Identifying paralysis ticks & protecting your pet

The Gold Coast Hinterland region is a paralysis tick “hotspot” and our clinics treat approximately 400 cases of tick paralysis each year. Although tick paralysis can occur at anytime of the year, the peak risk is during the spring and summer months. Spring numbers are particularly high if the previous winter was wet or mild.

Tick paralysis causes a variety of clinical signs in animals. Early signs include ataxia, or wobbliness in back legs. There is often a change in the animal’s breathing pattern. Most owners, with hindsight, report that their pet was reluctant to eat over the 24-hour period that preceded the onset of the more obvious signs. Dogs will show an increased respiratory rate or excessive panting, while cats will often have a “grunt”. The wobbliness progresses to an inability to walk or rise. Some animals will vomit, whilst many will cough or gag repeatedly to the extent that some owners report the animal has an obstruction in their throat. As the disease progresses, the respiration becomes decidedly more labored, and ultimately some animals will die due to complete respiratory muscle paralysis.

Tick paralysis should be regarded as an emergency in animals. We have found, overwhelmingly, that delayed treatment invariably leads to prolonged recovery times, and also provides a poorer prognosis. The cornerstone of treatment is tick antiserum, which is designed to bind and neutralise the tick toxin in the bloodstream, thereby preventing any more toxin from attaching to bodily tissues. Unfortunately, toxin that is already bound to tissue receptors cannot be removed. This explains why, despite treatment, some animals unfortunately succumb to the effects of the toxin. It also explains why most animals still deteriorate slightly after treatment. Paralysis of the larynx and a reduced swallowing reflex can lead to some patients developing pneumonia that requires injectable antibiotics. Animals who continually vomit require medications to prevent ulceration and inflammation of the oesophagus. Severely affected animals may also require oxygen therapy to support their paralysed respiratory muscles.

The experience we have gained from treating tick paralysis cases for over 20 years suggests that animals hospitalised for intensive monitoring and nursing care have the most favourable outcomes.

Although we advise that animals in our region should be on some form of tick prevention all year round, it is particularly important to review methods of protection as Spring starts. There are a variety of products designed to reduce the risk of tick paralysis. Monthly oral chews, such as Nexgard, are extremely effective at preventing clinical signs of tock paralysis. “Top spots” (such as Frontline and Advantix) are designed to be placed on the animals neck and repel or prevent attachment of the tick. These products should be applied fortnightly to ensure maximum protection. Tick collars are very effective and last for six or eight weeks depending on the brand. Tick rinses are available, however they only last for 7 days and therefore need to be repeated regularly. During the peak months of activity, we would encourage clients who reside in known tick “hot spots” to consider using at least two different methods of prevention. It is important to note that although modern products are extremely effective at reducing the risk of tick paralysis, they do not provide complete protection. We strongly advise pet owners to thoroughly search their pet at least once a day for the presence of ticks. When conducting a search, thoroughly inspect the whole body, paying particular attention the head, muzzle, ears, neck and shoulders, which are the preferred sites for attachment of the paralysis tick. If you find a tick, we advise that you apply Tropical strength Rid or Aerogard to the tick, wait a few hours for it to die, then gently remove it. Application of Frontline to the tick will also cause a fairly rapid death. Consider having your pet shaved during Spring and Summer as it allows much easier detection of the tick. Keep your lawn short, and try to prevent your pet wandering through long grass or bush as these are tick “hot spots”.

If your pet is showing any signs of tick paralysis, it is extremely important you seek veterinary attention immediately. Prompt treatment enables a much better prognosis. Any delay in treatment invariably results in a prolonged recovery and increases the chances of an unfavourable outcome.


There are four features that help us distinguish the paralysis tick form other ticks.

COLOUR: Paralysis ticks, when engorged, are a typical blue-grey colour.

LEG COLOUR: All ticks have eight legs. The middle two pairs of legs of the paralysis ticks are lighter in colour than the first and fourth pairs of legs.

LEG DISTRIBUTION: The legs appear to be originating from the head or front of the body (other tick species have legs originating lower down)

MOUTH: Paralysis ticks have an unusually long mouthpart, which is used to attach to the skin of their host.