Dog and cat owners are urged to be on high alert after experts warned this year’s long months of unusually humid weather could cause an explosion in the paralysis tick population, putting their furry friends at risk.
The paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) is known to cause vomiting and gagging, refusal of food, difficulty breathing, and wobbliness in the hind legs of pets. If left untreated, the tick is potentially deadly to pets.
It is most active during periods of high humidity, especially after rain, the federal Department of Health states.
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They are found along the east coast of Australia from Victoria up to Queensland and although tend to be specific to certain areas, experts say booming populations could see the paralysis tick spread outside its usual hotspots.
A cat named Chopin has been the victim of tick paralysis in the inner west of Sydney, leading to concern about the parasite.
“While it is rare to find them outside known hotspots in Sydney, I have personally treated dozens of tick paralysis cases while working at various clinics in Sydney,” Glebe vet Dr Emma Hall told 7NEWS.com.au.
“This is the first one I know of which hasn’t been to a known hotspot in the preceding weeks.
“Our main concern is that the past few months of rain have caused the humidity-loving paralysis tick’s geographic range to expand.
“If this is the case, patches of bushland in and around Sydney may have seen paralysis tick populations explode, with native mammals (which have some immunity to the paralysis tick toxin) serving as a disbursal vector allowing the tick to colonize areas such as the inner west, where the ticks are seldom found.”
Hall believes Chopin’s case could be an isolated one, and that “tick prevention is easy to administer and relatively cheap”.
RSPCA Chief Vet Liz Arnott told 7NEWS.com.au that rare outlier tick bite cases do emerge, and can be linked to native animals acting as a host, or shipments of mulch and wet leaf litter from hotspot areas.
“You can imagine that with some movement of those animals like birds around Sydney … that it’s not impossible for ticks to be distributed to different areas.
“It’s not as common as it is in areas where you have lots of native animals moving around.
“The ticks obviously prefer certain environmental conditions and humidity is obviously one of those conditions that will prolong tick activity,” Arnott said.
The wet weather brings an influx of all sorts of insects, and Arnott says it’s best to be aware of “anything that’s insect-born, heartworm-disease is another one that in certain areas people need to be, and hypersensitive reactions to insect bites like mosquitoes and what-not”.
Over 95 per cent of tick bites and most tick-borne illnesses in eastern Australia are due to the paralysis species, according to the Australian Government Department of Health.
The breathing of an animal bitten by a paralysis tick will sound slow and plowed, with grunting noises.
The RSPCA recommends checking your pet daily for small lumps caused by tick bites, and using shampoos that kill and repel ticks if you have concerns.
If a tick is found it should be removed immediately and your veterinarian can show you the best way to remove it, the RSPCA says.
Wear disposable gloves and have a container or ziplock bag ready, with alcohol to kill it.
Aim to remove the tick from the head without squeezing the body. If the mouth of the tick is left stuck in your pets skin, is can cause swelling and infection.