PARALYSIS TICK OVERVIEW
Tick Paralysis is the single greatest risk to the life of your pet in the Bellingen Shire.The information below results from 30 years of experience in treating tick paralysis in the Bellingen Shire by Dr Mark Crane alone, and over 65 years of combined experience within the Bellingen Veterinary Hospital. We estimate we have treated over 2000 tick cases in that time!
Paralysis Ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are external parasites that suck the blood from their host animal and it’s their salivary glands that produce the toxin that affects the nervous system of the host. They bury their mouth parts with backward pointing barbs into the host, making removal difficult and leaving a deep characteristic "crater" at the bite site.
Once paralysis occurs, the animal can easily die unless it is treated quickly with anti-tick serum injected by a vet. Once the paralysis tick is removed or killed, you can expect your pet to deteriorate for at least 24 hours while the toxin in the saliva at the bite diffuses into its system. After administration of the anti-tick serum there is a delay of 6-8 hours before it starts to work. It still takes 48 hours for the toxin to be removed, so your pet can continue to deteriorate during this time. Full recovery can take up to 3 weeks, especially the subclinical effects on your pet's heart. Death is usually due to respiratory paralysis, respiratory exhaustion or pulmonary oedema caused by the failing heart. Paralysis ticks can lead to an animal requiring a tracheotomy, oxygen therapy and even ventilation, and sadly some victims of these ticks do not recover.
TICK PARALYSIS PREVENTION
The basic priciples of tick prevention in our experience are as follows:
Apply a Paralysis Tick preventitive religiously!
• Dogs use Nexgard (monthly), Bravecto (tri-monthly), Bravecto spot on (6 monthly)
• Cats use Frontline every (2 weeks), and Bravecto (tri-monthly)
• These tick preventives are on average ~90% effective at repelling &/or killing paralysis ticks. That is to say that even if you use them, 1 tick in 10 that your pet contacts will be able to attach and poison your pet. Always check your pet and never fully rely on products.
• Talk to our staff to select the very best product and approach for your pet. eg. for regular swimmers, a chew (Nexgard/Bravecto) are probably better than a topical application. Frontline works less well on dry skinned dogs; some products are safer for in contact humans than others.
2. Search your pet thoroughly for paralysis ticks at least once a day!
• Search over the entire body of your pet daily, including around anus, genitals, between toes and pads, and inside lips and ears.
• Ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide it seems, so they will often move towards the mouth and nose before attaching.
• 80% of ticks attach above and in front of the elbows, so search head, face and neck particularly carefully.
• Animals that live indoors all the time are less prone to getting paralysis ticks, but it is no guarantee as ticks can be brought into the house by other pets or humans.
• If you find a paralysis tick on your pet - remove it immediately by pulling it off.
• It is not essential to remove the head, so if it breaks off don't worry too much.
• Applying oils or other "natural" products rather than pulling it off merely delays the death of the paralysis tick, and increases the amount of time the tick has to inject venom into your pet.
• If you can not remove the tick (e.g. small embedded ticks near the eye of an aggressive small hairy dog!) then dabbing some insecticide like fronline spray or aeroguard onto the tick using a cotton bud, is the next best approach. Be careful to avoid the eyes though.
• Tick removers at the BVH help greatly in easy removal of paralysis ticks.
• Tick searching is essential to find that 1 paralysis tick in 10 that the acaricides miss.
3. General paralysis tick prevention strategies.
• Reduce your pets exposure to ticks. Reduce outside time if practical.
• Ticks are natural parasites of our native wildlife, esp. bandicoots. Reduce the overlapping habitats of bandicoots and pets, by keeping your pets out of scrubby shrubby areas where bandicoots hang out.
• Walk dogs on leashes or go to clear grassy areas or the beach for exercise.
• Mow or slash regularly to keep grass down.
• Consider fencing off bush areas.
• If you have a long haired pet, have them clipped regularly over tick season to facilitate searching and the efficacy of the topical acaricides.
• If your are selecting a new pet and you have no preference for coat length, consider a shorter haired breed for same reason, and to reduce heat stress in summer and reduce costs related to grooming.
TICK PARALYSIS SIGNS IN YOUR PET !
• Despite all of your, and our best efforts, it is possible your pet will succumb to the effects of tick paralysis during its life in the Bellingen area.
• Hopefully your efforts will either detect the tick very early, or will be killing it before it can inject too much toxin.
• If your pet has come into contact with a paralysis tick they will experience paralysis in a variety of forms. A typical case will start with a weakness in the hindquarters that will then progress to total paralysis of all four legs. Other early symptoms may include the following:
• Difficulty breathing
• Loss of appetite
• Vomiting or dry retching
• Excessive salivation
• Difficulty swallowing
• Noisy panting
• Exercise, excitement and heat will all cause your pet's condition to deteriorate so avoid them if you suspect your pet has tick paralysis.
• Tick paralysis is an emergency ! Call us as soon as you suspect your pet is affected and we will discuss your treatment options.
TICK PARALYSIS IMMUNITY
• This is the Holy Grail of pet survival in our area.
• Treatment is all about short term survival of your pet with the expectation they will develop long term resistance to paralysis ticks.
• Once a pet has been exposed to a paralysis tick it will develop some level of immunity to the toxin.
• Research has shown that immunity to paralysis ticks from a single exposure barely lasts 12 months.
• Some breeds (e.g Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds) seem to struggle to produce and maintain immunity to paralysis ticks, and so require even more diligent attention to prevention, searching , etc.
