Paralysis ticks are tiny critters that feed on the blood of animals, delivering a potent toxin which can be life-threatening. Like spiders, they are not insects but arachnids, possessing eight legs.
Ticks occur primarily along the east coast of Australia, and tend to be more prevalent in the warmer months. They are well-adapted to feeding on mammals like dogs, cats, and urban wildlife including possums and bandicoots – they even latch onto humans. But because of their small size, it isn’t always easy to find a tick. Here are five signs that suggest your dog has a tick.
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1. A lump
Ticks bury their mouth-parts in the skin to feed, leaving their rotund bottoms poking out. This results in a small but often quite firm lump. The question is, is the lump a tick or something else? Similar-sized lumps include normal anatomical features, such as nipples or benign skin nodules like warts, other skin lesions and scabs. If a tick has been attached but removed or fallen off, it may leave a crater. This can be painful to touch. If in doubt, see your vet. If you decide to remove the tick yourself, either use a specially designed “tick twister” or tweezers around the base of the head and remove using a twisting action.
2. A wobbly walk
Tick venom causes an ascending paralysis, meaning it tends to affect the hind limbs first, then gradually progresses to the front limbs. If your dog seems uncoordinated, head to your vet right away.
3. Difficulty eating
Some tick-affected dogs experience difficulty picking up food with their mouth, and may eat in an uncharacteristically messy way (dysphagia). They may also struggle to swallow food properly, and are at risk of inhaling food (aspiration). This can lead to pneumonia and serious complications, and warrants an immediate trip to the vet.
4. A cough or difficulty breathing
Dogs suffering from tick paralysis may inhale food or saliva, leading to pneumonia. In addition, tick venom causes weakness of the respiratory muscles. This is an indication for an urgent trip to the vet.
5. Inability to stand
As tick paralysis progresses it affects all limbs and causes generalised weakness, making it difficult for dogs to stand or even sit up. Affected dogs may lay on their side, which further compromises breathing.
If you do suspect that your dog has a tick, or is showing signs of tick paralysis, see your veterinarian right away. The anti-venom is effective, especially when administered early.
The good news is that effective tick prevention is widely available. It repels or kills ticks before they can cause tick paralysis. In addition, hand-searching your dog daily can catch ticks before they cause illness. Your dog will think he or she is getting a fantastic massage in the process.
Tick paralysis can look very similar to a snake bite. Both are serious conditions which warrant immediate veterinary attention.
- When you hand-search your pet, be thorough, but do focus especially on the areas from the shoulders forward as a large number of ticks are found in this area simply because it is harder for dogs to groom them off. Dogs also often sniff the ground which makes it easier for the ticks to jump on board.
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