During the warmer months, pet owners need to be vigilant about the new nasty’s that can affect our pets. Ticks and snakes are more active during the warmer months and both can pose a serious threat to your pet, which can result in death. As pet owners, there are a few precautions we can take to ensure our beloved furbaby stays safe this summer.
Tick paralysis is a deadly condition caused by the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus). The fatality of rate in controlled experiments on untreated dogs was 100%! The female tick injects venom into its host (via saliva) while feeding. After a few days the venom results in muscle weakness which quickly progresses to a paralysis. The paralysis usually starts in the hindlegs and moves forward towards the chest. Once the paralysis reaches the chest, it starts to affect the muscles used to breathe which can result in respiratory failure and death.
The Paralysis tick is more active during spring and summer and common around the Eastern seaboard of Australia. The tick is grey in colour but can be distinguished from other ticks (Brown tick and Bush tick) by its unique legs. The tick has 4 paired legs on either side of its body. The middle two legs (legs 2 and 3) are lighter in colour than the outer legs (legs 1 and 4).
Dogs usually exhibit clinical signs 3-5 days after being bitten. By this time the tick may have fallen off, therefore, the only evidence may be a small red crater where it had bitten. Clinical signs may start off with non-specific signs such as lethargy, vomiting or regurgitation, retching, and altered voice/bark. After a while, this will progress to the common signs of hindleg wobbliness and weakness, which quickly progress to paralysis and respiratory distress.
Tick toxicity is an emergency condition and requires immediate intervention. If you see any of these signs (and have been in a tick-endemic area in the preceding week) please see your vet immediately. Once at the vet, treatment consists of tick antiserum coupled with intensive supportive care and monitoring. In serious cases, your pet may even require a mechanical ventilator.
There are easy steps to take to reduce the risk of your pet being a victim of this awful condition. First and foremost is administering tick preventatives. There are many products out there, ranging from topical treatments to oral chews. Some last a couple weeks whereas others last 3 months. You will need to discuss with your vet which is the best option for you and your pet. The second step is to thoroughly search your pet daily for ticks when in a tick endemic area. Ticks can be found anywhere on your pet but usually like to nestle around the head and neck. They are also commonly found in-between toes, around the ****, in ears and even in the mouth! If you find a tick, please contact your vet immediately to discuss its removal and treatment.
Australia is home to 5 of the 6 most venomous land snakes in the world! Three of the most common snakes that may affect your pet include the Brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis), Red-bellied Black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) and Eastern Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus). The venom of these snakes work in multiple ways and can affect the nervous system (neurotoxin), coagulation, muscle cells (myotoxin) or blood cells. Each type of snake has a different combination of venom effects. For example, the Brown
snake has more of a neurotoxin and coagulation effect on the body, whereas the Red-bellied Black snake mainly affects muscle and blood cells. Different snakes also carry differing prognoses – the chance of a successful recovery after being bitten by a Red-Bellied Black snake is far better than that of a Brown snake.
Clinical signs you should recognize include sudden weakness followed by collapse, shaking or twitching, vomiting, loss of bladder and bowel control, blood in the urine, dilated pupils, paralysis and potentially wound with a significant amount of associated swelling. If you see any of these signs, especially if you live in an area frequented by snakes, please rush your pet to your nearest vet for immediate treatment. Once at your vet, intensive treatment will commence immediately including systemic stabilisation, careful administration snake antivenom (as anaphylaxis is a possible complication) and close monitoring over a few days. Once again, in serious cases, your pet may require a mechanical ventilator.
Time is of the essence for both Tick and Snake envenomation and is literally the difference between a life and death situation. Recognise the signs and act quickly!