Tick paralysis can be one of the least pleasant sequels for your dog’s trip to the coast at this time of year. So far this spring we have had to treat an abnormally large number of dogs for the serious effects of the coastal tick.
To help avoid this problem it may help to briefly describe the tick and its life cycle.
The dog paralysis tick exists all along the coast. The adult tick has eight legs and when feeding on the dog is a metallic blue color.
The female attaches itself to the animal by burying its sharp mouthpieces deeply into the host’s skin. The male, on the other hand, is small, has larger legs, and does not attach itself to the host.
This tick is a three-host tick — this means that three separate mammalian hosts are required for the tick to complete its life cycle from the egg to the mature adult.
Native animals such as bandicoots and possums are the main intermediate hosts but any scrub dwelling warm-blooded animal will suffice.
The adult tick crawls on to long grass or bushes and attaches itself to the dog, cat, cow, or human which is pushing through the bush. The most common point of attachment is around the head and neck but the tick can attach itself anywhere on the body.
Temperature and humidity play a big role in the speed of development of the tick.
In warm, humid conditions it is most active and may achieve its maximum size within a week. Under cold conditions its full development could take up to three weeks. The free-living stages of the tick’s life cycle cannot survive in the extreme climate.
Under normal conditions a tick has to be attached to the dog for at least five days before any ill effects are noticeable. If more than one tick is present, or if the dog is very small, its effects may be seen in a shorter time.
The first signs of tick paralysis are not dramatic. The dog usually becomes quiet and prefers to lie rather than sit. It usually refuses food and tends to keep its eyes closed. It may lick at the place where the tick is attached but in most cases it seems unaware of the tick’s presence.
When the dog is persuaded to walk its hindquarters tend to sway and it has difficulty going upstairs or jumping into the car. It may then start to vomit and its bark may change in character.
If the tick is left attached the dog’s condition quickly deteriorates. It becomes completely paralyzed and its breathing is labored due to the paralysis of the muscles of the thorax. Eventually the dog dies from respiratory paralysis.
Tick paralysis can be prevented. First, inspect your dog or cat every day while you are in a tick area. Pay particular attention to folds of skin around the head or neck, between the toes, around the ears and at the base of the tail.
If you find a tick, don’t burn it with cigarettes or apply turpentine. Lever the head out by placing an opened pair of scissors or forceps around the mouthparts and jerking the tick away from the skin. Try not to squeeze the tick before removing it, as this releases more toxin.
If your dog shows any of the symptoms of paralysis described, seek the help of your veterinary surgeon.
While at the coast try to prevent ticks attaching themselves to your dog by using anti-tick tablets daily and by washing your dog in an insecticidal wash after coming back from the coast. It is not much use doing this before as most will remove it when swimming.
Flea collars are not be relied upon, nor is the old practice of adding a pinch of sulfur to the dog’s food daily. Whatever method of prevention is tried, go over your pet thoroughly each night and try to keep it out of the tick-infested bush.
Remember it takes about five days for your pet to be seriously affected so that if the tick is removed within the first few days no harm should result.
If you find a large tick on your dog and it is still is behaving normally, watch it carefully after removing the tick as there still will be some unabsorbed toxin in the tissues around the point of attachment.