We are going to take you on a journey into the dark world of the paralysis tick. We spend a lot of time discussing and worrying about these blood suckers and their potential danger to our pets, yet have you ever wondered- what exactly is a paralysis tick? Where do they come from? How does something so tiny cause so much destruction and heart ache? Just how much of a risk are they to your pet?
Let’s take a look….
Ixodes holocyclus aka- the Australian paralysis tick, resides on the Australian Eastern Coastline and may be found up to 20 km inland.They are native to Australia- aren’t we lucky! This area has all the desirable elements for them to grow vigorously. They love humidity, dampness and the bush – especially sclerophyll rainforest and temperate rainforests, all of which are in abundance along this coastline. Urban sprawl has lead to houses being situated in, or very near to, a populated tick area. We might take our leisurely stroll through them- our morning jog over them and are likely to, unintentionally, escort our dog through them. Not to mention the pets- especially our cats- who wander off alone and are in danger of exposure to them. The only real threat to a paralysis tick is high and low temperatures.
We may have a time of the year some like to call ‘tick season’ however if the conditions are ideal- larvae, nymphs and adults can be present at any time of the year.
The life cycle of a paralysis tick
A paralysis tick makes its transition from larvae to adulthood through 3 moult stages- to complete each moult stage it needs a host. The unwary hosts are usually bandicoots, possums, kangaroos and other marsupials- these guys are generally immune to the effects caused by a paralysis tick.
The 3 moult stages….
After the eggs hatch, which takes around 6-9 weeks, the journey begins….
Larvae hatch usually between January and May- these pin head sized (1/2mm) babies only have 6 legs. They make their way up from the protection of the thick vegetation and wave their legs about seeking their host. Their host is usually wildlife- bandicoots, possums, echidnas even birds and reptiles. After feeding for up to one week, they drop off and hide back under in the lush vegetation to moult. Larvae can live up to 9 months unfed. If larvae attach to your pet it usually doesn’t affect them unless there is a large infestation on them. Their teeny tiny size can make them very hard to find on your pet.
The moult process for larvae to transform into the Nymph stage takes anywhere from 21-40 days depending on the temperature….
Nymph stage -Nymphs have 8 legs. Nymphs go in search for yet another host generally after 5 days of moulting! They climb up once again from the comfort of the vegetation. These little beasts are only 1 mm in diameter. Once fully engorged, which takes about a week, they drop off their host and go back into hiding to complete yet another moult cycle to officially become adults. The nymph stage is usually found between March and August. Dry conditions during this time can kill them. Nymphs certainly can cause toxicity in pets if they have multiple attached. Due to their minute size they are hard to find on our pets- an engorged Nymph is around 2 mm in size.
Nymphs can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months to moult and become adults……
Adult stage is the most deadly stage- it is the female adults that have the potential to destroy our pets. Adult males don’t really pose a threat to our pets, their purpose is searching for a female to mate with, while the females is to suck blood to give her eggs the nourishment they need to mature. When they are fully engorged (around 6mm) she drops off her host and lay masses of the thousands of eggs- up to 6000 of them – in the thick vegetation. After all her eggs have been laid, which can take just over a month, she dies within a couple of days. An adult tick can take up to 7 days to become fully engorged. Adult ticks are usually found from July right through to January.
An adult paralysis tick is bluish grey in colour, its legs are very near to the ‘head’ of the body and each alternate set of legs are brown and red.
What do they do to our fur babies?
Once on your pet a paralysis tick attaches to the skin for a blood meal. Whilst feeding a neurotoxin present in their saliva is released into your pets blood stream, therefore the longer a tick is able to feed off an animal the more neurotoxin is injected into your pets blood stream. Neurotoxins adversely affect the nervous system which cause paralysis.
