Tick Toxicity in your Pets
      Spring is well upon us so there is no better time to talk about TICKS! There really is only one tick that you need to worry about with your 
pets: The Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus). This time of the year is when we start to see the number of pets with tick poisoning  increasing dramatically due to the warming of the weather. These ticks inhabit the bush and scrub up and down the east coast of  Australia. For Sydneysiders the northern beaches and the central coast are notorious hotspots. But they can also occur here, in the hills district, especially in bushy areas. And every now and then we  see ticks in standard suburban backyards that aren't very bushy at all.

So what do you look for?

       There is little point in trying to teach how to distinguish taxonomically between types of ticks that you might see eg Bush 
ticks, cattle ticks etc etc. The size can range from a poppy seed to a large pea. They look like a greyish, round, lump attached to the 
skin. If you look carefully you can see the little legs hidden under the big fat abdomen of the tick, just where it has its head attached 
to the skin of the animal. If you are in any doubt whether it is a wart, or tumour, or a tick, then seek veterinary advice. If you are convinced it is a tick, and your pet is completely normal and healthy in your opinion, then remove the tick then and there. The simplest way is to grasp the tick with tweezers right down low, where it is attached to the skin, avoiding squeezing the tick's swollen abdomen, and pluck the tick out! Don't panic if you think you left a tiny bit behind, just pull out as much as you can. (Ask us about some specialist devices for doing a cleaner, neater job of this.) If your pet stays well over the next 2 days then there is nothing more to worry about.

HOWEVER, if you find a tick on your pet, and the pet is not itself in ANY way, then go straight to the vet. You don't even need to waste time trying to pull the tick out - just get to the vet! The same advice if you have pulled a tick out of a healthy animal and subsequently you think it is not quite right. Go to the vet. If the animal is not well, pulling the tick out and waiting is not sufficient.

The reason i haven't listed the symptoms yet is because the symptoms can be very subtle and varied. Even very experienced vets have 
trouble diagnosing hidden ticks, on occasions.  Paralysis ticks are notoriously tricky!

Now I will list the common symptoms, but if they don't fit your pet it doesn't mean it DOESN'T have a tick!

1) Weakness in the hind limbs. Sometimes it's just that the dog tires easily on the walk, or can't jump into the car. As the poisoning worsens you will often see a hind limb gait like the animal is drunk. This will spread to all the limbs eventually and the pet won't be able to rise at all.

2) Vomiting or gagging and retching. Sometimes with a loss of appetite.

3) Change of voice (bark) or loss of voice.

4) Breathing difficulties

What happens next?

If your pet is affected in anyway then it is likely that it will have to be hospitalised and given tick anti-serum. Given early the serum often has leads to an improvement in 24 hours. However, just like the symptoms can be unpredictable, so can the response to treatment. There are many complications from the poisoning - along with the paralysis of the body comes problems with the ability to breathe and swallow. Pneumonia can set in. As can heart failure and fatigue. (While on this subject, i should comment that it is important to keep your pet calm and quiet until getting to the vet. Especially cats, which can become very distressed, and thereby worsen their symptoms.) Obviously an animal that is seen early and given treatment when the symptoms are mild, has a good chance of recovery. However, despite all the correct treatments, it is true that a small number of pets will succumb to the effects of the toxin. In some cases where the response is slow, the hospital stay can extend to many days, with careful nursing needed to keep the airways 
clear, oxygen support and ventilators, even anaesthesia can be necessary. When the pet is ready to go home there is still a convalescent period of 2 weeks, where rest is paramount.

It is obvious that preventing the ticks attaching to your dog and delivering their poison is the way to tackle the menace of the paralysis tick.

1) Regular searching of the pet's skin. Areas to concentrate on are the head , neck and fore quarters. But the whole dog should be searched. Using the tips of your fingers to penetrate the coat against the grain of the hair is the best way. Make this a routine each night for example, while watching TV. Clearly a small short haired dog is easier to examine and check this way than a large hairy one! If ticks have been seen in your area or you visit tick areas, you should give strong consideration to clipping your pet's hair short during the summer to facilitate 
finding ticks.

2) Using a tick preventing treatment. There are a range of "spot on" type treatments, as well as collars, sprays and tablets. The bad news is that the paralysis tick can't be guaranteed to be kept at bay by any of these treatments. Mostly they work well and are essential in bad tick areas, but you will still need to search your pet daily!

Some of these treatments are ineffective or toxic to cats, so please seek advice on this. The good news is that cats are less commonly 
affected and easy to search.

So that is a summary of what is a very complicated and serious warm weather problem. The simple thing to remember is that if your pet is 
acting unusually, seek advice from the vet. Call up or come in.

© 2017 Shannon Murphy


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