Ticks may be small, but they can be deadly. Making sure you protect your pet from these pests is imperative, especially at this time of year, when ticks are actively prowling to find a host.
There are many types of ticks, and several of them have the potential to cause illness in cats and dogs, with paralysis ticks being the most dangerous of them all. These little critters attach themselves to your dog or cat, bury under their skin, and inject a deadly poison into your pet’s body while they feast on their blood. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to help your beloved pooch or kitty stay safe this tick season.
Firstly, if you are in an area with ticks, use tick control products to provide one line of defence. There are many such products on the market, so it’s best to talk to your vet or pet product retailer to find the right one for your pet. Don’t be tempted to use your dog’s tick control on your cat, though, as these can be highly toxic to cats.
Avoiding walking in tick habitats such as bushland and scrub, as well as keeping your lawn short and removing compost material, will help reduce exposure to ticks.
Most importantly, searching your pet every day for ticks is the optimal way of preventing tick paralysis.
No doubt your dog or cat will love the attention and a good rub, so this should be enjoyable for them, too! When searching your pet for ticks, look for a small, round or flat shape sticking out of your pet’s skin – they might look a bit like a skin tag. These creatures especially like to dig in behind ears or on the face and neck, so pay extra attention to these areas.
Remove your pet’s collar and run your fingers through your pet’s fur, including under the legs, between the toes and in folds of skin, feeling for any lumps or inconsistencies. Paralysis ticks, when engorged with blood, have a blueish to light-grey/grey colour. You can easily search for an image of the paralysis tick online, to see exactly what to look for.
If you find a tick on your pet, remove it immediately and keep your pet calm and quiet. When removing a tick, it’s best to wear disposable gloves and remove it by its head at the point of insertion into the skin (don’t squeeze the body) because if its mouth parts are left in, they are likely to cause a local infection.
A tick remover is a handy tool to have on hand – it lifts the tick out easily. Use antiseptic to clean the area after removal, and place the tick in a zip-lock bag to show your vet. Remember to continue to search for more ticks as your pet may have more than one.
If your pet has been bitten by a paralysis tick, don’t offer food or water or give anything orally as they cannot protect their airway when they swallow (as a result of the toxin). Take them straight to the vet as a matter of emergency - tick paralysis is a life-threatening condition, and every minute can count.
Even if you can’t find a tick on your pet, there are certain symptoms to look for that give an indication that your pet might be suffering from tick paralysis. These symptoms include:
- weakness or loss of coordination in the back legs or not being able to stand;
- a change in the sound of their bark or voice;
- retching, coughing or vomiting; excessive drooling;
- loss of appetite; and difficulty breathing.
If your pet displays any of these symptoms, rush them to the vet immediately.
The best line of defence against all types of ticks is prevention. Being tick-aware and proactive is the best way to protect your beloved pet from suffering the effects and potential lethal consequences of tick paralysis this season.
- RSPCA Australia, an independent, non-government community-based charity providing animal care and protection services. It relies on donations from the public to carry out its work.