Vets are urging pet owners to stick to their tick prevention routine all year round, after a recent study found deadly paralysis ticks can be just as prevalent in winter as the summer months.
National Tick Awareness Month for Pets was launched August 1, and vets are delivering a crucial message to pet owners: the paralysis tick can strike any time of the year.
While many pet owners associate tick threats with the balmy days of spring and early summer, the reality is starkly different.
The findings come as the Australian Paralysis Tick Advisory Panel, which consists of veterinary and scientific experts, look to spotlight the dangers of paralysis ticks.
Author of the study, Professor Stephen Barker from the University of Queensland, says despite the impact of paralysis ticks on Australian pets, there is still a lot that is poorly understood about these parasites.
“While it is known that there are peak seasons for tick paralysis, the study reminds us that cases still occur outside the traditional high-risk period in spring and early summer,” Professor Barker says.
“Cases are being seen year-round, including during the cooler winter months.
“This finding further validates the call for dog owners to be compliant with using an effective tick control product all year-round.
“”People living in non-paralysis tick zones should also remain vigilant, especially when travelling with their pet.”
What are paralysis ticks?
Paralysis ticks are parasites that live by feeding on blood.
As they feed, they inject dogs with a neurotoxin, and this can cause signs of paralysis.
Complacency with tick prevention can cost dog owners tens of thousands of dollars, and some dogs will die from tick paralysis despite the best veterinary care.
Owners are urged to routinely use tick prevention, like NexGard SPECTRA.
Dr Iain Keir, Group Head of Emergency and Critical Care at SASH North Ryde, he emphasises the urgency of seeking veterinary care for tick paralysis.
“When pets show signs of tick paralysis, it’s often advanced,” he explains.
“Immediate care involves removing all ticks and administering medications to counteract the toxin.”
Clipping the pet’s hair is crucial, as ticks can be tiny and easily missed.
“Patients often need multiple days of hospitalisation; severe cases can lead to paralysed respiratory muscles and life-threatening lung infections, requiring ICU support.”
“Prompt emergency treatment, especially tick-antiserum, reduces the severity of clinical signs.
“For hospitalised patients, preventing complications like pneumonia, eye ulcers, and bladder infections is key to their recovery.”
Kristen Carter’s experience with her beloved dog, Milo, serves as a stark reminder of that ticks can strike any time of the year.
“Our family had gone away for a weekend, leaving Milo with a pet sitter,” says Kristen.
“By Saturday night, Milo wasn’t eating, which I initially dismissed as him being fussy.
“But coming home on Monday, the situation was dire; Milo couldn’t use his back legs and struggled to breathe.”
A quick search revealed a tick near Milo’s ear.
“It all happened so fast,” Kristen says.
After rushing Milo to the vet, he was sedated, treated for the tick, and monitored overnight.
“Now, over a week later, Milo still chokes when he eats or drinks and can’t bark properly.
“But thankfully, he’s walking again.”
Kirsten Carter is one of the pet owners who believed the cooler weather meant ticks weren’t a threat.
“I’d delayed his tick treatment a few weeks, thinking winter posed less risk,” Kristen admits.
“I was so wrong.”
Preventative tip – perform daily tick checks on your pet
Gently move your fingertips through the coat at the level of the skin, feeling for any bumps.
Start at the head and neck – don’t forget the mouth and ears – and continue down the front legs to the paws, checking between and under the toes. Search the chest, belly, back, tail, and back legs.
Remove the collar and search for ticks that may be hiding underneath it.
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