TICK PARALYSIS TREATMENT

Tick Paralysis treatment at VSS

Tick Removal

Bites from Ixodes holocyclus, more commonly known as the Australian paralysis tick, result in a neurotoxin being injected into animals which can result in life-threatening paralysis to our beloved pets. Australian native wildlife such as possums and bandicoots are relatively immune to the toxin, and therefore act as a reservoir host for the paralysis tick without showing any symptoms. They can bring paralysis ticks into our yards, parks or nearby bushland.

Tick paralysis can be a devastating disease. The tick neurotoxin affects many muscle groups including those that control the limbs, breathing, swallowing and blinking. Animals affected by tick paralysis can become critically ill within a very short amount of time if they lose the ability to move their chest to breathe, which leads to suffocation. Another common complication of tick paralysis is aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when affected animals are unable to control their swallowing and protect their airways, resulting in food or fluid traveling down to the lungs.

If you find a tick on your pet, it’s very important to continue to have them monitored for any signs of tick paralysis for 48 hours after a paralysis tick is removed as animals can still deteriorate during this time period, even if no further toxins are added to their system. Animals can often have more than one tick attached, making thorough searches (which may require full body clips), and/or application of additional tick-killing medications (if directed by your veterinary care team) necessary.

If you’re unsure if a tick that is attached or has been removed is a paralysis tick, or if your animal is showing any signs that may be associated with the toxin, no matter how mild or even if a tick hasn’t been found, it’s important to seek veterinary advice.

Ticks
Ticks can vary in appearance and it can be difficult for many people to positively identify what type they are. Both of the ticks shown above are paralysis ticks, Ixodes holocyclus. Always seek veterinary advice if you think your pet may have been bitten by a paralysis tick or is showing any signs of tick paralysis, no matter how mild.

Treatment

It is generally recommended that all affected patients receive tick antiserum, with additional supportive treatments and care as determined by your veterinary team. The sickest tick paralysis patients may require supplemental oxygen and possibly even mechanical ventilation in our intensive care units to support their breathing while they recover. 

For more information, view the video at the top of this page, where Dr Chris Halman, one of our Internal Medicine vets, talks more about how to perform a thorough tick search, explains the clinical signs of tick paralysis and how to prevent problems with ticks for your dog.

In the section below we’ve provided additional information about possible symptoms and treatments that may be encountered at the various stages of tick paralysis in dogs and cats for general reference only. Your veterinary team has years of training and experience and are the best professionals to determine the diagnosis and treatment of your pet. If your pet unfortunately becomes affected by tick paralysis, they will advise you on the individualised care plan and prognosis unique to your situation.

Mild Tick Paralysis

These animals might be not quite themselves. Signs may include:

  • Not wanting to eat

  • Less active

  • Change in voice

  • Struggling or unable to urinate

  • Slight weakness when walking

Mild Tick Treatment

If a tick is determined to be the cause of these signs it is best to treat your pet in hospital even after the tick(s) have been removed. Deterioration is still possible as the effects of the tick toxin can get worse over the 48 hour period post tick removal.

Our recommendation is to admit your pet into hospital and have

  • Sedation for treatment and clipping

  • Intravenous fluid therapy

  • Tick antiserum administration

  • Full body clip

  • Application of tick prevention (important to kill any additional tiny ‘seed’ ticks that may go undetected)

  • Bladder support

  • Eye care (animals with ticks often have dry eyes which may lead to the development of ulcers)

Animals that are treated quickly with mild signs are often home and back to normal within one to two days.

Moderate Tick Paralysis

These animals are very obviously affected and are at risk of severe, life-threatening tick paralysis.

The signs of this stage may include:

  • Weakness and wobbliness of legs, with difficulty rising

  • Increased effort with breathing

  • Cats may have a mild grunt as they breath out

  • Dogs may develop noisier breathing

Moderate Tick Treatment

These animals are likely to die without treatment. The sooner treatment is started the better the outcome is likely to be.

Our recommendation is to admit your pet into hospital to have the following treatment:

  • Sedation for treatment and clipping

  • Intravenous fluid therapy

  • Tick antiserum administration

  • Full body clip

  • Application of tick prevention (important to kill any additional tiny ‘seed’ ticks that may go undetected)

  • Bladder support

  • Eye care (animals with ticks often have dry eyes which may lead to the development of ulcers)

  • Medication to decrease retching and vomiting (as these events increase the risk of your pet developing aspiration pneumonia)

  • Ongoing sedation to control anxious and difficult breathing episodes, if required

  • Screening x-rays to detect aspiration pneumonia, if required

  • Oxygen therapy may be needed to assist breathing in severely compromised patients

Animals with moderate signs that are treated quickly are often home and back to normal within two to four days if they don’t experience complications. Some animals take longer to convalesce, especially if they are older or overweight.

Severe Tick Paralysis

These animals have life threatening tick paralysis and may die despite treatment.

The signs of this stage include:

  • Usually unable to stand

  • Very obvious effort with each breath. Paralysed muscles can take days to recover even after tick antiserum has been administered and this exhaustive breathing effort is often unsustainable.

  • Cats may have an exaggerated grunt when breathing

  • Dogs may be retching and gagging. Often these animals will suddenly regurgitate froth into the back of their mouths. Because of the muscle paralysis they are experiencing they cannot clear their throat, resulting in the froth being sucked down into the lungs and causing pneumonia. This development of pneumonia puts the animal at critical risk of death.

Severe Tick Treatment

These animals are likely to die without intensive care

Our recommendation is to admit your pet into hospital and have:

  • General anaesthesia for treatment and clipping

  • 24 hour intensive care to monitor progress and to suction secretions

  • Ongoing sedation to control anxious, difficult breathing episodes

  • Oxygen therapy to assist with breathing. (Even with oxygen these animals sometimes do not have the ability to sustain adequate breathing)

  • Intubation may be required to protect the airway

  • Intravenous fluid therapy

  • Tick antiserum administration

  • Medication to decrease retching and vomiting

  • Medication to treat possible pneumonia

  • X-rays to detect aspiration pneumonia

  • Full body clip

  • Blood tests performed to assess progress and possible further complications

  • Application of tick prevention (important to kill any additional tiny ‘seed’ ticks that may go undetected)

  • Bladder support

  • Eye care (animals with ticks often have dry eyes which may lead to the development of ulcers)

End Stage Paralysis

These animals cannot survive without intubation and may require the provision of life support (mechanical ventilation).

The animal is kept anaesthetised and they may require the ventilator to take over the work of breathing. As well as ventilation, intravenous fluids are carefully administered, blood tests performed, medications given, and additional intensive care provided including hourly physio and eye care, bladder control, regular chest x-rays and constant monitoring. (Please see our information on mechanical ventilation).

Animals may require ventilation for anything from 2 days to over a week. Once they are weaned off the ventilator animals may remain in intensive care for a number of days before being well enough to go home.  Intensive early treatment and monitoring can often prevent your pet from deteriorating to the point of end stage tick paralysis.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact of the Specialist Surgeons at Veterinary Specialist Services.