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  • Northern Illawarra Veterinary Hospital

Tick Paralysis - What you need to know

Updated: May 20, 2020

Tick paralysis is a potentially deadly condition caused by the bite of a parasite the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus). It can affect both cats and dogs.

Paralysis ticks are most prevalent from Spring to Autumn however they can occur at any time of the year if conditions are favourable.

Paralysis ticks are found along the length of the eastern seaboard of Australia from North Queensland to Eastern Victoria. They are predominantly found in bushy coastal areas within 20 kilometres of the coast line.

Paralysis ticks do have natural hosts such as koalas, possums, bandicoots and kangaroos and will often be prevalent in areas inhabited by these species. But given the opportunity will jump onto cats and dogs to feed by burrowing their mouth parts into the animals skin. They feed on the blood of their chosen host.

The tick may attach to any part of the animal including inside the ears, lips and even the anus. There may even be more than one tick on any given animal.

Once attached to a host the paralysis tick will begin to feed all the while injecting small amounts of saliva into the host. It is this saliva that the tick injects that contains the toxin that affects the host. The toxin disrupts the connections between the nerves and muscles within the body causing weakness and ultimately paralysis.

The time it takes for the tick once attached to a host to become a problem is quite variable and will depend on the size of the animal the animals condition and there will often be a marked variation in the potency of the tick that varies from season to season.

Common Signs of Tick Paralysis

  • Weakness

  • Uncoordination

  • Coughing or Gagging

  • Vomiting

  • Changes to bark or meow

  • Difficulty breathing

The paralysis caused by the tick is an ascending progressive paralysis in that it affects the lower limbs and ascends up the body towards the head. Often the first sign of paralysis is weakness in the hind legs.

The paralysis may also affect the oesophagus or food pipe causing weakness and dilation which in turn could result in regurgitation of food, water or frothy liquid. A serious complication of this regurgitation is aspiration of the food or fluid into the lungs causing pneumonia.

The dog or cat may also have difficulty swallowing due to the paralysis placing them at risk of choking.

The ascending paralysis often causes breathing difficulties. If this occurs the affected animal will not be able to breath sufficiently or not at all as the paralysis affects the muscles required to breathe. In which case mechanical ventilation may be required.

How do I prevent my pet from getting a Paralysis Tick?

Prevention is always better than cure and there are several ways to try and prevent your pet from getting a tick.

If you live or visit an area in which paralysis ticks may be present daily tick searching of your pet is a must. You may also consider clipping or shaving your cat or dog during tick season as it may make tick searching easier especially in long or thick coated pets.

Using a product such as a spot on or chew such as Bravecto designed to prevent ticks from attaching to your pet is an absolute must if you are living or visiting areas prone to ticks. To ensure these products work as effectively as possible use exactly as directed.

What do I do if my pet has a tick?

If you find a tick on your pet remove the tick immediately with a tick detacher or by gripping it between your thumb and forefinger as close to where it is attached as possible and pulling it away from the skin.

However even once a tick is removed it is possible that a cat/dog showing no signs of paralysis may still develop paralysis of some degree. And as such a cat/dog showing very mild signs may deteriorate further.

If you pet is showing any signs of tick paralysis you should take them to a veterinarian for treatment immediately.

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