Paralysis Ticks

What are paralysis ticks?

There are around 75 different species of ticks in Australia, but the most common are the brown tick and the deadly paralysis tick. The paralysis tick is by far the most dangerous parasite when it comes to your pet.

When paralysis ticks attach to our pets, they inject a neurotoxin which causes progressive paralysis, respiratory depression, and if not treated, these animals will succumb to the deadly affects of tick toxin.

Learn about other types of ticks, such as brown dog ticks and bush ticks, here.

Where are paralysis ticks found?

They are commonly found in bushy coastal areas along the East Coast of Australia, from North Queensland to Eastern Victoria. Ticks are most prevalent from Spring to Autumn, however, can occur at any time of year.

Traditionally ticks were “seasonal”, however, depending on where you live, you may see paralysis ticks significantly more often. Ticks attach to pets anywhere so check their ears, back legs, between their toes and under their tail. Most ticks are found from the shoulders forward.Can Paralysis Ticks Bite Dogs and Cats?

Yes, paralysis ticks can infect and be fatal to both dogs and cats. Whilst more commonly seen on dogs, we do regularly treat cats for paralysis ticks, whether they go outdoors or even in cases where they are indoor-only.

Unfortunately, even with intensive treatment, many pets do not survive. It’s important to keep both your dog or cat on a tick preventative to ensure their health and safety as much as possible.

Greencross Vet Dr Adam Jeffrey explains the dangers of ticks, what to watch out for and prevention measures below:

What does the paralysis tick look like?

Paralysis ticks can be identified by their grey body and legs close to the head. Their legs are the feature which best distinguishes them from other ticks that occur in the same regions. Paralysis ticks have one pair of brown legs closest to their head, then two pairs of white legs and then one pair of brown legs closest to the body.

It is not always easy to identify paralysis ticks. If the tick is not fully engorged, its body shape and colour will be hard to determine. Often, a veterinarian will be the only person who can accurately identify the type of tick; it is vital that you take your pet to a vet if you have found a tick.

How to check your pet for paralysis ticks

Tick checks should be performed on your pet daily. To check for ticks, gently run your fingers all over your pet, from the tip of their nose down to the tip of their tail. You’re looking for a bump that is the tick itself or a wound or area of swelling that may be a crater where a tick was previously attached.  

Paralysis ticks are extremely difficult to find when they first attach to the pet. They are so small, that sometimes it is easier to feel them with your fingers rather than see them amongst the fur. When you see a paralysis tick on your pet, it may look like a hard, pale lump on their skin. However, their appearance can change depending on how much blood they have consumed.

Engorged paralysis ticks are characterised by their long mouth parts, pale bodies, and eight legs grouped near their head. Their middle two pairs of legs are paler than their outer legs. 

Checking dog for paralysis ticks. Gloved hands checking pet.

What to do if you have found a tick on your pet?

Remove the tick immediately. Using your thumb and index fingers, gently pinch the section of your pet’s skin that the tick has attached itself to. Then get as close to the skin as possible and firmly pull the tick out of the skin. Especially designed tick removers and tick twisters are also available to assist with this process

Don’t panic if the head of the tick remains attached to your pet; without its body, the tick is unable to inject any more toxin. Place the tick into a jar so your local vet can identify it.

Next, take your pet to the vet straight away. Even if they’re not displaying symptoms of tick paralysis, it’s important to get them checked over by a professional. The symptoms may take time to appear and by this time your pet may be showing early signs of paralysis. A quick response can make all the difference.

Find your local Greencross Vets clinic or nearest emergency vet hospital.

Tick paralysis symptoms

First signs of tick paralysis include a lack of appetite, lethargy, change in bark or meow, gagging and increasingly worse wobbliness or staggering in the back legs.

As the paralysis progresses, it affects the breathing muscles and the pet’s ability to swallow. Paralysis ticks are deadly without appropriate veterinary treatment including antitoxin. The sooner vet treatment is initiated the quicker pets may be able to recover.

Full list of symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Staggered walking, difficulty jumping
  • Wobbliness, especially in the hind legs
  • Reluctance to jump
  • Weakness or appearing lethargic
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting, gagging or retching
  • Change in bark or meow
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing and pooling saliva

If your pet is showing signs of a paralysis tick bite, call a vet immediately.

Find your local Greencross Vets clinic here or your nearest emergency vet hospital.

How to remove a paralysis tick from a pet

To remove a tick, use either tick removers or your thumb and forefinger to grip it as close to the pet’s skin as possible. Once you have a good grip, firmly pull the tick off the skin. 

How to prevent paralysis tick bites

The best way to reduce the chances of your pet being bitten by a paralysis tick is to make sure they’re on a tick preventative, whether that be a chew, spot on, or tick collar. Rinses and sprays are available but are less effective. Popular tick preventatives for dogs include, but are not limited to:

  • Chews such as Bravecto, Credelio Plus, Nexgard, Nexgard Spectra, Simparica, and Simparica Trio.
  • Spot on treatments such as Advantix, Frontline, and Bravecto.
  • Tick collars like Seresto.

Tick medications for dogs may be toxic to cats, ensure you use a cat-safe product for your cat or if you have cats in your household.

Chat to the team at your local Greencross Vets to discuss which tick preventatives best suit your pet.

It is important to note that no tick prevention product is 100% and daily tick searches are imperative.

Daily tick searches, which involve running your hands through your pet’s entire coat (including their face and ears, down the legs, paws, over their stomach, and to the tip of their tail) are recommended.

Paralysis Ticks FAQs

How Long Does It Take For A Paralysis Tick To Take Effect?

The toxin produced by paralysis ticks reaches peak toxicity five to six days after the tick attaches to your pet, with symptoms appearing approximately two days after attachment. However, symptoms can appear earlier.

It’s important to immediately take your pet to a vet when you find a tick on them, especially if you suspect it’s a paralysis tick, and bring the removed tick for identification. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to treat.

How Common Is Tick Paralysis?

Tick paralysis is very common along the east coast of Australia.

How Long Does Tick Paralysis Last?

There is no standard time that tick paralysis lasts. It depends on the severity of the paralysis, how much toxin the pet was exposed to, how quickly they were taken to the vet to receive antiserum, and how they respond to treatment.

Can Tick Paralysis Be Fatal?

Yes, in recent years we have seen an increase in tick paralysis cases presenting at our emergency vet hospitals.

None of these pets were on tick prevention and unfortunately, even with intensive treatment, not all pets survive.

Prevention is key and we highly recommend your pet is protected all year round to reduce this risk.

What Can A Paralysis Tick Do To Humans?

The neurotoxin produced by paralysis ticks can affect humans. Like in dogs, it causes paralysis and weakness which may lead to symptoms like weak limbs and an unsteady walk. Humans can also show fever, headache and flu-like symptoms.

When Is Paralysis Tick Season?

Tick season describes when ticks are most active, which is historically spring to autumn. However, vets are increasingly reporting tick paralysis cases are seen all year round now. If you live in a tick area its imperative to treat your pet for paralysis ticks all year round.

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