FAQs about paralysis ticks in dogs and cats.
Do my pets need tick prevention all year round?
On the Northern Beaches of Sydney we recommend tick protection be applied all year round. It is normal for our vet hospital to see atleast one paralysed animal every month. The high incidence months are from September to December when adult tick numbers are increased.
Are all ticks paralysis ticks?
In this area of the Northern Beaches, Sydney, nearly all the ticks we see are paralysis ticks. Some are the immature forms called nymph ticks that are less likely to cause paralysis unless they are attached in large numbers. The adult ticks are more likely to be seen from August to January but occur all year round.
My pet is overdue for prevention. Is it still covered?
All tick control products are very time sensitive. Even being overdue by a few days will put your pet at risk.
What does a paralysis tick look like?
Adult ticks are generally 3mm to 10mm in size. They have a grey body and a long mouth piece with a crest behind the mouth piece.
(This is where the name shellback comes from.) Nymph ticks can be microscopic, less than 1mm then up to 3mm when fully engorged.
Can my dog or cat have tick paralysis if I can't find a tick?
Ticks can be very difficult to find. If your dog or cat is showing signs of tick paralysis it should be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Signs can progress to deadly and sometimes irreversible very quickly. Sometimes no tick is found, but animals recover with treatment and supportive care.
What if I remove a tick from my dog or cat and they are showing no signs?
Animals worsen for 24 hours after removing a paralysis tick. They may go from no signs to no signs. If however, they start to show any signs, it is better to treat as early as possible. If you remove a paralysis tick from your dog or cat and it is showing no signs, you should keep them very quiet for 24 hours and observe them very carefully. After 24 hours, if your pet is normal, it is unlikely they will be affected by the tick that was removed.
Can tick paralysis kill a dog or cat?
Every year dogs and cats die from tick paralysis on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Most of these pets have not been given treatment in time. Sometimes however, mildy affected animals can worsen suddenly and die. Animals can progress from mild tick paralysis signs to end stage fatal tick signs within 12-48 hours. The stages of tick paralysis are explained on the tick treatment page.
Paralysis ticks are dangerous parasites that can kill your dog or cat within a few days of signs presenting. Most ticks are found around the head and neck of the animal as well as inside the ears, but they can end up anywhere on the body. Pittwater Vets know in tick season it is important to use a good tick preventive and also to search your pet every day. A small tick missed one day can be found the next and save your pets life.
Paralysis ticks that can kill your pet are usually between 3mm and 10mm in diameter. They attach with their mouth parts making a hole in the skin which can often be painful or itchy. The body of the tick sticks out from the skin. Sometimes a skin tag can be mistaken for a tick. By moving any skin lump around and looking at it’s attachment to the skin you can generally tell the difference. Pulling a skin tag off can be painful and upset your pet, but you wont be the first owner who has done this.
Paralysis ticks can be difficult to pull out as they hold on tightly with their mouth parts and when removed leave a hole in the skin called a tick crater. The tick crater will be 3-10mm across and take a month to heal. As it heals it forms a thick scab. Try not to pick at the scab as it will become infected and sore.
The most reliable way to locate ticks is to systematically run your fingers through your cat or dog’s coat. Press your fingertips down to the skin level and draw systematic little circles trying to cover the whole skin surface. Start at the nose and move along between the nose and eyes. Search in the lips and around the ears. It is especially important to search long haired dogs very thoroughly between the eyes and the end of the nose as this is a common area for ticks to be missed.
Always remove your pets collar rather than just pushing it out of the way. If you find a bump or a sore spot separate the hair and examine the skin. The tick will be attached with the head buried under the skin and the body sticking out from the skin.
Continue running your fingers around the neck, armpits, legs, between the toes, along the tail and around the anus and vulva. Some tick bites are very sore so if you have an area that your pet doesn’t want examined it is best to examine that area carefully in case there is a tick hiding. Ticks can also cause local paralysis. A tick above an eye will often cause paralysis of the eyelids and an inability to blink for up to 4 weeks. Sometimes the face will look asymmetrical giving you a hint that there is a tick hiding somewhere.
We find using a tick hook like the green one shown below to be the most reliable way to remove ticks. If the head is left in, don’t worry as the tick will die and inject no more poison. Always assume there is more than one tick and continue your systematic search.
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It is true that animals can develop an immunity to tick poison, but it requires repeated mild poisoning and may last only one season. Even those animals that do build up an immunity can still wind up paralysed if they’re bitten by multiple ticks or a particularly toxic one. It’s not a good idea to count on your pet being one of the lucky ones that develop immunity.