Ticks are ticked
Did you notice that long-lasting icy winter that never seemed to end?
No, neither did I. And apart from a wet August we never saw sustained icy conditions for our local weather.
And this worries me….
You see, our little arachnid friends, the Ixodes tick, is just waiting for spring to arrive, and it has. With warm days yesterday, rain and wind today, I’m predicting ideal spring conditions…. Ideal for ticks that is.
The Ixodes holocyclus tick is a soft bodied tick that likes warm and wet conditions. And although many people think summer is their peak season, in fact it is spring that is their most dangerous time. The Ixodes tick requires this rain to remain hydrated – too hot or dry and they will shrivel up in the midday sun.
And did you know, the optimal breeding temperature for a female Ixodes tick is 13 degrees Celsius. Each female tick will find a mammalian host, their natural host is the numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) but they will feed on any native or introduced blooded species, including but not limited to, Canis lupus familiaris – otherwise known as your pet dog!
When they find a suitable host, by waving their front legs in the air to detect carbon dioxide that we breathe out, they are attracted to the fur coat on your dog. Even still, they usually fall off without feeding, but often enough, the female will attach themselves burying their mouthparts into the skin, often around the head or neck. As they feed, removing the blood proteins they need for egg-laying, they are secreting saliva – containing a deadly neurotoxin, known as holocyclin.
This toxin causes a paralysing effect on many parts of the body, the most obvious being the legs. Although this paralysis is most obvious, it is considered the least dangerous action of the toxin. It is the other organ systems such as the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and neurological systems that worry vets and pet owners the most.
The toxin can cause vomiting or regurgitation, with the dog being unable to swallow or gag, they are susceptible to fluid entering the lungs causing aspiration pneumonia. Combined with the weakened chest wall and diaphragm muscles to cause breathing, your pet can show signs of hypoxia – a deadly spiral of poor oxygen delivery to tissues combined with progressive lung disease.
Breathing difficulty can be recognised if your pet is gagging and retching, or grunting when they breathe. Their gums may be darker, almost purplish-blue indicating severe life-threatening hypoxia known as cyanosis.
Emergency treatment is required at this stage, and can include oxygen administration, sometimes requiring intensive care ventilation.
Other treatments for tick poisoning include care of the eyes, as corneal ulceration often occurs. Urinary bladder problems frequently occur, and care of the paralysed patients can requires days to weeks in hospital.
The good news is that we have access to very effective drug therapies, and combined with intensive nursing care, oxygen and fluid administration including artificial ventilation, most pets will recover from their deadly encounter with a tick. Most tick patients will require hospitalisation for their treatment, often for 2-3 days. This may cost anywhere from $850-2000. If your pet requires ventilation, then the costs can be more, and some patients have required care in excess of $5000.
So, now that I’ve scared the absolute out of you with all the risks and costs….the better news is that in many cases daily tick searching, with regular use of a good preventative: Frontline spray, Advantix drops or Scalibor collar – will decrease the chances of your pet being affected by tick poisoning. Just be aware that there are no 100% guarantees with any preventative, and daily searching can still miss the sneaky little critters.
If you are not already using a preventative on your pets, then go straight to your GP veterinarian, DO NOT PASS GO! – And ask about their recommendations for tick prevention.
Your best friend will thank you for it!