• Young and new pets basically have no resistance to paralysis ticks, so are especially susceptible.
• Older pets and sick ones often become more susceptible as their immune system may struggle to provide the protection required.
• Immunity to 1-2 paralysis ticks does not mean your pet will have enough immnunity to protect them against 10 ticks. We still get robust local dogs with good tested immunity in with tick paralysis resulting from a massive tick burden. So even if your dog has good immnuity, at least try to keep the tick numbers down by using something inexpensive like a Preventic collar.
COMMON TICK PARALYSIS MISINFORMATION.
• Feed the removed paralysis tick to the dog to improve immunity. This seems to be a Bellingen Special and is total rubbish. Any immunity gained comes from the dog's exposure to the tick saliva via the bite site not via the intestinal tract. Ticks have been known to attach within dog's mouths so you are putting them at further risk.
• The head must removed. The paralysis tick will stop injecting saliva into your pet as soon as it is dead, and beheading is an effective mode of killing a tick. You may get a little more infection at the site if the head remians, but this is rarely a problem.
• You need to kill the paralysis tick prior to removal. This appears to be applicable in most human cases, however experiments in dogs and cats have shown this has no benefit and merely delays the recovery. This probably relates to the fact that vets are dealing primarily with paralysis cases caused by poisoning of the pet by the tick's saliva, and there is no allergic component to be considered. In humans however, it seems they have more of an allergic reaction to the haemolymph (blood) of the tick, to which they are exposed when a tick is pulled out, breaking some of its mouth parts, and causing it to "bleed" into the site. I have also had one client (human) who had a family member who was actually allergic to the saliva itself. So you should discuss the human approach with your local GP.
• Homeopathy such as Ledum works for tick paralysis. This is pure bunkum. It probably relates to the next point. There is no evidence that any alternative approaches work at all. In the mid 90's we trialled Ledum for 2 years on alternate cases of tick paralysis and found no differnce in the outcomes at all. I contacted a very experienced homeopathist in Adelaide, who advised that anyone wishing to pursue this line should use Ledum every 2 hours and if no response was seen within 8 hours, then it wasn't going to work and that animal should be treated conventionally immediately. Whilst still still not a good idea in our opinion, it is far better than people giving it 3-4 times a day, and waiting 2+ days before bringing in a now end-stage pet for treatment.
• Tick cases don't need to be treated. Not all animals with tick paralysis will die, that is for sure. But if your anaesthetist offered you an anaesthetic that only 20% of people died from - would you be happy. We don't know how many untreated pets actually die, as owners are not very enthusiastic about admitting they made a bad call that cost their pet its life. We do know that virtually all the cases we lose or have to euthanase are those that have been left the longest before treatment was initiated. I supect that somewhere bewteen 20-80% of untreated cases (assuming they have inadequate immunity) actually die as a direct or indirect result of tick paralysis. The others that survive may have had some alternative therapy or not, and their owners and advisors will claim success. But it probably just reflects a sub lethal dose of venom in the first place.
• Treating pets with anti-tick serum reduces their subsequent immunity to paralysis ticks. Immunological nonsense. Firstly, the immune response (active immunity) of the animal is triggerd by the presence of the toxin (saliva) in their system. This has already occurred prior to treatment, and the anti-tick serum can not remove all the toxin anyway as some of it will already be bound to the neuroreceptors. Secondly, a dead animal will not mount an immune response to anything. Treatment is all about keeping your pet alive, so that they ultimately develop their own immunity to ticks.
• Ticks rinses, shampoos, hydrobathes etc are effective tick preventitives. These are not effective as most last little longer than 24 hours, and often contain soaps or solvent that are very bad for your pet's skin. The maximum frequency of dog washing recommended by the veterinary dermatology specialists is monthly, and ideally never. So it is virtully impossible to get any effective protection against ticks, while you are ruining your pet's skin in the process of trying. Also to lipid stripping caused by frequent washing will also interfere with the efficacy of products like frontline and other spot on applications.
FOOTNOTE - TICK BORNE DISEASES.
• This group of diseases has been receiving a lot of attention in our area in recent times often with the fervor of a witch hunt. Whilst it it seems likely there are tick borne diseases in our area, one needs to keep an open but objective mind about such matters.
• Clinically we have seen little evidence of animals affected by these diseases, and the various clinical syndromes are well described in small animals.
• I have, over the years, seen a peculiar syndrome in cats that I have attributed to a Ricketsial infection (rightly or wrongly) that I have managed to treat successfully thus far.
• Also many years ago we assisted in the identification of a tick blood parasite in local kangaroos.
• So there could well be all sorts of "greeblies" circulating.
• Unfortunately blood tests for such organisms are generally prohibitively expensive for most pet owners.
• We will hopefully be conducting some research into this area in the new future, to establish the frequency of occurrence of Lyme Disease.
• The good news is that animals don't have opinions on such matters, so we have the benefit of sampling an unbiased population. They also are a great way of identifying the background frequency of organisms in the general population.
• If and when we do get some results, we certainly be informing you about them.
• The bottom line from a veterinary perspective - Are our local pets more or less unwell than the general Australian population? Well I would say on average - less unwell. My colleagues are constantly plagued with parvo, distember, canine cough, cat flu, heartworm, FIV, etc - while we seem to blessed in that area. So maybe if they do exist, they may be doing more good than harm. Now there's a dangerous idea!!