Tick paralysis in dogs and cats
Tick paralysis is a deadly disease that claims the life of many Australian cats and dogs every year. It is caused by the paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, which naturally inhabits coastal areas of eastern Australia and is most active during the warmer spring and summer months.
Paralysis ticks range from light grey to a bluish colour when fully engorged and they have an orange head and eight legs at the front of their body. The two front and back legs are significantly darker in colour than the two middle pairs.
What is tick paralysis?
Tick paralysis occurs in dogs and cats when one or many paralysis ticks attach themselves to the skin and begin feeding on your pet's blood. When feeding, the paralysis tick releases a toxin along with saliva that causes gradual paralysis. It's important to note that every dog and cat is affected differently by paralysis tick toxin, so not all of the symptoms listed below may be apparent in each case.
Early symptoms of tick paralysis in dogs and cats can include altered vocal sounds, hindlimb weakness and reduced or absent blink and swallow reflexes, sometimes resulting in regurgitation of food or water. Oftentimes pets in the early stages of paralysis show only one two symptoms to begin with.
As the toxin continues to spread throughout the body, it begins to cause paralysis of the hindlimbs which ascends to the forelimbs and eventually progresses to complete paralysis. The muscles of respiration are also affected, making it more and more difficult for the pet to breathe.
Tick paralysis in dogs and cats can be treated by administering a tick antitoxin, however it is far from simple and not always effective. Most dogs and cats treated for tick paralysis will require a period of hospitalisation and additional treatment for complications, with more severely affected animals also requiring more intensive care including oxygen supplementation or even artificial ventilation.
Prevention of tick paralysis involves being aware of your pet's risk of exposure, daily tick searches and the use of an effective tick preventative treatment. Many pet owners who live in areas with high levels of paralysis tick activity prefer to have their long haired pets' coats shaved or cut very short to make regular tick searching easier. If you have a cat, consider keeping them indoors; you'll not only be keeping them safe from paralysis ticks but other dangers such as snakes, cars and cat fights too!
With the availability of highly effective, newer generation oral combined flea and tick treatments such as Nexgard, Simparica and Bravecto, many veterinarians now class tick paralysis as a preventable disease in dogs.
If oral treatments are not an option for your dog, you may also use Advantix or Frontline Plus topspot treatments fortnightly or Seresto, Scalibor or Preventic collars. When using topical treatments or collars be sure to follow the recommended dosage intervals carefully and remember that in some cases swimming or bathing may reduce their effectiveness.
Our top recommended tick treatments for dogs
The most complete parasite prevention available for dogs. A monthly chew protecting against fleas, paralysis ticks, heartworm and the major intestinal worms.
The only chewable tablet to protect against fleas for 3 months and paralysis ticks for for 4 months.
Have you got a small puppy? Simparica is the only monthly chew that can be given to puppies as small as 1.3kg to protect against fleas and paralysis ticks.
Prefer a spot-on? Bravecto is now available in a topical formulation for dogs with an extended period of protection for up to 6 months.
Bravecto Spot On
Bravecto Spot On is a breakthrough treatment for Australian dogs, and is the only product that provides protection against both fleas and deadly paralysis ticks for up to 6 months following application. Bravecto Spot On is safe for puppies from 8 weeks of age that weigh 2kg or more, as well as pregnant and lactating females. It is not recommended to wash or allow the dog to become immersed or swim in water within 3 days after treatment.
See the table below for a comparison of our top vet-recommended tick treatments, what they cover, and the cost of each. All costs are based on pack size for a 20kg dog.
* For flea coverage alone, Seresto has 8 months coverage. For fleas and ticks combined, coverage is for 4 months. The prices above were accurate at time of publication, and may fluctuate; please consult links above to see current prices.
Preventative Treatments for Cats
Bravecto Spot On
Bravecto Spot On is a breakthrough treatment for Australian cats, and is the only product that provides protection against both fleas and deadly paralysis ticks for up to 3 months following application. Bravecto Spot On is safe for kittens from 11 weeks of age and over 1.2kg bodyweight.
The other registered product in Australia for the prevention of ticks in cats is Frontline Spray. For best results against ticks in cats, Frontline Spray must be applied at least every 3 weeks over the entirety of the cat's body. Be sure to weigh your cat and pay close attention to the required amount of sprays needed to achieve an effective dose.
If you think you have found a paralysis tick on your pet, the first step is to carefully try and remove it.
How to remove a tick: When removing, do not put pressure on the tick, pressing on or rupturing the tick during removal can force additional toxins into your pet. If you are not confident in your ability to remove the tick seek immediate veterinary assistance.
Once you have removed the tick from your pet, seek immediate veterinary attention. Even if your pet is not showing signs of tick paralysis initially, symptoms could still develop as the toxin can remain active in the body for some time after the tick's removal.
Take home message
Prevention is better than cure! Know the symptoms of tick paralysis, keep your pet's preventative treatments up to date and check for ticks daily as no medication is 100% effective at all times.
Remember that if you find a tick on your pet, or if they are showing signs of tick paralysis seek veterinary attention without delay. Tick paralysis is frequently fatal without treatment and the earlier treatment can be provided the better the prognosis.