring and professional.
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Compassionate, caring and highly skilled veterinary surgeons who treat their patients and owners with respect. The nursing and administration staff are efficient and remember their patients by name which is a lovely touch. A lovely vet practice which despite our Golden Retriever Finn’s complex medical history, is always welcoming to him and he never displays any signs of anxiety when attending. Dr Helen is lovely and a firm favourite of ours!
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Lihong Xing
05:00 05 Nov 18
Highly recommend Dr David, Scott, Helen, and Catherine, I've taken my cat to see all the doctors here.
Jeremy Tarbox
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22:55 10 Sep 18
We found a stray, agitated dog in front of our house last night. We phoned but got no help from the Council ranger who gave two options: tie him up in front yard overnight or "let him loose, he'll find his own way home" :( So we phoned Gordon Vet: they stayed open a few minutes so we could run him up and he could have a bed and dinner. Thank you Gordon Vet Hospital, hope he gets home soon!!! :)
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01:52 04 Sep 18
Really amazing staff members. Their systems and processes are also very
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Good competant vet. Did what I needed. Staff friendly. Cat's well.
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Absolutely love the service here. I switched from other Vets to this Vet as the staff here are quite attentive and really care about your furry baby! I have basically seen most of the Dr's here and all of them so far have been fantastic, friendly and fun to speak with! Easy to locate and enough parking available! 5 Stars indeed!
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