How to protect your pet during tick season
Spotting signs early is key to treating paralysis ticks, which are now common at all times of the year in Australia, warn vets.
"Your pet can be affected at any time of the year"
Ticks can cause paralysis in cats or dogs by injecting a toxin into the animal's bloodstream. While they're common in the warmer months, especially when it's humid, "your pet can be affected at any time of the year", warns Dr Sam Kovac, founder of Southern Cross Vet in Sydney.
"Cases are often worse in the colder months as many people don't think their pet can get a tick and ignore the warning signs," doctor Kovac said.
Dr Doug English, who has over 20 years of experience working as a vet, also confirmed that tick season is a misnomer, with varying temperatures playing a larger role. "Ticks occur sporadically at all times of the year but there is a peak month for cases that is different every year depending on the local season."
"Common peak months are May, June, July, August, September and this year so far I think August is the winner but we are still adding up September cases," English said.
Maggie the Aussie Doodle: case study
9 month old Maggie, who has regular tick treatment, lives in Newcastle and was acting a bit strange for a day or two, then collapsed and was rushed to the vet. She had a paralysis tick and was very unwell.
"The vet bill came to $2,600," said Maggie's owner Jade. "That included one overnight stay. We, unfortunately, didn't have pet insurance. I looked into it when we first brought Maggie home but was overwhelmed by the choice and what was covered by the different policies. Because it seemed like hard work, I left the task on my to-do list. I also, naively, thought a puppy was unlikely to have health issues and insurance would be more worthwhile down the track. In hindsight, we should have got the insurance before the puppy!"
Before tick treatment
After tick treatment
Can pet insurance cover tick paralysis treatment?
Yes. If your dog or cat has a tick, pet insurance can help pay for tick paralysis treatment. Many policies come with sub-limits for paralysis tick treatment. This is the maximum amount you can claim for treatment related to ticks.
Where do you find ticks?
"Ticks love to live in beaches or sand dunes, and bushland surrounding national parks. While they are rare in metropolitan areas, they can spread through contact with another animal who has a tick. So, you can really find them anywhere." said Dr Kovac.
Ticks can also move from people on to dogs and cats. "Even [if] your dog (or cat) might be an "inside" pet, you certainly aren't," said Dr Evan Shaw.
"Owners traipse all kinds of things in on their clothes, feet and fingernails, and what do they do once you've dropped them off in your lovely clean home? Make a B-line for the little furry warm fella in the dog or cat bed," he added. "Just like fleas and worms, ticks will find a way to get into your home."
How can pet owners spot ticks?
Paralysis ticks can be very difficult to spot, even in animals with short coats. Early signs of tick paralysis include: lethargy and wobbliness in the back legs. Laboured breathing, drooling and vomiting can also occur.
You can also "look out for a change to the sound of their bark or meow – if it's a pitch higher, or hoarse, they may have a tick", according to Dr Sam Kovac.
"Get as many people in the family as possible, and use fingers to cover every square centimetre of your pet. You are feeling for something like a miniature Tic Tac – a lump on the skin. The common areas where ticks love to hide is on the front third of the body."
"Don't forget to check the ear canal, between the ears, under the lip, between the toes and armpits. Remember to take off your pet's collar as ticks love hiding under them," Kovac advises.
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