When Dr Joanne Righetti found her cat Leo sitting quietly at the bottom of the garden one Sunday morning, she knew something was wrong. She scooped him up and he flopped in her arms, she put him down and he fell over breathing heavily. Dr Jo didn't even stop to check for ticks, as she was familiar with spotting the symptoms of ticks, she just knew. Leo was rushed to a veterinary hospital where they found and removed two Paralysis Ticks that were buried deep under his mane of hair. Dr Lisa Chimes admitted him for medical care and he had his entire coat shaved off just to make sure no other deadly, blood-sucking parasites were lurking underneath. Leo was lucky - he remained in hospital for three days and made a full-recovery.
How can something so small be so deadly?
Sadly, not all animals are as fortunate as Leo. Not only is the paralysis tick one of the most common, it's also one of the most dangerous. Paralysis ticks can lead to an animal needing to be ventilated and sadly many victims of these ticks do not recover. Paralysis ticks are external parasites that suck the blood from their host animal and it’s their salivary glands that produce the toxin that affects the nervous system on the host. Once paralysis occurs the animal is likely to die unless it is treated quickly with anti-tick serum injected by a vet. It still takes 48 hours for the toxin to be removed so your cat can continue to deteriorate during this time.
How to spot the signs of tick poisoning
If your cat has come into contact with a paralysis tick they will experience paralysis in a variety of forms. A typical case will start with a weakness in the hindquarters that will then progress to total paralysis of all four legs. Other early symptoms may include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or dry retching
- Excessive salivation
- Difficulty swallowing
- Noisy panting
Where are paralysis ticks found?
Ticks need humidity and mild weather to develop and arent able to survive in cold climates. They are most commonly found along the east coast of Australia during the warmer months, but can be found inland in suitable habitats and in northern parts of the country all-year-round.
How can I prevent my cat coming into contact with them?
If your cat likes to spend time outdoors, there’s no way to prevent them from coming into contact with ticks, so the best way to protect your cat is to check them daily. Begin with their head and remember that you’re more likely to feel the tick than see it, so make sure you use your hands. Check inside your cat’s ears and under their chin and around their throat. Move down the front legs and check in between their toes. Feel along their body making sure to check their belly, and then check down their back legs and in between their toes. Inspect your cat’s genital region as ticks can sometimes be found there and finish with their tail.
Want to find out more? Why not watch our video on paralysis ticks.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au