Tick Paralysis – What you need to know

Welcome to a monthly column brought to you by the experienced veterinary team at Pulse Vets Warner. This month Dr Vincent Asbury BVSc (Hons) chat about Ticks.

As the temperature increases from winter to spring paralysis ticks (Ixodes Holocyclus) start to come out of hiding. The female tick attaches to your dog or cats’ skin by mouth parts that inject a toxin. The toxin causes an ascending paralysis (hind legs to front legs) in our companion animals. There are many clinical signs associated with tick paralysis;

• Progressive ascending paralysis from hind legs to front legs • Hind leg weakness, wobbliness, ataxia or instability to jump

• Upper respiratory grunt, with forced expiration

• Change in bark or meow

• Increased upper respiratory sounds or harsh respiration

• Vomiting, gagging or retching

• Production of stable foam from mouth or nose

• Local paralysis signs; hypersalivation, poor swallowing, dilated pupils or inability to close eyelids

Tick Prevention

There are many products available for the prevention of tick paralysis. Currently, personal preference are oral products in dogs (NexGard Spectra or Simparica Trio). These products are administered as a chewable treat by mouth monthly. They provide tick prevention, heart worm protection, intestinal worming and flea control. Using these products basically forces you to provide adequate tick control monthly, which is more effective.

Unfortunately for cats, there are currently no oral products available for tick prevention in cats. I personally recommend Revolution Plus for cats; the reason is this product is applied monthly to the back of the neck. This product provides tick prevention, flea control, heart worm prevention and internal worming. By using this product, you are again, forced to provide a monthly product which is more effective as you are unlikely to miss doses and maintain adequate concentration. The above products do not cover tape worm.

Consider that no tick product is 100%, therefore consistently using a monthly product, and daily tick searches are recommended. Ideally a tick search should be performed daily, as it takes two to three days for a tick to administer enough toxin to cause paralysis. A tick search entails feeling through your dog or cat’s hair coat for a lump. Pay particular attention to the head and forelegs and under the collar, as ticks are more commonly found at the front of the body. Check inside the ears, all ear folds and between the lips, gumline and toes. Then check the rest of your pet’s body as it is possible to find more than one tick. A tick search is basically a thorough search through your dog or cat’s hair coat from nose to tail tip. Remember, ticks can migrate to any spot on your dog or cat. If you feel a lump on the skin while feeling through the hair coat, it is important to examine the lump. A paralysis tick will be grey in colour with the head burrowed into the skin (tick crater) and body exposed. The paralysis tick body will be grey in colour with yellow legs located close to the head of the tick.

Diagnosis

If you notice your dog or cat showing clinical signs e.g. vomiting, retching or weak-drunk (ataxic) in the back legs, consider tick paralysis until proven otherwise. Perform a tick search immediately and if a tick is found, remove the tick and keep for veterinary assessment. You can manually remove the tick by pinching the ticks mouth parts, at the skin, and pulling/plucking the tick away from your pet’s body with your fingernails or by using a special tick remover device. It is important to remove the whole tick as soon as possible to prevent the tick from administering more toxin through its mouthparts. The toxin is produced in the ticks salivary glands and released in tick saliva as they feed off your dog or cats’ blood.

Treatment

If your pet is showing signs of tick paralysis, it is important to initiate treatment as soon as possible. If left untreated, your pet will get worse and this will lead to prolonged recovery, increased cost of therapy and hospital time and increased risk of more severe respiratory complications. It is important to note, some patients do not show classic ascending paralysis signs and may only show local or vomiting/retching signs leading to the more difficult to treat respiratory disease. Should your dog or cat develop clinical signs there is treatment available at your local veterinarian or veterinary after-hours clinic. Once presented to the veterinarian a tick search will be performed which most likely will include a tick clip to make sure there are no ticks present on your pet. A tick clip entails a full body clip down to the skin. If the owner has removed the tick, it is helpful to present the tick to your veterinarian with your pet. Ideally if a tick is removed by the owner, it is recommended to take your dog or cat to your local veterinarian with the tick to determine whether treatment is required. It is important to rule out tick paralysis in any pet with clinical signs to prevent progression of paralysis and increased cost of care. Once tick paralysis has been diagnosed and antiserum is given by intravenous (IV) catheter and supportive care (hospitalisation, tick clip and bath and medication) is provided.

Unfortunately, even with early diagnosis and treatment, tick paralysis patients get worse before getting better, so early treatment is beneficial to reduce recovery time in hospital.

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