How To Recognise & Prevent Paralysis Tick In Dogs And Cats

If you live in Australia, especially along the eastern seaboard then you need to be aware of the tick  Ixodes holocyclusis otherwise known as the paralysis tick.

These ticks inject a toxin into the dog or cat (also farm animals) when it feeds.

The paralysis tick toxin causes paralysis of muscles and can result in death if emergency treatment with anti-serum isn’t given.

In this article, we will advise how to identify a paralysis tick as well as preventative steps you can take to protect your pets from this deadly parasite.

australian paralysis tick next to a pen for size comparison


What Does A Tick Look Like – Paralysis Tick Identification

The paralysis tick is easily distinguished from a bush tick if you look at the colour of its body and legs.

The body is a pale whitish-grey that can have a bluish-grey colour when fully engorged.

They have 8 legs, two legs are brown and two are a pale white colour.

The head is brown/orange and the mouthparts are a whitish colour.


paralysis tick

A paralysis tick

Where Are Paralysis Ticks Found?

It’s important to consider where you are located so that you can determine whether you need to use tick preventative products to protect your pets.

The paralysis tick is located along the eastern seaboard of Australia from north Queensland to Eastern Victoria. Their location is spreading, so even if you don’t live in these areas, or you live in border regions, it is wise to be alert for symptoms so you can get your pet veterinary attention.

Ticks are abundant in coastal regions and in bush areas, although they are still found in manicured backyards.

There really isn’t a particular season for ticks, they are present all year round, although they are found in higher numbers from August through the summer months.

Location australian paralysis tick

Location of the Australian paralysis tick.

What Are The Symptoms Of Tick Paralysis?

It’s important to recognise the slightest sign of tick paralysis so that you can immediately look for a tick and seek veterinary help.

Signs that your pet might be affected by a paralysis tick poisoning can be very subtle and include:

  • a change in the sound of a bark or meow
  • trouble eating/swallowing
  • heavy salivation
  • laboured, noisy breathing, grunting
  • weakness or lameness in legs. Sometimes they look wobbly
  • dry retching, regurgitation and/or vomiting
  • a soft cough

Treatment is the removal of the tick and if any of these signs are present then you need to get to a vet for anti-tick serum and supportive care.

How To Remove A Tick

Unlike humans where we have to be very careful how we remove a tick due to the risk of mammalian meat allergy, we don’t have the same problem with ticks on animals.

The most important thing is to remove the tick immediately. The longer it is attached to your pet, the longer the paralysis tick is able to inject neuro-toxin into your pet.

There is no special method to remove a tick. Some people use their fingers, others may use tweezers.

Once the tick is removed, make sure that you identify what the tick is. Take a look at the picture above to help you, or you can contact one of our online vets for assistance.

Our vets can also guide you as to if we think you need to take your pet to the vet immediately or if it’s appropriate to monitor from the comfort of home.

If your pet is showing signs of trouble breathing, lameness or vomiting then you must consult a vet immediately.

It is not uncommon for an animal to deteriorate and show progressive worsening of clinical signs even after tick removal.

Vets cannot stress enough how immediate treatment with tick anti-serum can save your pet’s life.

Why Are Ticks Dangerous?

When the Australian paralysis tick jumps on an animal to feed it injects a little bit of saliva when it bites into the animal.

This saliva contains a neurotoxin that disrupts the way muscles work, resulting in weakness and paralysis of the animal the tick has bitten.

Not only are muscles of the legs affected, but muscles of the throat (pharynx/larynx) and the diaphragm can be affected.

When leg muscles are affected your dog or cat can look lame, or they might be paralysed.

If the tick bites muscles near the eye then eyelids may close and the eye can look droopy and dry resulting in ulcers.

A tick bite near the throat area may result in your pet’s voice changing sound and they may have trouble chewing and swallowing.

As the toxin spreads throughout the body and affects more muscles, your animal’s diaphragm may be affected.

If this happens your pet will lose the ability to breathe and veterinary support is crucial.

Paralysis Tick Prevention For Dogs And Cats

The single most important thing you can do for your dog or cat to prevent ticks is to use a registered tick preventative product.

These products are safe and work extremely well. So well, whereas in the past many vet hospitals were kept busy during summer months with dogs and cats suffering from paralysis, now we see very few cases.

Tick prevention products for dogs:

  • Nexgard,
  • Bravecto,
  • Serestos,
  • Advantix, Advantage Plus
  • Frontline Plus.
    (Please note: avoid use of Advantix on dogs if you own a cat that cohabits with your dog. The active ingredients in Advantix are poisonous to cats.)

Tick prevention products for cats:

  • Bravecto Spot On For Cats
  • Frontline spray,
  • Serestos Cat Collar,
  • Frontline Plus (not tested, off label, applied every two weeks).

It is also important that you perform daily combing and palpation or a “tick search” to look for signs of ticks.

How To Perform A Tick Search

  1. Start at the head, check around lips, eyebrows, in wrinkles and around and in the ears
  2. Feel along the neck and down each leg paying particular attention to the armpits and between each toe
  3. Feel the body across the back, stomach and between the hind legs.
  4. Check around genitalia
  5. Check the tail and any wrinkles in this area.
  6. Sometimes nipples and warts and other lumps can be confused for a tick. If you aren’t sure, our online vets can guide you in a video consult.

Video: Tick Search

What To Do If You Find A Tick On Your Dog Or Cat

It’s important not to panic.

Is your pet showing any abnormal signs that indicate that this might be a tick? (See our symptom list above).

Remove the tick immediately and attempt to identify whether it is a paralysis tick.

If your pet is showing any signs, and it is a paralysis tick – go to the vet immediately.

If your pet is showing signs and you aren’t sure what type of tick or you can’t find the tick – still go to your vet immediately.

Finally, if your pet is not showing any signs then monitor for the signs listed above and if worried, contact our 24/7 vets for assistance.

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Tick paralysis is preventable with good management.

It is a condition that is extremely sad and expensive to treat.

Before we had such good preventatives many pets were euthanised due to tick paralysis, thankfully this is no longer the case.

You can listen to Dr Leigh discuss tick prevention products and myths about these in this video.

Don’t forget to share this article with your pet-loving friends so you can help us spread the word and hopefully save a life.