A cute little Maltese Terrier named Bella came in to Animal Emergency Service during spring 2011. Bella was in a bad way. She was unable to stand up and had difficulty catching her breath.
Dr Patrice Callaghan found a paralysis tick attached above her left eye. Bella’s owner had suspected a tick was causing the problem and knew what to look for, but did not find the tick despite several searches. Ticks can be really hard to find, even in dogs with short hair, let alone a Maltese Terrier with a beautiful coat!
Bella was admitted to hospital, and we gave her the life saving tick anti serum. This is essential even if the tick has been removed. Ticks can inject a lethal dose of toxin into a pet by the time of the first signs of wobbliness in the legs. Without treatment a pet can die despite removing the tick.
Bella had a very short haircut and a tick bath in hospital to make sure there were no other ticks hiding on her body. We could not feed her in hospital because her swallowing reflex was paralysed and she was at risk of inhaling her food or water. We kept Bella on an intravenous drip to keep her well hydrated.
The Animal Emergency Service looks after patients who become ill on weekends and at night. When Bella did not get better overnight, she was transferred to her regular veterinarian, Dr Justin Ward of Coomera Springs Veterinary Surgery to continue her convalescence the next morning. Pets with tick paralysis often take several days to recover, and severely affected dogs and cats may take a week or more.
We are happy to report that Bella has fully recovered from tick paralysis, although she has been kept inside for the past two weeks on restricted exercise. Bella was lucky, because her owner noticed the problem early and brought Bella straight to a veterinary hospital. Unfortunately, not all pets are as lucky as Bella.
Some pets with tick paralysis develop severe breathing problems and can die of respiratory failure. These patients can still survive the paralysis in most cases if they are put on full life support and an artificial ventilator takes over their breathing to allow them time to recover. The best way of treating tick paralysis is to get in early, before these complications arise, because the life support is very difficult, expensive, and there is no guarantee of success.
Paralysis ticks are parasites which live on native animals. Most Australian wildlife is immune to the toxin secreted by the tick, but cats and dogs are very susceptible and will develop paralysis, breathing difficulty, and death if they are exposed to a tick. Cats and dogs are exposed to ticks if they go anywhere which is frequented by wild animals, including bandicoots and possums.
There are epidemic numbers of paralysis tick patients at this time of year. Every pet who goes outside is at risk from this dreadful parasite, and needs a tick control program. Search your pets for ticks daily, especially during the highest risk months of August through to February each year. If you find a tick on your pet, or they show any signs of walking difficulty or breathing difficulty please call your veterinarian straight away. If this happens outside normal hours, call the Animal Emergency Service.