Tick season is upon us again, and vets are urging pet owners to be extra vigilant to protect their fur friends from the damaging effects of tick paralysis.
Tick paralysis is a serious condition that is easily treated, but when gone unnoticed can have serious implications for your pet.
Ixodes Holocyclus otherwise known as the Australian paralysis tick is a species of tick native to Eastern Australia.
These ticks prefer humid locations and in particular wet forests and rainforest areas, but they are commonly found in tall grass and bushland shrub.
The paralysis tick feeds on mammals of all sizes and more than 95 per cent of tick bites in Eastern Australia are due to this species.
Each year vets prepare themselves for the annual peak tick season, which runs from September through to March, when ticks cause the greatest amount of stress for families and their pets.
Vets are particularly concerned this year due to the increase in animal adoptions during COVID-19 lockdowns and the increase in unemployment, which means the cost to treat tick paralysis may be too much for some.
A 2018 review of tick paralysis by the University of Melbourne estimated 10,000 cats and dogs were brought to vets for treatment in Australia each year, with many animals dying as a result of just one tick bite.
Dr Paul Pratt is a vet at the Currumbin Veterinary Surgery and has seen his fair share of pets affected by tick paralysis.
Dr Pratt urged dog and cat owners to prioritise prevention in order to minimise the risk to their pets.
“It’s peak paralysis tick season in Australia, so now is the time to talk to your local vet about a paralysis tick and flea treatment plan for your dog or cat,” he said.
“I too often see the devastating effect, both emotionally and financially, of tick paralysis and urge pet owners to try and protect their pets with a long-lasting preventative treatment.
“Don’t leave it until it’s too late.”
Dr Pratt said there were three things that pet owners needed to do in order to prevent their pets from getting bitten by ticks, including using preventative treatments that could be bought from vets in a cream form, doing daily inspections of pets from head to toes, and checking for symptoms.
“It can take about three days from when the tick attaches to when pets start to show symptoms and when symptoms start to show they can progress very rapidly,” he said.
“If it’s detected early it can be treated without any problems, but if it is left too late it can cause respiratory problems and force animals to go on respirators and from that point it can be fatal.”
Gold Coast local Jackie Knight’s dog, Coop, got bitten by a paralysis tick in early June and she saw how quickly he was affected by it.
“I arrived home and I noticed straight away that he was very wobbly on his back legs and he couldn’t climb up the steps or into the car and his bark sounded like a seal’s bark, it just didn’t sound like his normal bark it was really croaky,” Ms Knight said.
She said she also noticed Coop couldn’t breathe properly and that his gums had turned a purplish colour.
Coop experienced a rapid deterioration of health over just a few days, from when his bark first sounded different on the Friday evening to when Ms Knight noticed he couldn’t walk properly on Monday afternoon.
“My first thought when I saw he couldn’t walk properly was that he must have been bitten by a tick and that I needed to get him to a vet as soon as possible,” she said.
Coop then spent 24 hours at the vet surgery with his family waiting tensely at home.
“Coop is a very active dog; he comes to the beach with us every weekend and walks our three kids to school every day,” Ms Knight said.
“We were worried sick when his back legs started to give way and he became very lethargic,” she said.
“Financially it was a tough blow, our family business was facing hard times due to coronavirus, but we just couldn’t lose our family pet.”
Brock Brandreth faced a similar situation with his domestic short haired cat, Chico.
Mr Brandreth said he had let Chico outside like he usually did each morning, to spend the day outside, but when he went to get her in the evening from her usual spot she wouldn’t come inside and could barely move.
“I called her name and instead of running back inside or meowing like she normally does she just stared at me blankly and didn’t make any noise at all, that was my first indication that something was wrong,” he said.
“Chico spent three very long days in hospital; not knowing if your furry friend will make it through the experience was emotionally straining and devastating.”
“To top off the heartache and stress of possibly losing Chico, the expense to save her cost me around $1,000.
“Unfortunately, this means some pet owners may not be able to afford the treatment to save their mate, so I encourage people to protect their furry friends from all the nasty parasites.”
Fortunately, both Coop and Chico made full recoveries and are back to being their usual playful selves, but both Ms Knight and Mr Brandreth said the situation could have been more serious if they hadn’t acted as quickly as they did.