Tick Prevention

How to protect your Pet from Ticks

by Dr Karen Goldrick
in Pet Care Tips, Community News & Events
14 Sep 2016  |  0 Comments


With increasing warm and humid weather it is time to consider methods for tick prevention. Most often ticks are found in coastal areas, but increasingly there are cases of tick paralysis more inland eg: the lower Blue Mountains.

Paralysis ticks (Ixodes Holocyclus) are more than just a nuisance. A toxin found in the tick's saliva can result in paralysis; usually beginning in the back legs, progressing to include the forelegs, and then the respiratory muscles. Four to five percent of dogs with tick toxicity may die, even if they undergo treatment.

If your pet does show signs it is essential you transport them to a vet, and keep them cool and calm. (Call ahead first, not all vets have tick antiserum in stock). Treatment is always more successful the earlier it is started. Early signs can vary, and can include a change in the voice or bark, back leg incoordination or wobbliness, a change in breathing, regurgitation or vomiting, dilated pupils, gagging or coughing.

Treatment consists of medication to reduce anxiety, tick antiserum, and supportive treatment for vomiting or breathing difficulties. Dogs are often in hospital for four days or more. Stress reduction is essential for tick-affected dogs, and you can use Rescue Remedy, but affected dogs and cats should not be given anything orally because the swallowing reflex can be reduced.

The best treatment for tick paralysis is prevention. Avoiding areas known to inhabit ticks is one option. As we have already said, ticks are generally found in coastal bush, but their prevalence can vary from season to season. Our experience so far this season, is that ticks have been reported in the Eastern Suburbs, and in the Inner West. Ticks are thought to be most active in spring and early summer, but in some areas may be active all year around.

If you live in or are are travelling to a tick area, try to avoid long grass or dried creek-bed areas. Consider keeping cats indoors. Female ticks become more active, and eggs tend to hatch after rain and in more humid weather. If you are unsure whether the area in which you live or travel is a tick hotspot, contacting a vet in your intended destination to check. (It is always handy to know the location of the local vet when travelling with your pet.)

There are a number of chemical tick prevention choices available. In our experience no one method is 100% reliable, and we recommend combining a regular routine of daily checking your of your pet with which ever other product or method you choose. Regularly checking your pet is important, and must be done carefully and thoroughly in dogs and cats, especially those with long or thick coats. Consider clipping the coats of dogs with long hair during the tick season, to make this whole process easier. Search with your fingers as well as your eyes. Ticks when they first attach are the size of a flea and easily missed. Daily checking increases the chances of finding them before significant toxin is released.

Most ticks will attach in front of the shoulders. However, they may also attach anywhere so check inside ears, inside lips, between toes, the genital area and under the tail. Remember there may be more than one tick.

An attached tick looks like a grey skin lump. If you think you have found a tick, call us immediately for advice. You can spray it with Frontline spray if you have some, wait one minute, then remove it with special tick removing forceps or tweezers. If you do not have any Frontline spray, don’t use any other fluids like methylated spirits or turps - they can be toxic, just remove the tick.

Ease the tick out with the forceps so as not to break off the head (breaking off the head does not increase the intoxication, but may result in a mild foreign body reaction). Keep your dog or cat cool and quiet and calm for the next 48 hours and watch for the development of any paralysis. If you are concerned, have your pet checked by the vet.

There are many options available to repel or kill ticks. Some of the more popular products have been available for many years now, and so they are less reliable due to the emergence of resistant ticks. Therefore the newer products will probably be more effective.

Popular options include: Frontline Topspot or Advantix every two weeks, Frontline spray every three weeks, or a thorough 2 x weekly Permoxin rinse. Since both Advantix and Permoxin are toxic to cats, we do not recommend using these in households where cats live. They may ingest some through grooming. Tick prevention for cats at this stage consists of daily checks, keeping them indoors if possible, Frontline Topspot or Frontline spray.

Tick collars laden with organophosphates are also available. We do not recommend these, because of the potential toxicity, and at the beach they are less effective, especially in dogs that swim.

There are two newer products available as oral chews. Nexgard contains afoxolaner which kills ticks and fleas, and is given as a monthly chew. Bravecto uses of Fluralaner for a longer acting (three monthly) treatment. Both acaricides are from the same class of Isoxasaline insecticides. They are effective at killing ticks and fleas, and since their use the incidence of paralysis ticks on the Northern beaches has reduced. These products are not used on cats.

Some people are concerned at the increased risk for toxicity for oral products rather than sprays or topspots, but anything we place on our pets will be absorbed. There is always the potential for an individual pet to react to anything, be it synthetic or natural. Of the current conventional products available, we recommend Nexgard, because it is shorter acting, safe to use in households where there are cats, and effective (especially for dogs that swim).

If you are seeking more natural options, then apart from vigilance with checking, you can consider Neem Oil sprays or washes. These may repel, but will not kill ticks. There is no specific data on their use to prevent Paralysis ticks. Other options such as devices which send out sound waves to repel ticks have no independent data to support them, and we will usually only recommend these as an adjunct to other tick prevention.

We are happy to discuss an individual approach to tick prevention for your pet, as part of a health and wellness check. We can consider the risk and benefit for your pet, for the tick products available. We do recommend an annual detox for dogs on regular flea, tick, heartworm and worming products. A break for a few weeks, combined with probiotics, plenty fresh filtered water, and some milk thistle to give the organs involved in detox a chance to recover.

Contact us for further information or call us on 02 9712 5844 to book your pet in for a health & wellness check.

Read our blog on Get a Jump on Flea Control 


Author: Dr Karen Goldrick

Dr Karen Goldrick

Dr Karen graduated from the University Of Sydney in 1987, and has worked in small animal practice in Sydney and the UK with an interest in holistic veterinary medicine. She has studied acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupunctre Society (IVAS). She has also studied Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine via the Sydney College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Herbal Medicine via the Sydney College of Natural therapies, and the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), and animal rehabilitation.

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