Ticked Off!

Pet owners need to be on the watch for paralysis ticks this season with veterinary clinics around Townsville reporting a dramatic rise in cases.

TICK: A microscopic photo of the Australian Paralysis Tick
PHOTO: Matt Allworth (Flikr)

By Sophie Kesteven

Head of the JCU Veterinary Emergency Centre and Hospital in Townsville Dr Philip Judge (pictured right) has seen the increase first-hand.

“Over the last two-and-a-half years we would have seen around 10 cases of tick paralysis per year,” he said.

“We have probably seen 15 cases in the last two months this year alone.”

Dr Judge said the spike in blood-sucking pests could be due to climatic changes in the middle of winter when Townsville experienced uncharacteristic rainfall.

Dr Judge advises pet owners to carry out full body checks on their cats and dogs daily, if possible, and use tick-preventative medication.

“The symptoms of tick paralysis start with weakness typically in the hind limbs –owners typically notice wobbliness in the back legs or reluctance to get up and move around as their pet would normally do,” he said.

Dr Judge said it was important for animals with paralysis ticks to be treated immediately as the disease, if left unchecked, could be fatal.

“The paralysis tick produces a toxin that interferes with nerve transmission to muscle tissue and can cause respiratory muscle paralysis and death,” he said.

Controversial treatment

The JCU Veterinary Emergency Clinic treats paralysis ticks by administering a tick antiserum to the animal.

However, Dr Judge said humans affected by the same tick aren’t given the antiserum treatment anymore.

“The use of tick antiserum is a little bit controversial in the human field,” he said.

“If you or I were bitten by a tick and taken to a hospital we’re generally not given tick antiserum at all,”

Dr Judge said this was a result of a study several years ago that looked at the length of hospital stays of people treated with and without the antiserum.

“They found there was no difference in the recovery rates or time of admission,” Dr Judge said.

The JCU Emergency Veterinary Clinic, like many others around the country, continues to use the tick antiserum on animals. Dr Judge said the same level of research on the serum’s effectiveness on canine and feline patients hasn’t been done.

“It is believed the tick antiserum is quite effective in dogs and cats and many vets do see quite a noticeable difference in the neurological function of their patients after they administer it,” he said.

“The antiserum is administered with a lot of other treatments like oxygen therapy and fluid therapy so whether or not those interventions are having an effect on the patient as well is not known.

Here at JCU we do administer tick antiserum because that is what is recommended by tick paralysis experts around the country.”

If your dog or cat is showing signs of paralysis, or if you’ve been bitten, Dr Judge recommends seeking medical attention immediately.