Although we associate ticks with the summertime and humid coastal areas, pets are presenting with bites all year round and being seen by vets across a wider range of locations around Australia. The risk of ticks is indeed on the increase.

Ticks are small pinhead-size blood sucking parasites that can latch onto your pet and make them very sick. They live in long grass, like hot and humid conditions, and can be found in both city and suburban areas. Ticks’ wide variation in appearance can make them difficult to identify; they can be camouflaged easily in pet fur, and smaller ones might be mistaken for fleas. While we often think of ticks in relation to dogs, they can affect many species, including cats, humans, and native animals. In humans they can cause flu-like symptoms and rashes, and some people are allergic to tick saliva.

Of the several hundred species of tick, the notorious Australian paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is the best known, and most feared, among pet owners. The dangers of paralysis ticks are numerous and severe. The species earns its common name from the potent toxins in its saliva which numb the host’s nerves and prevents them feeling the tick on their body.

Symptoms of paralysis tick bites include:

  • Vocal changes in your pet’s meow or bark
  • Lethargy and reluctance to move around
  • Uneven gait
  • Paralysis, especially of the hind quarters
  • Difficulty swallowing; choking, vomiting or regurgitation
  • Laboured breathing; coughing
  • Excessive salivation.

Symptom onset can take several days and might only become apparent after the tick has detached itself naturally, making it all the more important to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible.

If you find or suspect a paralysis tick bite:

  • Contact your vet or after-hours emergency vet hospital immediately
  • It is recommended by the Australian Paralysis Tick Advisory Panel to remove the tick as soon as possible. If you feel confident to do so, use a tick removal device (as per package instructions) or tweezers, ensuring you remove the entire tick, and put it in a sealed container for the veterinarian to identify
  • Keep searching your pet’s coat for any other ticks, and thoroughly check other pets
  • Do not give your pet anything to eat or drink as they could choke
  • Keep them as calm as possible, and for cats limit their movement by placing them in their carrier (necessary in any case to safely transport them to the vet hospital)
  • Check yourself and your children for ticks, and alert your partner, housemates and pet-owning neighbours to do the same. Seek medical advice if ticks are found on people
  • Try to remain calm. Take a deep breath. Stress is contagious and it’s important to keep your pet as stress-free as possible.
  • Do not apply alcohol-based topicals to the bite or bathe your pet, these methods are ineffective and delay veterinary attention. Do not use products made for dogs on cats.

Prevention is the best defence against paralysis ticks but seek veterinary attention if you suspect or know your pet has been bitten by a tick, even if they show no symptoms. Always have the contact details of your regular vet and nearest emergency vet hospital ready-to-hand. Prevention, planning and preparation will give your pet the best chance of avoiding the worst outcome.

With paralysis ticks, prevention is the key:

  • Speak to your vet about the dangers of ticks in your local area and ask them to demonstrate how to check for ticks, and what to do in an emergency, including how to safely remove a tick
  • Use a registered tick prevention product: discuss the best option for your pet with your vet including the correct dosage and frequency
  • Check your pet’s coat daily, at all times of year. This can be done as part of your pet’s grooming routine and is a good way to monitor your pet’s health and to bond with them. Run your hands over their whole body, including against the grain of their fur. Look between their toes and foot pads, under their lips, and inside their ears. A larger tick feels like a wart to the touch, but others may be too small to be felt. Part their fur and inspect any unusual lumps, bumps, or spots
  • Keep long-haired pets clipped, particularly during the warmer months, so their fur is easier to inspect and to help keep them cooler
  • Rake up leaf litter regularly and keep grass mowed in your garden to reduce ticks in your immediate environment
  • Consider keeping your cat indoors and be mindful of where and when you walk your dog, especially after recent rainfall
  • Keep your whole family safe by wearing hats, long sleeves and trousers, and sturdy footwear when outdoors.

For general advice on cat care and everything feline, call the Cat Protection Society of NSW on 02 9557 4818 or visit their website

Images: Supplied.

This is a sponsored article produced in partnership with the Cat Protection Society of NSW.

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