Tick paralysis in dogs: symptoms, signs and prevention

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Disclaimer: This information is general in nature only. While Budget Direct has endeavoured to ensure the information we’ve relied on is accurate and current, we do not guarantee it. Budget Direct accepts no liability for this information.

We all love to look out for our pets, especially at this time of year.

With tick season well and truly upon us pet owners should start to look for any changes in their dogs from the start of Spring. Not only can your dog get bitten by a tick during this time, but they can also develop a condition called tick paralysis.

Many questions surround the condition:

What are the symptoms of tick paralysis in dogs?

What do you do if your dog has a paralysis tick?

Can dogs recover from tick paralysis?

Tick paralysis is a serious condition that will require urgent veterinary care. It is important to be aware of paralysis ticks all year round and to actively protect your dog under the supervision of a trusted vet.

Paralysis ticks

In dogs, tick paralysis is a potentially fatal condition caused by the parasite Ixodes holocyclus (also known as the Paralysis tick).

They can attach themselves to your dog, feed on their blood and secrete a toxin into your dog’s body via saliva. This toxin can disrupt you dog’s nervous system causing weakness and ultimately paralysis.

Australian ticks are found on the eastern seaboard of northern Queensland to eastern Victoria. It’s important to note that ticks can be found all year round in the north and are more commonly found from spring to late autumn in southern areas.

Paralysis ticks may be found on native animals and can attach themselves to your dog. They’ll usually attach themselves to the front half of your dog and multiple ticks can be attached at once.

Be aware that the potency of the tick can vary and your pet’s susceptibility to paralysis may also vary from season to season [1].

Symptoms

There is a range of different tick paralysis symptoms to look out for in your dog, these may include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Weakness in the back legs
  • A change in the sound of their bark or voice
  • Retching, coughing and vomiting
  • Excessive salvation/drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ascending paralysis (working its way up the body) affecting the forelegs
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Grunting noises when breathing

If you find a tick on your dog or they’re showing symptoms of toxic tick paralysis, make sure that you take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Paralysis tick symptoms can occur for up to 3-5 days after the tick attaches [2].

Risks

Australian ticks cause a much more severe form of paralysis than those seen in other countries [3].

Some of their associated risks may include:

  • Paralysed eyelids (if the tick is attached near the eyelids)
  • Dry and damaged eyes (if the tick is attached near the eyelids)
  • Aspiration of fluid or food into the lungs (can cause pneumonia)
  • Fluid built up in the mouth and throat (can lead to choking)
  • Inability to breathe sufficiently (mechanical ventilation may be required)

Tick paralysis is progressive and may require emergency medical attention in some cases. When considering the cost of owning a pet in Australia it’s important that all dog owners factor in the risks, treatments and veterinary care associated with ticks.

Some tick treatments can be very simple and inexpensive. While others can range from $5,000 all the way up to $10,000 in the most severe cases [4].

It’s important to note that in some cases the price may also increase when mechanical ventilation (a form of life support) is needed.

Protection

After making yourself aware of all tick paralysis symptoms you can actively protect your pet by:

Avoiding tick habitats or areas

Avoid taking your dog for walks through bush or scrub areas that are known to be home to ticks. If you live in an area where paralysis ticks are more prevalent this may affect your pet insurance premium.

More information about the costs associated with pet insurance can be found in our guide to buying the best pet insurance.

Another tip is to keep lawns and shrubs short and remove any compost material from your backyard to prevent ticks from nesting there.

Searching your dog every day for ticks

The most essential preventative measure in protecting your dog is by thoroughly searching your dog’s coat, at least once a day.

When looking for a paralysis tick on your pet they can be identified by a grey body and legs close to their head. They distinctly have one pair of brown legs close to their head, one pair of white legs and one pair of brown legs closest to their body [1].

Once attached, the tick increases in size and becomes engorged, so it will look different. In this state they’ll turn a blue to light grey colour [5].

When a tick attaches to your pet’s skin, the area will become red and a raised “crater” may appear. A crater shows a prior tick attachment.

When performing­ a tick search, use your fingers to massage your dog’s coat right down to the skin. Make sure to search their entire body and pay attention to their front legs, face, neck and ears. Ticks are more likely to be found in these places.

You should carefully examine the edge of the lips, in skin folds, between the toes and in the ears.

If you think you’ve found a tick, make sure to part the fur to get a closer look. Nipples, warts and bumps are commonly mistaken for ticks too!

Tick prevention products

While tick control products can be helpful pet owners mustn’t rely solely on preventative products to reduce the risk of paralysis ticks. No product is 100% effective and a single tick can cause a lot of damage.

If you do choose to use tick control products make sure to follow the product’s direct instructions. It’s also advised that you don’t use any products designed for dogs, on cats.

Removing ticks

Removal of ticks is necessary. In Australia, tick paralysis can progress even after the removal of a tick and treatment of the animal [3].

Currently, there isn’t a vaccine for the Ixodes holocyclus (paralysis tick) [2].

If a tick is found on your dog, then it must be removed immediately. Make sure to keep your pet calm and get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can even show you the best way to remove a tick.

[1]https://sashvets.com/pet-advice/tick-paralysis-in-your-pet/

[2]https://www.msdvetmanual.com/nervous-system/tick-paralysis/overview-of-tick-paralysis

[3]https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders-of-dogs/tick-paralysis-in-dogs

[4]https://www.canstar.com.au/pet-insurance/paralysis-tick-treatment-prevention-cover/

[5]https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-can-i-protect-my-dog-or-cat-from-tick-paralysis/

This post was brought to you by Budget Direct Pet Insurance

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