Ticks on Dogs

There are 3 main types of tick that can adversely affect your dog:

1. the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
2. the bush tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis)
3. the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus)

The first two can be carriers for a range of infectious agents, but rarely cause fatalities. The latter, the paralysis tick is by far the most dangerous, possessing the greatest threat to dog owners.

The Brown Dog Tick – is still a serious pest to dogs. It is unique in that  it can survive for long periods off its host. It can cause dogs to continually lick and scratch at attachment areas. In large numbers they can lead to anaemia.

The Bush Tick – affects dogs by irritating the skin, but can also cause extensive blood loss if infestations are heavy.   Both these ticks are usually brown to dark grey and have the same coloured legs all around the body.

The Paralysis Tick – is the single most dangerous parasite for dogs on the eastern coast of Australia. It can be found as far north as Cape Tribulation to as far south as Victoria. Just one tick is capable of causing paralysis and death.

The Paralysis tick needs humidity and mild weather to develop and will not survive or breed in cold climates. In the northern parts of Australia, paralysis ticks can be found all year round, while in southern areas tock season is from spring through to autumn

These ticks are grey to light grey in colour, with size varying from a pinhead to a pea. The snout is pointed and all the legs are bunched towards the front of the tick, not spread along the side of its body. The first and last pair of legs are brown, the second and third are pale in colour.

If you live in a tick-infested area, you should examine your dog (or cat) for ticks on a daily basis. Don’t try to look for ticks, but rather feel for them instead. Ticks are a lot easier to find if you rub your fingertips through your pet’s coat. In most cases, ticks are found in the head and neck area, but it is crucial to search the entire dog, including inside ears, around eyes, under the collar, under lips, between toes, under the tail, legs, chest, belly etc.

Removing the tick – If you have found a tick, you should use a tick remover or tweezers to detach it from the skin. Simply grasp it at the skin level, then gently lever it off, rocking back and forward levering the tick out rather than pulling on it. Be careful not to squeeze the tick, as this will also cause more of its toxin to be released. A paralysis tick causes a numbing affect around the area where it has attached, therefore the dog will not feel the tick being removed. Do not apply tick treatments, alcohol, etc to the tick before removing it.

It is advisable to take your pet to your veterinarian even once the tick is removed. Residue of the tick’s toxin under the skin can still cause serious problems – the animal can still become paralysed. The poison is still slowly being absorbed and may cause paralysis hours or even a day or two later.

Prevention is essential and you must take precautions if you live in a known tick area or are traveling to the east coast on holidays. If your dog has a long coat, clipping it short during the tick season makes checking for ticks that much easier. A daily search can eliminate the risk of paralysis. Don’t take chances with ticks, they can kill.

Symptoms of tick paralysis – The Paralysis Tick releases toxin during feeding, which find their way to the nervous system causing a variety of clinical signs. Early symptoms include:

  • Lose of control of the throat and voice box
  • Regurgitation and vomiting
  • Staggering gait cause by weakness in the hind leg
  • Paralysis ascending the spine towards the head
  • Total paralysis in all 4 legs
  • Laboured breathing and grunting

Get to the Vet as quickly as you can. If in doubt at all, take the tick with you for checking. Once all four of the dogs legs are affected, you have very little time to seek help. Tick paralysis is progressive and potentially fatal.