Signs and symptoms of a tick bite
1. A lump
As they bury their mouths into flesh, ticks leave their bottoms protruding, which grow as they feed. You should make a habit of intermittently checking your pet for lumps all year round, but especially during the spring and summer months. It's important to note that even if you remove a tick, your dog still may suffer paralysis, so keep watching out for more symptoms. Generally speaking, it is best to resist the urge to remove a tick yourself as you may leave some of it behind, making it difficult to re-locate.
2. A wobbly walk
The poison that ticks release slowly causes paralysis (hence the name), so another sign your pet may have been bitten by a tick is a lack of coordination (especially in the back legs), or an inability to walk at all.
3. A cough, heavy panting or difficulty breathing
The venom causes your pet's respiratory muscles to weaken, meaning they may inhale food or saliva, which can lead to pneumonia.
While all pets vomit from time to time, if you notice your dog vomits more than twice in one day, or if its vomit is frothy, it could be suffering from tick paralysis.
5. A change in bark
If the pitch or volume of your dog's bark is noticeably different, it could also be a sign of tick paralysis.
This is a sign that paralysis has set in, and definitely requires an urgent trip to the vet. Your dog may not be able to move at all, and its gums may have turned blue due to a lack of oxygen.
How to treat a tick
The sooner your dog is brought in for treatment, the better his or her chance is of survival, and the more effective the treatment itself. It's vital that you have your vet's number on hand at all times, and also get to know your emergency vet options – unfortunately, ticks don't care if it's Christmas day! Typically, a vet will administer the following treatments:
- Administer a sedative
- Perform a thorough check for any missed ticks
- Administer an anti-serum, which will help to neutralise the toxin
- Monitor your dog closely during its stay for any other symptoms
- Provide additional treatments, like IV fluids, oxygen, and check for symptoms of pneumonia
Recovery usually takes between two and nine days; it's a slow process. Once your dog is home, it's important to keep him or her comfortable with a cool environment and minimal stress or exercise. Your vet will likely tell you to feed them smaller, more frequent meals and to ensure that their fluid intake stays up. The entire recovery process can take up to three weeks.
How to prevent ticks
As with any disease or parasite, the best treatment is prevention! “The recommendation from the [Australian paralysis tick] advisory panel is for owners to use one of the newer, very effective tick control products from the isoxazoline family. These products should be used all year-round for dogs that are living in or travelling to known paralysis tick regions," says Dr Leister.
As mentioned, you should also monitor and check your pet daily for lumps, including under the collar, in their ears and mouths, between their toes, and up under their legs. It's also important to ensure it is up to date with flea, tick, and worm treatments. If you're unsure of what brand is best, check with your vet as they will usually have a couple of recommendations.