Rain after a dry period usually results in a massive hatch of immature ticks, and animals walking in thick grass or bush have an excellent chance of picking up one or more ticks.
The immature ticks climb onto the leaves of grasses and bushes and attach themselves to the animal as it pushes through. They quickly burrow beneath the animal’s hair and thrust sharp mouthparts through the skin to suck blood.
To facilitate feeding over a long period the tick secretes an anti-coagulant into the skin of the host. It is the absorption of this substance that produces severe toxic effects that can endanger the life of the animal.
At first, the affected dog displays no ill effects. It usually takes at least 4 days for the first symptoms to appear. If there are numbers of ticks attached, and if the dog is small, ill effects may appear sooner.
In cold weather or where the site of attachment of a single tick is an area not richly supplied with blood, symptoms may not be observed for 7 to 10 days.
The first signs are a weakness of the back legs and a reluctance to jump or go upstairs. The dog may move with a wobbling gait and may fall over if it tries to move quickly. Soon it prefers to lie down and is unable to stand if called.
The toxin from the tick causes an ascending paralysis of the spinal cord. As the effects of the toxin move further up the cord, the muscles of respiration become affected and breathing labored. Left untreated, breathing becomes more and more distressed and the dog finally dies.
The first thing to do is to remove any ticks which may have attached to the dog. If they are sufficiently large, they can be grasped between the thumb and finger, and with steady traction applied for several seconds, the tick will release its hold and come out without leaving the head in the dog. Even if the head did not come out with the tick, it would not hurt to leave it there.
Forceps can be used if the tick is too small to grasp. Lever the head out by placing an opened pair of scissors or forceps around the mouthparts and jerking the tick away from the skin. Try not to squeeze the tick before removing it, as this releases more toxins.
The search for the tick should never stop after one is found since several may be present and be causing the symptoms. If your dog shows any of the symptoms of paralysis described, seek the help of your veterinary surgeon.
It is better, as a general rule, not to give pets drenches designed to provide food or fluids to treat the condition, as there is frequently present a partial paralysis of the throat which makes swallowing very difficult. There is a likelihood, therefore, that some of these materials would go down the wrong way and cause a fatal pneumonia, by keeping the animal comfortable without distressing it, is a most important aid to recovery.
Fortunately, there is a specific antitoxin against the effects of the tick. If treatment is sought before the respiration is too badly affected, tick paralysis can be reversed. The antitoxin must be administered intravenously and insufficient doses.
The weight of the dog and the number of ticks attached to it determine how many antitoxins will be required. As the animal is unable to eat and drink due to the paralyzing effect of the toxin on the muscles of swallowing, intravenous feeding is necessary while the dog is recovering. Tranquilizers are administered to calm the dog, as it is usually in a very distressed state by the time treatment is sought.
Tick serum is produced in special laboratories from the blood of animals which have become immune by gradually increasing the period to which they have been exposed to numbers of attached immature ticks. The serum is very costly to produce so that a course of treatment involving large doses of antiserum and hospitalization is very expensive.
Every dog and cat traveling to the coast should be given some form of protection against ticks. The newer forms of flea collars are claimed to give some measure of protection, but should not be relied upon too heavily. Most collars quickly lose their effectiveness if they get wet, and the concentration of insecticide in a large breed or an animal with a heavy coat is probably not sufficient to inhibit the burrowing tick.
Insecticide washes, such as flea and tick shampoo, are effective for up to a week but of course, are of no value if the dog swims. Flea powders and sprays cannot be applied effectively all over the body, and they also wash off.
Probably the most effective all-round prevention measure is the use of Advantix. These contain effective ingredients. The topical formula is distributed evenly throughout the dog’s skin and is sufficient to kill the immature tick before it has a chance to produce any ill effects.
For advice on the prevention of tick paralysis for your particular pet, it is wise to consult your veterinarian.