13 September 2019

Tiny paralysis ticks posing deadly threat to Canberra pets

| Lachlan Roberts
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Vets are encouraging pet owners to use tick prevention treatments even if they aren’t heading to the coast. Photo: Animal Referral Hospital, Canberra.

Canberra vets are warning pet owners to be on the lookout for paralysis ticks after an early start to the season.

Dr Jacob Michelsen, a specialist small animal surgeon at Canberra’s Animal Referral Hospital, said the hospital had treated several tick paralysis cases this month, including one case where the dog died.

“The owners brought them in but the problem is that they deteriorate quite quickly,” Dr Michelsen said. “Sometimes they go from being a little unwell today to being completely paralysed and not able to breathe the next day.

“If the ticks are not picked up quickly, pets can go downhill and get pretty sick before we even treat them.”

Tick cases normally start appearing at vet clinics in November but Dr Michelsen said Canberra’s warm winter might have brought an early onset to the season.

“The cold weather normally kills the ticks off but I think because we have had a warm winter this year, we haven’t killed as many off,” he said. “It has been dry, which ticks don’t like, but I think the warmth has more than compensated for the lack of moisture.”

Paralysis ticks are capable of killing a pet within three to four days of attaching, with the early symptoms including tiredness, loss of coordination in the hind legs, loss of appetite, vomiting and breathing difficulty.

The progression to paralysis and heart failure can be swift so Dr Michelsen’s advice to pet owners is to get preventive medications.

“The important thing is to get started with preventative medications that are available,” Dr Michelsen said. “Other things you can do is to check the coats carefully but ticks are so hard to see because they are so small.

“Often they are pinhead size when they first attach. They do get bigger but the time from attachment to the time pets get sick can be a couple of days, to four or five days.

“Sometimes they can be between the toes and in their ears, and they can be hard to find. We have seen ticks in all sorts of weird places which you wouldn’t normally think to look. If you see any symptoms, head to a vet fairly quickly. Don’t muck around.”

Paralysis ticks have been known to hitchhike from the coast to the nation’s capital on camping equipment, cars and trailers before finding a new host. Dr Michelsen said he had also seen cases where a dog acquired the ticks from neighbours who had been camping.

“Canberrans need to be aware they are around,” Dr Michelsen said. “Don’t think that it can’t happen to you!”

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