Tick Paralysis (Ixodes holocyclus)

Well, it’s that time of year again. Tick season. Although this winter we have seen tick cases through the “off” season… global warming? More tenacious ticks? Who knows but we do know that all year round prevention is now required for all of our furry friends!

So what is tick paralysis? Tick paralysis is caused by a blood-sucking arachnid called Ixodes hyocyclus, which injects a neurotoxin into the blood stream, and causes paralysis. One of the first signs that your pet may have a paralysis tick is wobbly back legs. They walk like they just raided your drinks cupboard! The toxin moves through the body affecting many systems, causing (among other things) vomiting, a lack of gag reflex, and eventually difficulty breathing, with eventual suffocation and death. However, this is not the only danger your pet faces when having its blood sucked by a paralysis tick. There are thought to be cardio-toxins, which effect the heart’s ability to function properly. Also, fluid in the lungs has been reported in every post-mortem study of dogs with tick paralysis. As you can imagine, lungs filled with fluid make breathing doubly difficult when the diaphragm and chest muscles are paralysed.

Added to the direct effects of the toxins, there are secondary complications of tick paralysis that can be life-threatening in their own right. Due to the concurrent loss of gag reflex and vomiting, there is a very high risk of your pet breathing in the vomit, and not being about to gag or cough to stop it going straight down into the lungs. The stomach acid in the vomit can cause massive damage to the lungs and result in dire consequences.

If your pet does get a tick and start developing signs of tick paralysis, call your vet clinic immediately, as this is an absolute emergency. There is tick anti-serum available but once the toxin is having an effect, the anti-serum can’t reverse it. The anti-serum can only mop up the toxin that hasn’t already attached itself to a protein in your pet’s body, and is still floating around the blood stream. The rest of the toxin will continue to have an effect after the anti-serum has been given, and after the tick (or ticks) has been removed. Your pet will require intensive veterinary medical support to help them survive while the effects of the toxin wear off.

With all these consequences of a paralysis tick latching on, it makes good sense to have tick prevention on board from the get-go. Currently there are some great products on the market, which have been shown to be very effective and can last for up to 6 months at a time, depending on the product used. One such product available is Bravecto, which comes in a monthly chew, a 3-monthly chew, and a 6-monthly top-spot application. If you require any information about such products or have any questions regarding tick paralysis, just call your local vet clinic.

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