Weather conditions just right for paralysis tick breeding

Ticks are a common problem on the south coast of NSW, especially among dogs and now is a good time to make sure a tick prevention plan is in place for you and your pets.

Narooma veterinarian Dr Kate Le Bars with her dogs Leeloo and Hepburn.

Narooma veterinarian Dr Kate Le Bars with her dogs Leeloo and Hepburn.

Narooma veterinarian Kate Lar Bars said they saw tick poisonings throughout the year but they tended to be more common from late August to mid January.

"Ticks love warm, humid conditions, and we often see a rise in cases after it rains," she said.

The most dangerous tick found on the eastern seaboard of Australia is the paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus a parasite that feeds on animal or human blood that can kill a dog with one bite.

When the tick bites it injects a neurotoxin into the bloodstream which can cause progressive paralysis of the muscles and start affecting major organs.

"There are now some very safe and effective tick preventatives on the market for dogs and cats and we recommend using them all year round, not just when we think there are ticks about," Dr Le Bars said.

"The manufacturers and your own vet can provide very good support if you have any questions about the product."

As paralysis ticks are not very mobile they rely on passing animals for a blood meal. The tick crawls up the stems of grasses or along branches and waits ready to latch on to a passing animal, including humans.

After landing on a person or animal they will walk up the body and attach near the head area on humans however on animals they can attach to cavities such as ears, nostrils, anus even between their toes.

Vet Kate said signs of tick poisoning could be very vague or very dramatic, ranging from a light cough to complete paralysis.

"The poison can affect all the muscles in the body, including those associated with swallowing and breathing.

"It is very important not to give the sick pet anything by mouth if they are affected as it can easily go down the wrong way into the lungs and kill them," she said.

As dogs and cats don't get the anaphylactic reaction that is seen in people, Dr Le Bars said it was fine to remove the tick yourself.

"Using tick twisters helps to remove it cleanly and don't worry about trying to remove the head it it remains behind. The pet may get a small lump there, but it rarely requires treatment.

"The most important thing is that if you find one tick, look for others," she said.

Even if your pet seems well when you remove a paralysis tick, signs of poisoning can develop up to 48 hours later.

If your pet shows signs of being unwell, it is best to contact your vet straight away.

"The tick antiserum only helps if it is given as soon as possible," Kate said. "Once a pet is off its legs, there is only a 50 per cent chance of saving it, even with dedicated nursing and oxygen therapy."

There are four stages in the life cycle of a tick: the egg, larvae, nymph and adult. The paralysis tick needs to feed on blood to develop through its lifecycle from the larvae stage to a nymph and on to an adult with the adult female taking blood to obtain protein for the laying of eggs.

Paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus).

Paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus).

When fully engorged the female tick drops she lays between 2000 to 3000 eggs before dying. In moist warm conditions such as we are experiencing now, most of the eggs will hatch within seven to nine weeks.

"Very few dogs and cats are naturally immune to the tick toxin. Some will develop an immunity, but studies have shown that it doesn't last more than a few weeks," Veterinarian Kate Le Bars said.

"Some paralysis ticks are more dangerous than others. So if you have pulled several ticks off your pet without seeing any signs of poisoning, it may simply be that these weren't particularly poisonous ticks.

"It's best to use a tick preventative straightaway as the next tick may be deadly," she said.


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