The Sunshine Coast is rampant with paralysis ticks. In the past, people have only thought of ticks as a summer problem but this is almost a year-round issue usually from October through to July. Ticks are quite prevalent and will get worse over summer so make sure your cat or dog is on a tick preventative and it is up to date. Tick preventatives are great but they’re not a failsafe mechanism. Our 24 hour pet emergency clinic has seen tick cases on patients with up to date preventatives, which is why it’s still important to check your pets every day particularly around the head area, removing their collars as you do so.
What signs do you need to look out for?
- Mild wobbliness in the hind legs
- Vomiting or regurgitating over a 24 hour period
- Frequent sitting, laying down or an inability to stand
- Laboured breathing with a soft grunting sound
- Inability to urinate
- Change in the sound of the bark or meow
- Excessive salivation or drooling
- Not eating
- Gagging or retching
If your pet is showing these signs, check for a tick. If you can’t find a tick get someone else to check or go to a vet clinic. The nurses there are very experienced at finding ticks. There are other diagnoses that can cause similar signs but it’s important to be tick aware especially this time of year. At our 24 hour pet emergency clinic, we check our patients every four hours when they’re in hospital if we suspect they may have paralysis.
How to thoroughly examine your pet for ticks?
To thoroughly examine your pet for ticks you’ll need to start from one end of your pet and work your way thoroughly to the other end. Feeling more than looking is crucial because you won’t necessarily see them but you’ll feel a little bleb. If you feel a little bleb, check and if you see a little grey bug it’s probably a paralysis tick. And if there’s one tick on your pet, there’s probably more.
Begin around the muzzle, nose and work your way around the face, checking in and around all the folds in the ears. Run your hands down the neck, removing the collar, as ticks sometimes hide under there. Run your hands under the armpits, between all the toes, down all the legs.
When you find a tick the best thing to do is pull it off. If you’re not comfortable, take your pet to a veterinary clinic, where the nurses will remove it. Removing the tick is critical. There are wive’s tales that say causing trauma to the tick will inject more poison in your pet but in our expert opinion, it’s more important to get the tick off sooner rather than later. The longer it’s on, the more toxin is injected into your pet.
If you remove a tick, keep checking your pet for more.
How does tick paralysis affect your pet?
Paralysis ticks affect your pet through ascending paralysis meaning it paralyses from the back legs to the front legs. The paralysis attacks the breathing muscles, the heart muscle and your animal’s ability to swallow which means they do sometimes vomit. Because of their inability to swallow, the patient is susceptible to pneumonia. Unfortunately what they vomit up can become lodged in their airways resulting in major complications. When it gets to that stage, your pet’s condition becomes quite critical and they should be taken to a 24 hour pet emergency clinic.
Common complications resulting from paralysis ticks involve:
- Aspiration pneumonia – caused by fluid from the stomach being regurgitated up and going into the lungs as the swallow reflex is paralysed
- Respiratory failure – as the respiratory muscles are paralysed, animals are no longer able to breathe effectively to exchange oxygen
- Eye ulcers – as animals lose the ability to blink
- Bladder dysfunction – as animals lose the inability to urinate
Even after being treated, it takes time for the antiserum to reverse the signs in your pet and that does not mean your pet is immune to further ticks. Following the removal of the tick, they can get worse for 48 hours before getting better. This is why some of our patients are in hospital anywhere from two days up to a week.
What are the treatment options for tick paralysis?
Once you’ve got your pet at a 24 hour pet emergency clinic, treatment options involve the following:
- Sedation – used to keep your pet calm during their treatment.
- Tick antiserum transfusion – helps to mop up tick toxin that has not already bound to the nerves but cannot remove toxin that has already attached to nerves – this means a pet may deteriorate for 24-72 hours after a tick has been removed and treatment is given. Tick antiserum does not provide immunity to further ticks. Tick anti-serum is a blood product, hence animals can have anaphylactic reactions to the administration.
- Tick clip – Most patients have more than one tick, this is why a full body clip is necessary for all pets with hair longer than a Greyhound’s.
- Bravetco spot-on – placed between the shoulders. This can take 24-72 hours to be fully effective.
- Intravenous fluids – because your pet can’t eat or drink whilst their throat is paralysed and they cannot swallow properly.
- ICU hospitalisation and monitoring – includes blood tests to monitor various factors such as your pet’s lung function, hydration status and electrolyte levels.
- Oxygen therapy – for difficulty breathing
- Medications to prevent vomiting and regurgitation – reduces the risk of them developing aspiration pneumonia but does not eliminate it
In terms of recovery, this depends on each patient and how severe their complications were even after administering the anti-serum. Our 24 hour pet emergency clinic considers every pet affected by a tick to be critical until they have fully recovered. The criteria for discharge home is:
- Eating & drinking without difficulty
- Ability to urinate on their own
- No regurgitation or vomiting
- No breathing difficulty
What aftercare instructions do you need to follow?
Once your pet has been discharged from hospital, they will still require some form of aftercare. This includes:
- Strict rest for 7 days (no walks except for toileting)
- Gradual return to exercise – nothing strenuous for 4 weeks (the tick toxin can affect heart rhythm for up to 3 weeks)
- Avoid overheating for 3 weeks
- Observe urination and advise your vet if they are straining, have a narrow stream, incontinence or reduced urination occurs
- Suitable preventives for dogs include:
- A chew that is given every 3 months or a spot on that lasts 6 months which provides very thorough coverage of flea and tick prevention (Bravecto)
- Seresto tick collar
- Nexgard which is a monthly chew that provides tick and flea prevention
- Suitable preventives for cats include:
- A suitable spot-on applied every 3 months (Bravecto)
- Frontline Plus spray applied every 3 weeks
Ticks are entirely preventable so to minimise the risk for your pet keep up with your tick preventatives. However, if your pet becomes severely ill, contact our 24 hour pet emergency clinic. Our clinic is fully equipped with advanced facilities so we can put patients that are having breathing problems onto an artificial respirator.