How to protect your pet from ticks and fleas

Fleas are a pain – but ticks can be deadly. Luckily, it’s easy to keep them both in check this summer.

The tick season usually runs from September to March, but there are no hard-and-fast rules for when they might strike. Tick paralysis is one of the most common preventable causes of death in dogs and cats in Eastern Australia, so it’s worth knowing the signs of attack.

Ticks are blood-feeding parasites, stubbornly attaching themselves to our furry family members, sucking their blood and transmitting tick toxin into their bloodstream. If you find a tick on your pet, you need to act fast.


Around 10,000 dogs are affected by tick paralysis each year, with a mortality of around 5%. That’s 500 preventable dog deaths a year – not to mention the discomfort and suffering the remaining 95% experience. Don’t let their tiny size fool you – ticks and fleas can produce a massive financial blow. If you don’t have pet insurance, the out-of-pocket cost can range from $5,000 to $10,000 in severely affected pets.

Signs your dog may be affected

The first thing you’re likely to notice is a change in your dog’s bark. Vomiting is also a common symptom. An infected dog will become progressively weaker and wobblier, resulting first in an unsteady hindlimb gait, then hindlimb paralysis and eventually flaccid paralysis of all legs.

Other signs include:

  • excessive salivation/drooling
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • grunting noises when breathing
  • other abnormal behaviour.

How to prevent ticks and fleas

  • Avoid tick hideouts: Don’t take your pet walking in bush or scrub areas known to harbour ticks. Keep lawns and shrubs short and remove compost from your garden.
  • Use tick control products: Talk to your vet about the best product for your pet. Remember that some tick treatments for dogs are poisonous to cats. Certain formulations of tick medicine also protect against fleas. It’s important to use the right dose for the size of your dog and to stay on top of regular treatments.
  • Search your dog for ticks every day: Do a thorough search of your pet’s skin and coat at least once a day – you can incorporate this into their daily petting session
  • Know the signs: If you see a tick or a crater left by a tick, check your pet’s whole body and call your vet immediately.

How to check for ticks and fleas

Giving your pooch a cuddle is the perfect time to check for pesky intruders. Use your fingertips to feel through their coat – ticks or tick craters will feel like lumps on the skin’s surface.

Most ticks are found around the front legs, on the face, neck, and ears, but it’s still wise to search the whole body. Remember to remove the collar and check around the toes and in skin folds.

If you find a tick, remove it by its head at the point closest to your pet’s skin – don’t squeeze the tick’s body! A tick remover comes in handy here – pick one up from your animal supply store if the idea of pulling ticks makes you squeamish. After you’ve successfully nabbed the critter, dab the area with mild antiseptic. Don’t just rely on home treatment though. It’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible if you pet is infested.


Ticks can cause just as many problems for cats.

Signs your cat may be affected

When affected by a tick, cats get agitated and develop an irregular breathing pattern with a soft grunt when they exhale. They are also weaker than usual.

How to prevent ticks and fleas

Your vet can advise you on the most appropriate form of insecticide treatment for your pet. Spot on formulations are easy to apply, or you can sneak oral pills into your pet’s food.

Some treatments control both fleas and ticks.

For extra protection, vacuuming high-traffic areas daily and frequently washing your pet’s bedding will go a long way in reducing the flea population in your home.

How to check for ticks and fleas

A careful daily check is your strongest line of defence. You’re looking for an eight-legged insect that is a light grey or blue colour. When a tick first attaches itself, it’s about the size of a match head. They get bigger as they feed.

For extra peace of mind, some pet insurance policies will also cover tick paralysis. Real Pet Insurance includes cover for treatment of tick paralysis, so you can claim up to 80% of related eligible vet expenses if your dog is affected (limits and conditions apply, pre-existing conditions excluded).

Dealing with fleas and ticks can feel like a chore, but as any loving parent will tell you: your pet’s health and happiness are well worth it. Read more about giving your pet the care it deserves.