A potential nightmare for every pet owner is the paralysis tick but just what should we be looking out for? Katie Cincotta reports.
It’s a terrifying thought to think that a creature the size of a pinkie nail, when engorged in a host animal, could cause paralysis and possibly death in our pets. Unfortunately, that can be the worst-case scenario with the paralysis tick, commonly known as the bush tick or the scrub tick and, in scientific terms, the Ixodes holocyclus.
This sneaky little critter hangs out in warm, wet climates, usually close to the rainforest, along Australia’s eastern coastline. These areas are densely populated, which means it’s a definite possibility that our companion animals might come up against one in the bush. The paralysis tick usually chooses a furry host, including koalas, possums, bandicoots and kangaroos, burrowing into the fur and latching onto the skin to suck out the animal’s blood.
I guess you could compare them to vampires, except that after these arachnids (yes they’re related to spiders) consume their fill of blood, their fat little bodies drop to the ground. A female will then lay her eggs, about 100 of them at a time, which continues the life cycle — a bit like fleas, but nastier. A flea bite can be annoying and itchy, but a bite from a paralysis tick can kill if it’s left untreated. This is why it’s important to check your dog’s fur every day from head to tail for these bloodsuckers if you live in a tick-prone area, especially during summer when they tend to thrive.
Hide and seek
Dr Eamon Grattan-Smith from the Pittwater Animal Hospital says the best way to locate ticks is to systematically run your fingers through your dog’s coat. Owners can remove the tick themselves with a nifty little hook.
“We find using a tick hook to be the most reliable way to remove ticks. If the head is left in, don’t worry as the tick will die and inject no more poison,” Dr Eamon says. Ticks are very good at hiding, so always assume there is more than one tick on an animal and continue your search so that you cover every part of the body where an intruder might be lurking.
Signs of tick poisoning
The secret weapon of the paralysis tick is that it releases toxins that paralyse parts of the body, making it difficult to move and breathe.
The early warning signs are a change in the voice. The bark can become softer or change its pitch. The back legs become weak or wobbly. Your dog may take a few steps but then suddenly sit down, like they can’t hold themselves up.