Paralysis ticks are especially lethal and need proactive and careful treatment.
Paralysis ticks, Ixodes holocyclus, are found in bush areas that are inhabited by bandicoots, the ticks’ usual host. Ticks commonly reach suburban yards by hitching a ride on native wildlife, or on your pet after a walk in the bush. The parasite bites your dog, burying its head under the skin to feed on blood and inject a neurotoxin. As the poison is absorbed it causes paralysis, as well as affecting the major organs.
Preventing tick paralysis is a much safer and cheaper alternative to treating the condition once it has occurred. A range of methods is available to prevent tick infestation, including regular topical application of an appropriate product; use of an oral insecticide; and fitting your dog with a tick collar.
Some sprays and rinses also repel mosquitoes and fleas, but keep in mind that any product you choose needs to be used regularly and thoroughly to maintain their effectiveness.
Oral products simila to the tablets used to treat fleas have the advantage of ensuring that no areas of your dog are missed. As it is ingested and excreted through the dog’s skin, you can be assured that there will not be any places where a tick may attach to your dog.
However, care must be taken with these products, as the dosage for tick prevention often differs greatly from the regular dose for flea treatment.
If you live in a tick-prone area, the most effective way to protect your dog from ticks is to use one of the repellent treatments in conjunction with a daily ‘tick check’. Have your dog stay still, and run your fingertips firmly across its skin, checking for any small lumps on the surface. Make sure you check those easy-to-miss spots such as between the toes, the ears, under the collar and on the inside leg. Pay particular attention to the head and neck, and remember that a visual check for ticks isn’t sufficient – and your dog is sure to enjoy the pat. Even if there are not many ticks around your house, check your dog thoroughly after a walk in the bush or a camping trip.
Recognise the symptoms
Hopefully, your preventative measures ensure you don’t get to this point, but it is essential to be able to recognise the symptoms of a tick attack so that you can act quickly.
The paralysis tick causes paralysis in a variety of forms, but a ‘typical’ case starts with weakness of the hindquarters, progressing to total paralysis of all four legs. Other early symptoms your dog might display include the appearance that it has something stuck in its throat, vomiting or heavy, loud breathing.
If you notice your dog experiencing any of these symptoms it is essential you check for, and remove, any ticks and see your vet immediately. The dog is not likely to survive if the paralysis reaches the muscles of the chest and throat.
The best way to remove a tick causes great debate. Many veterinarians feel that you should not remove it while it is alive, as this usually causes it to inject more toxin into your dog. Instead, kill it while it is on your pet. You can kill a tick by applying a fast acting insecticide. If you do not have a specific pet insecticide, then a quick knockdown household aerosol insecticide will do the job well.
Hold the nozzle close to the tick and drench it, or apply the spray to a cotton bud, and then to the tick, as this will avoid getting too much of the spray onto your dog. The tick will soon die and shrivel up, and may then be removed.
Do you need a vet?
The next step should always be a trip to the vet. Even if the tick has been killed and removed, and your dog is behaving normally, your pet can still become paralysed from residue toxin under the skin. The poison is slowly absorbed and may cause paralysis hours or even a day or two later.
A single paralysis tick that goes unnoticed can mean losing your dog, so see your vet for expert advice before you have to deal with a paralysis tick, rather than later. This will not only help you keep your dog clear of ticks, but will help you be prepared if your dog is attacked.
And as with all safety issues, being prepared is key to the successful treatment of tick bites. It will allow you to stay calm, deal with the situation and hopefully save your dog.