Paralysis ticks are not a problem ex- South Africans are familiar with, unless you come from the Karoo that is, where interestingly they have a related tick, the Karoo paralysis tick. Many Australians will just talk of “ticks,” but there are several species around with only paralysis ticks being dangerous.
Fortunately biliary, or tick fever, (Babesia sp.) is not present in Australia (except in far Northern WA and the Northern Territory where a mild strain is present). Paralysis ticks are widespread in Australia, but are most prevalent down the eastern seaboard with Queensland and Northern NSW being the worst affected.
Ticks are present all year round, but we see a peak in cases in late winter and early spring. We always expect a flurry of tick activity once the weather warms up and humidity increases. Typically this happens after the first good “spring rains” and it is not uncommon to see the number of paralysis ticks increasing from August.
Given that they can be fatal, prevention is the best approach. All dogs in affected areas should have tick preventatives applied year round; the reality is that many people relax a bit in the cooler months. Now is the time to strengthen your defences again! And as an added bonus, many tick control measures will also help with flea control. There are many measures available and it is always best to discuss with your vet what will suit your circumstances. Local risk of ticks, dog vs cat, pet's lifestyle (eg do they swim a lot?), type of hair coat and your budget are all factors to be considered. Effective paralysis tick preventatives include spoton products (eg Frontline® or Advantix®), tick collars (eg Preventic® or Kil-Tix®) and tablets (Proban®)
In high risk areas, such as rural or semirural settings, especially near properties with livestock, it may be wise to use a combination of products such as a spoton and a tick collar. But never solely rely on these products. Physically search your pet daily for ticks, especially after walks. Favourite spots are the chest area, face (especially around lips, ears and eyes), between the toes and under the tail. Should you find a tick, remove it immediately and keep it for identification.
The best way to remove a tick is with a tick hook, a simple plastic device available from most vets and good pet shops. If you don't have a tick hook use a twisting action and try not to squeeze their body as this may inject further toxin into your pet. Make an immediate appointment to see your vet and take the tick with you.
Signs of tick paralysis include wobbly back legs, weakness, a change in their “voice”, coughing, regurgitation or vomiting and difficulty breathing.
But don't wait until you see symptoms – early treatment can be lifesaving. Since treatment can be costly (severe cases costing several thousands of dollars to treat), I strongly recommend a pet health insurance policy that includes paralysis tick treatment. Do it today!