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One of the biggest concerns facing pet owners in the Cairns region is the risk of tick paralysis. Paralysis ticks (ixodes holocyclus) are dangerous parasites that feed on the blood of animals.  Around 75,000 dogs and cats are paralysed by these deadly ticks in Australia each year.

The paralysis tick is found mostly on the eastern coast of Australia, from Far North Queensland to Northern Victoria. In North Queensland, these ticks are more prevalent from June to December but cases do occur all year round. Areas of natural bush land which harbour native animals, particularly bandicoots, are the most likely areas where paralysis ticks are found. However, any animals close to these areas are at risk, as ticks can be carried and dropped in other areas by other animals.

How does the tick cause paralysis?

When a paralysis tick crawls onto pets or other animals (called the host), they wander over the body before attaching to feed. During feeding the tick releases a neurotoxin called Holocyclotoxin, which is excreted from the tick’s salivary glands, into the host. This toxin blocks the cells of the central nervous system causing life threatening paralysis.

How can you identify the paralysis tick?

There are a few species of tick which you may find on your pet and commonly these ticks will be brown dog ticks or bush ticks. Paralysis ticks differ in appearance to other ticks as they are a blue grey in colour and have a brown line which encircles the body.

Their legs all originate from the front of the body around the mouthparts and the 1st and 4th legs on each side are brown, while the 2nd and 3rd pairs are paler in colour. A fully engorged female reaches up to 15mm to 18mm in size and firmly attaches to the animal. When removed they leave a hard ulcerated sore in the skin which we call a crater.

Symptoms of tick paralysis

The affected animal usually shows no signs of illness for approximately four days, however once they begin to show symptoms, they deteriorate very rapidly.

Symptoms of Tick paralysis include:

  • Loss of coordination in the hind legs
  • Change in voice/bark
  • Retching, coughing or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Glazed look in eyes
  • Progressive paralysis to forelegs
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Sudden death

What to do if you suspect your pet has been affected by a tick

Tick paralysis can quickly progress to severe paralysis and death so if you suspect your pet may have a tick, early diagnosis and treatment gives them the best chance of recovery.

  1. Contact us immediately if you suspect you pet has been affected by a tick. The earlier treatment begins the better the chance of recovery.
  2. Search your pet thoroughly for a tick. Pay particular attention to the head and neck area as paralysis ticks especially like to attach in these areas.
  3. If you find a tick and are comfortable, you can remove it by firmly grasping the tick between thumb and finger and firmly tugging the tick out. Keep the tick for identification at your vet.
  4. Do not give your pet any food, water or medications by mouth as animals affected by tick paralysis cannot swallow properly.
  5. Keep your pet calm, in a cool dark place until you visit your vet.

Tick preventative products

Although no product is 100% effective, the administration of products specifically designed for tick control can greatly reduce the risk of tick paralysis. There are lots of tick preventatives on the market, but before buying the first or cheapest product you see, it’s important to ensure that it is the right one for your pet. Talk to our experienced vets or nurses, who will recommend the best product for your pet. Click here to see some the products we offer to keep your pets safe.

Who to contact if your pet has been affected by a tick.

For more information about our paralysis ticks, visit our website or call us on 4032 9999.

If you suspect that your pet has been affected by a paralysis tick, call us immediately at any time of the day and night on 4032 9999

Cairns Veterinary Clinic is proud to have been caring for Cairns furry family members since 1966. With 2 convenient locations, Pease Street and Norman Street, Gordonvale, our clinics are staffed by a great team of hard working and dedicated veterinary professionals who treat your pets as if they are their own.   With a vet available 24/7 365 days per year, we are always here when you need us. Contact our friendly staff for all your pet’s healthcare needs.