There are so many misconceptions and myths regarding paralysis ticks; the only sure thing is that preventive measures will go a long way to saving your dog’s life, but nothing is 100 per cent safe.
A quick scan of a chart on the surgery wall at the MyVet clinic in Byron Bay is proof that ticks can be a problem during any month of the year.
Even the month of March, which is considered right out of the season, has produced patients for the staff in Byron – the clinic had two tick patients over winter this year.
In saying that, there is definitely a ‘season’ and we are on the brink of it.
‘Essentially in September, October and November it skyrockets,’ says Byron vet Dr Russell Grigg.
‘There is a seasonal thing. It may be related to the daylight length. I don’t know. There has been no real research, but we are about to hit it.’
Dr Grigg says that ticks are native to Australia and that there are many types, but it is mainly the paralysis tick, sometimes called the ‘shellback’, which is the main problem.
The paralysis tick is blue-grey with all its legs up the front of the body.
The Byron surgery has already had six cases in the last two weeks.
‘Everyone is a little lax at this time of year, everyone thinks it happens in summertime,’ he says.
‘They are surprised when I say that it’s September. I am trying to reinforce that it’s spring.’
Dr Grigg says that the little grass ticks, which are the larva or nymph stages of the paralysis tick, are a precursor to their big brothers and a sign that things are about to get serious.
He says that last year was a particularly bad season and the clinic treated about 10 per cent more than usual and, sadly, not all the outcomes were good.
‘We treated 130 cases last year,’ he says. ‘Of those, five died.’
Dr Grigg says that of the small percentage that died, it is most likely that the owners left it too late to bring them in for treatment, although there can be unpredictable contributors in canine death from tick venom.
‘Sometimes even if they are brought in early enough they crash. They just go downhill and we can’t stop it. It’s a multifactorial toxin.
‘It effects the lungs, the heart, skeleton and muscle. Death is usually caused by respiratory failure.’
The Vickery-Halls’ dog Jack managed to bring one of the parasites home last week and, as a consequence, had an overnighter at the Byron MyVet clinic. Jess and her mum Lois were in fear for little Jack’s life but were fortunate enough to get to the vet in time.
Lois says they knew Jack was a tick victim because his back legs went.
‘This is the first time Jack has had a tick but we live in the country so we see a lot of them.’
Lois says Jack wasn’t using prevention because she imagined it was a safe time of year.
‘We usually do have a collar but it gets forgotten about. We called the vet straight away when we saw Jack wasn’t well.’
You have to be quick, says Lois. ‘We brought him to the Byron vet. He was given the anti-venom and they kept him overnight to make sure he could breathe okay.’
Lois says she lives across the road from a cattle farm and though her dogs don’t usually go near the cows, they think Jack sneaked in a quick visit.
‘We check our dogs every few days but we hadn’t noticed he’d picked up a tick until we saw him struggling.’
Lois says now that Jack is home they have used an external medication and he is sporting a lovely new tick collar.
‘I don’t want to lose my dog,’ says Lois. ‘Not only that, but the few dollars for prevention is much cheaper than the several hundred dollars it cost to treat him – but it’s not really about the money. It’s the risk of them dying.’
Dr Grigg says prevention goes a long way.
‘All dogs should have a short haircut in springtime so you can find the ticks – there are plenty of groomers around,’ he says.
‘Then either a combination of tick collars and external and internal medications. It’s best to talk to your vet about the most effective treatment for your dog.’
He says the underlying rule is that nothing is 100 per cent safe. Pet owners should run their hands over the dog’s body every day and pull ticks off.
‘People worry about killing ticks first and twisting it the right way. That is all fallacy. Just pull the thing off. Get your fingernails as close to the skin as you can and pull.’
Dr Grigg says to watch for 24 to 48 hours afterwards. The first symptoms are usually nausea.
‘Any vomiting or gagging in springtime should alert you,’ he says.
‘Any unco-ordination in the legs is a sign there are toxins in the system. And don’t hesitate to call the vet. Just ring us; you don’t want to leave it until the morning, that could be too late.
‘The people who waited are most likely the ones we lost.’