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Tick paralysis in dogs & cats

Published on 16 Nov 2021

A big tick on White and Brown Cat face

Tick paralysis is a serious and potentially fatal disease affecting pets. Here’s what you need to know.

What is tick paralysis?

Australia has several different species of tick. The Eastern paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) can cause life threatening paralysis to dogs and cats.

As they burrow their mouthparts into the skin to feed on blood, they inject small amounts of toxic saliva into the pet. This toxin causes weakness and ultimately paralysis. Tick paralysis occurs mainly in tick endemic areas, particularly along Australia’s east coast.

According to the PetSure data obtained over the past five years, tick paralysis cases consistently increase from August with a peak over October, November and December before decreasing again by February. However, while these are peak times, tick paralysis is seen all year-round in tick endemic areas.

Who is affected?

Any breed or age of dog or cat is susceptible to tick paralysis.

According to PetSure data (across 2020 calendar year), tick paralysis was most prevalent in the following breeds:

BreedPrevalence
Birman cat0.72%
Bengal cat0.49%
Airedale Terrier0.36%
Cocker Spaniel0.31%
Miniature Dachshund0.29%
Miniature Poodle0.28%
Samoyed0.28%
English Springer Spaniel0.26%
Bichon Frise0.22%
Tenterfield Terrier0.20%

Prevalence = Total number of unique claiming pets / total number of insured pets across 12-month period. Excludes breeds with less than 500 active pet insurance policies.

Signs of tick paralysis

The signs of tick paralysis can be vague and vary depending on the progression of the paralysis and the individual pet. If you have just found a tick, or a tick crater (the mark left on the skin by the tick) contact your Vet for advice even if your pet seems normal.

The signs of tick paralysis can still develop once the tick has been removed, and usually occur when the tick has been attached for 3 to 4 days.

Signs that your pet may have tick paralysis include:

  • Incoordination and weakness, particularly of the hind legs but can progress to all four limbs
  • Paralysis
  • Noise or difficulty when breathing, coughing, grunting
  • Vomiting, gagging, regurgitation, reluctance to eat
  • Changes to the pet's voice
  • Changes to the eyes including reduction in the ability to blink, pupils that are different sizes
  • Droopy eyelid/s, droopy facial features

Treatment of Tick Paralysis

Tick Antitoxin Serum (TAS) needs to be given to the pet as soon as possible. It is important to keep tick paralysis patients calm, so the vet may recommend sedation. It is vital to ensure there are no other ticks on the pet, so vets often clip the pets in order to locate and remove other ticks.

The rest of the treatment is generally dependent on the severity of the signs. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics and other medications may be needed.

When the pets breathing is affected, they may need oxygen therapy. In severe cases, mechanical assistance to breathe (ventilation) may be indicated. This is usually done at a specialised veterinary practice with intensive, around the clock care.

How much does it cost to treat?

According to PetSure claims data in the 2020 calendar year, the average, single treatment cost relating to tick paralysis was $753 with the highest, single treatment cost being $8,243.

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider. 

Prevention is better than cure

With treatment running into the many thousands, and the life of your fur-baby on the line, when it comes to tick paralysis, prevention is better than cure. There are many excellent products that are long-acting and easy to administer to your pet to repel and kill ticks. In many cases, these products also treat fleas and worms as well. Chat to your vet about the right tick product for your pet. 

Avoid bush habitats if possible. The coastal strip of the east coast of Australia, running from far north Queensland to Victoria is where paralysis ticks are located. 

Have long-haired pets clipped to make it easier to find ticks and check all pets for ticks every day. Remember, they can be very small. Check the whole body and if one tick is found, look for others. 

If you find a tick on your pet, seek immediate veterinary advice. Your vet may recommend that you remove the tick with a tick remover, tweezers or fingers by gently twisting and plucking. 

References

  1. Australian Paralysis Tick Advisory Panel, 2019 TICK PARALYSIS OF DOGS AND CATS, An Updated Guide to Diagnosis, Management, Treatment and Prevention, 2020 update, accessed on 18/11/20

Terms, conditions, waiting periods, limits and exclusions apply. Petinsurance.com.au is issued by The Hollard Insurance Company Pty Ltd ABN 78 090 584 473, AFSL 241436, is arranged and administered by PetSure (Australia) Pty Ltd ABN 95 075 949 923, AFSL 420183 (PetSure) and is promoted and distributed by PetSure’s Authorised Representatives (AR) Pet Insurance Pty Ltd ABN 38 607 160 930, AR 1234944 and Pet Culture Pty Ltd ABN 69 644 613 098, AR 001284860. Any advice provided is general only and does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. Please consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to ensure this product meets your needs before purchasing. PDS and Target Market Determination available at http://www.petinsurance.com.au/forms-faqs-2 .

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Kylie Mitchell

Kylie Mitchell

Veterinarian

Kylie Mitchell is a veterinarian with over 17 years experience in animal health and welfare, including in the veterinary and pet insurance industries

She has three rescue cats (Noah, Bei Bei and Meeka), four very old cockatiels and a pond-full of fish.

Kylie Mitchell's Pets

  • MeekaMeeka
  • Bei BeiBei Bei
  • NoahNoah