Five signs of tick poisoning

The best possible advice regarding ticks and pets is avoid them. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, especially along Australia’s east coast. So the next best advice is, conduct regular searches of your pet to nip problems in the bud. There are a number of preventative tick treatments available to help you protect your pet. Check with your vet about the range of spot-on treatments, sprays and collars available, and treat regularly. These, and regular physical checks, are your best protection.

There are many varieties of ticks in Australia, but the paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, poses the most danger and kills many animals every year. You don’t need to remember the fancy species name. Far better to know how to detect your pet has fallen victim to one.

Cats are generally more resistant than dogs, but whether you have physically found one of the pesky beasts or not, there are several clear indications, similar to both animals, of tick poisoning.

What to look for:

1) Start the search

  • Ticks are most often found in bushy areas and long grass, and are most prevalent from August until around February, especially when rain follows a stretch of warm weather.
  • These peak times are when you should be vigilant about your tick protection and be performing daily searches of your dog or cat – starting at the head and down through the whole body. It doesn’t have to be a chore – this is a hands-on grooming session you and your pet can enjoy.
  • You’ll mostly find ticks lodged on the upper body. Search hard around the lips, chin, around and in the ears, under collars, the back of the head, under the front legs, and in any flaps of skin. But don’t ignore other parts of the body as you run your fingers through your pet’s coat. Use your eyes as well as your sense of touch.
  • Ticks can stay on an animal for up to five days. If you find one, keep looking – where there’s one there can often be more.
  • Look also for signs a tick may have already been, gorged, injected its poison and dropped off. You’ll feel that as raised bumps, with hardened, red, raised skin.
  • If you find a tick, get it off. Use tweezers or a special tick remover that can be bought from most vets or good pet stores. Don’t squeeze the body – it will release more toxins. Try to remove the tick at the point it enters the skin. Get the head out, but if you don’t, fingernails can be handy. Once you’ve got the head out, it will leave a crater in the skin. If you’re unsure what type of tick it is, photograph it, Google it, or take it to the vet for identification.

2) Early signs of tick poisoning

  • A change in your animals ‘voice’ – a bark or meow that is softer or different sounding in pitch.
  • Weakness in the back legs of the animal, or if you pet is walking then suddenly sits down.
  • Vomiting, especially if there is froth.

3) Worsening signs

  • Wobbliness in the back legs.
  • Excessive drooling and increased vomiting.
  • Worsening panting, which may progress to loud/heavy breathing, wheezing and even grunting.
  • Loss of appetite.

4) This is serious now

  • As poisoning worsens, your pet may be unable to stand and his breathing will become heavier. The gums might be cold and blue-tinged. He may be lethargic, shaky or appear anxious, stressed, confused, and panting will be worse and he may be salivating heavily.
  • Paralysis will extend up to the front legs. Get to the vet.
  • Do NOT offer food or water before getting veterinary attention, because your pet’s ability to swallow might be affected, and instead of the food or liquid going to the stomach, it may enter the respiratory tract and lungs.

5) The treatment

Anti-tick serum, administered by the vet. The earlier the treatment, the better the chances of survival. Post treatment, keeping the pet calm and cool, with minimal exercise is important.

If you are concerned about the cost of taking your pet to the vet, it’s worth checking out pet insurance to see what it can offer you in terms of financially managing your pet’s needs.