White fluffy dog chasing ball

Ticks

What is a tick?

Like fleas, ticks are ectoparasites. They live on the skin surface of a ‘host’ and feed on their blood - gory, ugly and dangerous little creatures indeed

The tick species in Australia that usually attack dogs and cats are:

  • Ixodes holocyclus - paralysis tick
  • Rhipicephalus sanguineus - brown dog tick
  • Haemaphysalis longicornis - bush tick

Paralysis ticks are deadly because they inject a paralysing toxin as they feed. This affects a dog’s muscles, including those that allow them to breathe. As many as 100,000 domestic animals annually are affected by the paralysis tick, with up to 10,000 receiving veterinary clinic treatment.

Tick paralysis can also affect humans, especially children.

What do paralysis ticks look like?

  • Paralysis ticks are light grey with a body as small as a pin head or as large as a pea. They have small pointed head and mouthparts and their legs are towards the front of their body.

How do dogs get ticks?

Ticks don’t jump or fly, so physical contact is the only method of transportation. They tend to lurk at the top of tall grass and shrubs waiting to attach to a passing host. They can also drop from their perch and fall onto a dog.

What are common signs that my dog has a tick?

Once a paralysis tick has attached to your pet, it might be several days before symptoms show. The signs that a dog has been affected by paralysis tick include:

  • Weakness of the legs - a wobbly gait and loss of balance. The hind legs are usually affected first.
  • Vomiting or dry retching.
  • Unusual breathing – changed breathing pattern or laboured breathing.
  • Unusual bark – different sound to normal is often an early sign.

If you suspect that your puppy has a paralysis tick, see your vet immediately.

The 4 life cycle stages of a tick

Depending on the species of tick, their lifecycle takes about a year or so to complete. The ticks listed above are regarded as 3-host ticks. This means that at each stage of life it feeds and then drops off the host and develops to the next stage. So that over a whole lifecycle, the tick will have three different hosts.

Stage 1 – eggs laid:

  • A female adult tick feeds on its host and becomes engorged
  • The tick then falls off its host into the environment and lays thousands of eggs.

Stage 2 – larvae:

  • Eggs hatch to larvae, which look like very tiny versions of adult ticks
  • Only have 6 legs instead of 8 like an adult
  • Feed on a host, and then drop off into the environment

The mated female flea lays 20-50 eggs per day and up to 2000 in her lifetime.

Stage 3 – nymph:

  • Larva develops into a nymph.
  • Larger than the larva, but smaller than the adult tick (and now has 8 legs).
  • Nymph feeds, then drops into the environment.

The mated female flea lays 20-50 eggs per day and up to 2000 in her lifetime.

Stage 4 – adult tick:

  • Nymph develops into an adult tick.
  • Attaches to a host and feeds.

How can I treat tick paralysis?

Treatment at the vet clinic depends on how bad symptoms are. For a day or two after the tick is removed, symptoms often continue to progressively worsen before they start to improve. A dog will usually need to be hospitalised for administration of tick antiserum and monitoring. In severe cases where they are having trouble breathing, oxygen and artificial respiration might be required.

Tick paralysis can be deadly if not treated promptly.

How can I prevent my dog getting ticks?

There are several tick preventative products available. Even if you use these products for tick prevention for your pet, you must regularly check for ticks all over your dog’s body. Tick problems are more common in the warmer months, so if you live in a tick area, examine your dog every day.