Tick Paralysis in Cats

tick paralysis in catsTicks are common in Australia and problems associated with them vary from the benign “bush tick” which causes local skin irritation to the sometimes fatal “paralysis tick” seen mainly in coastal areas on the east coast of Australia.

Tick paralysis is a sudden onset of weakness (flaccid paralysis) that is rapidly fatal if left unnoticed and untreated. The toxin of the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) interferes with nerve function causing weakness of the limbs, voice box (larynx) and respiratory muscles. Signs usually begin a few days after the tick attaches itself to the body of the cat but can be more rapid. Once clinical signs start they progress quickly leading to a rapidly (within 1-2 days) fatal flaccid paralysis if left unnoticed and untreated.

Treatment involves removal of the tick, injection of a neutralising antitoxin and intensive supportive treatment such as intravenous fluids, nursing, oxygen therapy.  In severe cases tracheostomy tube placement or artificial ventilation may be necessary.

What should I do if I find a tick on my cat?

Regardless of the type of tick found, it should be removed as quickly as possible without disturbing the tick excessively (squeezing it ,etc.). It is better to grasp the tick with fine tweezers as near to the head (and surface of the cat’s skin) as possible and pull firmly but quickly. Cost effective tick removers can be purchased from your vet for this purpose. Kill the tick by immersing in methylated spirits or insecticides. Once removed, contact your local vet immediately. If your cat is showing clinical signs of tick paralysis it is a matter of urgency that it receives veterinary attention.

"If your cat is showing clinical signs of tick paralysis it is a matter of urgency that it receives veterinary attention."

What signs will my cat show if it has tick paralysis?

Signs vary from mild weakness and reluctance to move to an inability to stand, vomiting, difficulty breathing, salivating and not being able to vocalise. These signs can occur rapidly and may not be noticed until very severe.

How can I prevent my cat developing tick paralysis?

No tick preventative is 100% effective so careful DAILY inspection of your pets during the spring and summer months is important to prevent ticks attaching for long periods of time. Frontline spray is registered for use in cats for tick prevention. NEVER use dog tick preventative treatments on cats as they can be fatal. Tick searches need to be thorough, particularly in long haired cats. In summer months it might be best to clip your cat in order to find ticks easier. Concentrate on the head and neck as these are the most common sites for tick attachment and are difficult areas for the cat to groom and remove ticks.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Darren Foster, BSc, BVMS, PhD, FACVSc

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