When is “tick season”?
In our area (Far Northern Beaches NSW and South Eastern Gold Coast) paralysis ticks are found all year round. It may surprise you to hear our peak tick season starts in July! That’s right, mid winter! That’s when we start to see the tick cases coming in. They will continue to come in year round, but they start to slow down in February. We also have bush and cattle ticks, which while annoying are not usually dangerous, so for the rest of this page we will be referring to paralysis ticks.
What protection should I use?
We currently recommend Nexgard, Bravecto or Simparica for dogs. Since the introduction of these products we have seen a marked decline in the number of cases we see in the clinic each week. Most of the cases we now see are either not on prevention, or have missed a dose.
Cats remain a lot harder to treat. For cats, the Bravecto Spot-on lasts for 3 months, and is one of the better treatments available.
If you are unable to use either of these products for any reason, there are other treatments available, such as spot-ons, or tick collars. While find they aren’t as effective, they still provide protection, and any protection is better than none! And no matter what product you use, we recommend daily searching your pet for ticks.
How do I search my pet?
Paralysis ticks can be hiding anywhere on your pet. This classic photo is a reminder that we mean that literally. The most common places to find ticks are around the head and neck area, but we recommend a daily all over check. When you run your fingers through your pet’s coat you are feeling for a small bump – as small as a pin head, or as large as a little finger nail.
Start by searching between toes and under toenails. Walking your fingers backwards through the coat slowly, work your way up the tail, both back legs and then over the rump. You will have to do the same for your dog’s underside. Check around vulva/penis areas and under the tail.
Continue walking your fingers through the coat backwards. Work your way up the front legs one at a time. Concentrate the most of your time on the shoulder and neck area, going over this area very carefully as the thick ruff in most dogs, and folds of skin can mean this is a tricky area to search. Remember to search inside, outside and along the edges of your dog’s ears. Search around eyelid margins and lip margins. Run your fingers backwards through coat under chin.
Even with a thorough check like this, ticks can be easy to miss. If you suspect a tick, even if you cant find one, bring you pet in. At the clinic, we never rely on one person’s check -we know how easy it is to miss the little creatures! We usually have some combination of either 2-3 staff members run a tick check, clip the entire coat, as well as using a quick tick kill product – like a tick bath. In some situations, all we find is the crater left behind by the tick! Paralysis ticks are unique in that they leave a crater behind when they drop off or are pulled off
Ticks have several actions on your pet. They are mostly found around the head and neck area have a local paralysis effect, so if they are on the head and neck one of the earliest problems that can develop is the inability to swallow properly. Unfortunately this can be hard to detect, and extremely dangerous. This can cause regurgitation and even accidental aspiration of food. That means unexplained vomiting can be one of the earliest symptoms of a tick bite.
Most animals will usually develop a floppy paralysis as well. Often this will start in the back legs. Collapsing in the back legs, having trouble walking, walking with a wobble, dragging back legs – all of these can be indications of a tick bite.
Ticks can also affect the ability of your pet to breathe. This is a big part of why the paralysis ticks in our area are so dangerous. The muscles that control breathing are affected by the paralysis tick, and your pet struggles to even take a breath. This can become critical and can be complicated with aspiration pneumonia when your pet hasn’t been swallowing properly.
Generally, once an animal starts to show symptoms of tick paralysis it will need to be treated. We all hear the odd miraculous story, but when it comes down to it unless your pet gets the anti-serum it will usually die. Not a risk any of us at Tweed Coast Vet will ever recommend.
The anti-serum is collected from specially bred dogs that have an immunity to ticks. This means it can be quite costly. If cost is concerning you when it comes to treating your pet, please come in and see us. We will do everything we can to communicate what needs to be done, and what is in the best interests of your pet so you can make an informed decision. We even have payment plans available.
We usually recommend clipping an animal – because unless your pet is bald it can be really hard to see if there is more than one tick on your pet!. We also recommend some form of “quick kill”: either a bath or treatment that will kill any remaining ticks that we may have missed instantly.
We usually administer some medication before the tick serum. Sometimes this is a simple sedative to keep stressed animals calm while the tick serum is administered. Sometimes we add in something to prevent them from reacting to the tick serum, as these reactions can be dangerous. We treat each case individually and we will discuss this with you.
The tick serum itself is administered quite slowly – sometimes over several hours. This goes into a catheter in your dog or cat’s front leg (usually!) As this can make them temporarily more sick, we monitor your pet closely while this is given.
Most dogs need to spend a couple of days in hospital recovering. They cannot eat or drink, they are prone to relapse when excited or agitated. Some animals end up on IV fluid therapy. This will depend on how long they are in hospital, their age, hydration status, and how long they have been sick for. We will discuss each stage of your pets care with you.
Sometimes some pets need specialist care. If their breathing is compromised badly enough, they can end up on a respirator – a machine that can do their breathing for them. If this is the case for your pet we will usually send them to the specialist centre. This is because once they are on a respirator they need 24/7 care. Unfortunately we have neither respirators, nor the ability to provide 24/7 care at Tweed Coast Vet but if your pet needs this we will let you know as soon as possible and help arrange for a transfer.
Once a pet is able to swallow and keep food down safely, we are usually are happy to send them home. This can take a few days time, though and sometimes improvement can be slow. We like to give daily updates, but sometimes there is little change to report, which can be frustrating.
At TCVet we understand this, but sometimes it is best not to visit your pet during recovery, as excitement can worsen things for them.
This applies once they have come home too. The tick toxin can have a direct effect on the heart muscle itself and too much exercise or excitement can cause a relapse up to several weeks after recovery.
We recommend taking things easy initially. Small meals, and toilet breaks instead of actual walks. We encourage a gradual return to normal walking behaviour over the next few weeks so that your pet sould eventually be as good as new.
One of the worse things to see though is a second tick on the same dog. It makes treatment even riskier as they are more likely to react to the serum. When you get your pet home, make sure your pet has some form of prevention!