A SPIKE in the number of dogs needing life-saving treatment for tick toxaemia prompted Gympie Vet Services to issue a warning yesterday to pet owners to check their pets each day and make sure they were adequately protected.
The Gympie region, and all of south-east Queensland, is in the thick of tick season at the moment, with the adult population of the potentially deadly parasite emerging from August to February, and peaking in December.
The region's abnormally wet rainy seasons of the past two years have most likely led to higher tick numbers.
Tick paralysis is caused by a toxin from the Australian paralysis tick, which is common in the Gympie region, especially in areas with long grass and overhanging trees.
It is rarer at the coast, but Gympie vet Cathy Milgate said they often encountered ticks in town, especially near the railway line or where there are gullies nearby.
"Tick season in this area is generally from July to December, with a peak in August, September and October," she said.
"We do see occasional cases all year round."
Tick paralysis is often fatal to pets. Even large animals like calves, foals and ponies can be affected.
"We have even seen some cases in yearling horses,"Dr Milgate said.
Tick paralysis is fatal because the tick secretes a toxin into the animal after they have latched on. This toxin blocks the nerves to the muscles.
Usually the nerves closest to the site of the tick are affected first, but the longer the tick stays on, the more toxin it secretes.
"The mainstay of treating tick paralysis is the administration of tick antitoxin," she said.
"This is expensive, and the bigger the animal, the more it needs.
"Prevention is obviously ideal. There are many products for dogs including Top-spots, collars and washes.
"Unfortunately, there is no product licensed for cats. Daily (or twice daily) tick searches are essential."
Dr Milgate said most ticks could be found on the front half of animals, but could be anywhere, including between the toes, inside the lips or down the ears.
"If you find a tick, twist it off straight away as the longer it stays on, the more toxin it can inject into your pet," she said.
"Sometimes this is difficult if the tick is small or in a very sensitive area (the bite of the tick hurts)."
- Pets may be wobbly when they walk or have difficulty getting up.
- This may progress to complete paralysis.
- Pets may also cough, retch or vomit, especially after eating.
- Breathing often becomes laboured.