A fully engorged tick can have just as much effect on an animal as a less engorged tick (as can the effect a tick has on an animal that has had a paralysis tick attached for 2 days compared to one that has been attached for 4 days.) Symptoms of tick paralysis are usually noted around day 3 of attachment however signs may present earlier. The extent of the effect a tick will have on an individual animal is unknown. Unfortunately you can never predict the outcome for an affected animal. Particular animals cannot cope with the poisoning as well as others such as: the very young and elderly and animals that are already compromised. Brachycephalic breeds airways are structured differently to those of longer snouted dogs and are at a higher risk of respiratory distress from the effects of the toxin as their airways are already compromised. Fortunately the staff at Ourimbah Veterinary Hospital have the experience and knowledge to tailor a treatment program to maximise the chance of your pet recovering from an episode of tick paralysis.
Signs of tick paralysis
Change in bark or meow
Inability to swallow
Unsteadiness on hind limbs which progresses to front quarters
If you find a paralysis tick on your pet you need to remove it ASAP. We recommend the use of the tick twister– a handy little tick removal tool to have in your pets first aid kit, thankfully available from Ourimbah Veterinary Hospital and our online shop. If you feel you just couldn’t remove it or don’t know how to remove a tick we will certainly help you with removal or instruct you how to do so.
If you your pet is not showing any signs of paralysis but you have removed a tick from them- it is vital you keep them calm, quiet and monitor them for a few days. Although the tick has been removed, the poison is still present in the blood stream and may continue to poison your pet as it is slowly absorbed. Never ever presume only one tick is present on your pet. A pet that is in our hospital, undergoing treatment and monitoring for tick paralysis, is thoroughly tick searched, multiple times a day, by multiple members of our team throughout it’s recovery. It is paramount you also do this with your pet.
What do you do if your pet is showing signs of paralysis?
Whisk your pet off to your nearest veterinary hospital ASAP- never mind if you haven’t found a tick on your pet. Sometimes it can seem like finding a needle in a hay stack or the tick has possibly fallen off. The sooner the treatment the higher chance of recovery. You should not at any time give your pet any food or water before veterinary assessment, as it is highly likely they will not be able to swallow properly and run the risk of inhaling food, water or saliva into their lungs therefore presenting another problem for your pet. Your vet will assess your pet and administer treatment as necessary.
Treatment typically involves
Thorough medical assessment and history of the pet
Oxygen therapy if needed
Sedation/ medication to reduce stress for patient
Administration of tick anti serum
Thorough tick searching
A whole body clip if patient is stable enough, especially for long haired pets
Application of a tick prevention in the hope this will kill any ticks that are unable to be found.
Tick antiserum does not miraculously fix your pet, but should increase their chance of recovery by binding any toxin that has been injected by the tick before it affects the animal further. It is possible that your pets clinical symptoms will get worse in the 24 hours following treatment before they hopefully start showing signs of recovery.
Ongoing supportive therapy is provided once your pet is stabilised. It can take a few days to weeks for a pet to recover from paralysis. For the duration of your pets stay they will be placed in a quiet, dark place in the hospital and monitored closely. Your pet may need transferring to an overnight veterinary hospital for monitoring. Due to the paralysis, pets usually need help to empty their bladder and their eyes will be lubricated if they are not able to blink. Their vital signs will also be monitored.
It is not likely your pet will recover from the effects of a paralysis tick with out veterinary intervention.
Just because your pet has had tick paralysis/ been given tick anti serum it does NOT mean your pet is immune to the effects of a paralysis tick, in fact if your pet has another episode of tick paralysis there may be increased risk of reaction to tick anti-serum as it is being administered.
The effect a tick can have on an individual animal is not known
We cannot predict the outcome for an affected animal
There are a wide range of preventative products available
Prevention combined with daily searches plus avoiding areas that are likely to have ticks is the most effective way to prevent tick paralysis
If you have removed a paralysis tick from your pet and they are not showing any signs it is still possible to toxin can affect them watch for symptoms and keep them nice and calm and quiet in the days following tick removal.
If you have any questions or concerns please call us on 4362 1644