There is a story in the Australian news media about the rise in tick paralysis in Gold Coast dogs and cats. I immediately discovered that it is an incredibly serious disease. Certain species of tick cause paralysis in their hosts. In the US tick paralysis is most common in the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain states and the South-Eastern part of the country. Apparently, in the US, the species of tick most likely to cause paralysis are the American dog tick, Dermacentor ticks and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Dogs and cats can survive mild tick paralysis without hospital treatment but I don’t think it is something you would want to risk because their chances of survival are considerably reduced.
Prompt treatment is vital in order to save the animal. The paralysis tick is removed and a search for other ticks takes place. The veterinarian will do a neurological assessment. The cat is treated with anti-serum either intravenously or intraperitoneally.
The paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin when the tick feeds, which is passed to the host. In all, about 40 species of tick have the ability to cause tick paralysis. The signs are heavy and noisy breathing, possibly grunting and panting; maybe coughing and vomiting and heavy salivation. The legs become wobbly and the animal collapses. The onset of paralysis is sudden as it occurs within 12 to 24 hours. One website states that clinical signs are usually seen within 3-5 days of attachment of the tick.
In the case of a Gold Coast dog (a five-year-old Yorkshire terrier) in the news this morning, his owners first noticed that something was wrong after Charlie refused a piece of chicken and then he had trouble breathing. He couldn’t stand properly as if he was drunk. He had to go to the vet twice because on the first visit they missed a second tick. He landed in the emergency section of an animal hospital where a tracheotomy tube was placed in a little hole in his windpipe. He had been given the antiserum treatment earlier. He survived.
There are real risks of dogs and cats outside getting the disease along Australia’s Gold Coast. The vets say that the problem is exacerbated by new pet owners being unaware of these risks. Eighty percent of ticks are found around the animal’s head. Ixodes holocyclus is the Australian paralysis tick. In Australia the paralysis tick is generally found on the eastern seaboard from North Queensland and Victoria. There is no vaccine against the Ixodes holocyclus toxin.
The best preventative measure is to avoid taking your dog into tick habitat and/or allowing your cat to wander into that sort of habitat. Another reason why cats should be kept indoors it seems. You’ve got to know where the ticks might be and that’s going to require a bit of research. You can also apply tick control products. Talk to your veterinarian about it. These are potentially harmful to the animal so you’ve got to be careful. Tick control products for dogs cannot be used on cats and vice versa. That’s important.
Another important preventative measure is to check your cat or dog every day for ticks. You do this even if you have applied the control products. And you should be observant for any signs of suspected paralysis as demonstrated by Charlie, the dog mentioned above. The advice is to remove a tick as soon as possible but do this with care and as per the instructions that you can find on the Internet and then take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.
In the UK paralysis ticks are very rare or they don’t exist. I’m not sure that there are paralysis ticks in the UK because one veterinary website says that “some ticks found abroad can transmit toxins that result in the paralysis of the animal”. That implies that the paralysis tick is not present in the UK. However, The Sun newspaper reported on July 31, 2020 that two people had been hospitalised in England after being paralysed by a tick bite. There were cases of babesiosis and a probable case of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). This is a different disease to tickborne paralysis caused by a toxin in the saliva of text. In this instance paralysis can occur through tick-borne encephalitis.
All-in-all, ticks are nasty skin parasites which can cause a range of diseases and certain species can paralyse and kill an animal. Concerned cat and dog owners need to be aware of this.
Sources: numerous! About 10 sources.
SOME MORE ON TICKS: