The Paralysis Tick

Paralysis Tick

Tick paralysis is a very serious and fatal disease and in some areas of Australia, mainly the coastal areas of eastern Australia, is very prevalent. The following map gives an indication of those areas in which animals may be at risk.

Tick Areas

Tick paralysis is caused by Ixodes Holocyclus the tick more commonly known as the Paralysis Tick or the Shellback tick.
The usual season for paralysis ticks begins in late June and continues until late February; the worst months being August, September and October. In some areas though, the paralysis tick may be active all year round.
They are mainly found around long grass and bush areas. The bandicoot is the natural host of the paralysis tick but they will attach to any warm blooded animal.

When a tick attaches itself to your pet it digs in with its mouthpart and begins to suck blood. At this stage it is small, dark brown and has a hard shell over its back. After approx. 48 hrs , when the tick is from 3 to 5 mm long it starts producing a very potent neuro-toxin which causes paralysis. The body of the tick changes and becomes soft and pale blue to grey in colour.

Signs to look for

Early signs to look for include coughing, slight dullness, a change in voice, a grunt on breathing and sometimes vomiting. This will progress to weakness and staggering in the hind legs, eventually leading to full paralysis, respiratory failure and death over a period of 24-48 hours.

What to do if you find a tick.

  1. Kill the tick with an insecticide applied directly to it eg. Mortein, rid or a flea and tick rinse. (Do not use Metho or Kerosene). After 10 minutes when the tick has died it can be removed by grasping it close to the petís skin with tweezers and pulling it out. Often there is more than one tick so check thoroughly.
  2. At this stage if your pet has none of the early signs of tick paralysis, keep it quiet and watch it carefully for the next 48 hours. Even though you have removed the tick the animal can still be affected up to 2 days later.
  3. If your pet shows any signs of paralysis contact your vet as soon as possible. In the meantime do not give your pet anything to eat or drink and keep it as quiet as possible.


Treatment involves the use of ANTI-TICK SERUM. This is produced from dogs that have been made hyperimmune to the paralysis tick from repeated exposure. Exposing each dog to a long succession of ticks to develop immunity is very time consuming and only a small amount of serum can be collected at one time. This process is the reason the tick serum is quite expensive.

Dogs and cats with tick paralysis are also treated with other medications to control symptoms such as vomiting, pneumonia, high blood pressure, heart problems, allergic reactions to the serum, throat spasms and respiratory difficulties.

Hospitalisation is strongly recommended during treatment, as your pet is kept quiet and cool in hospital and doesnít get excited when it is checked. Recovery from tick paralysis normally takes from 2 days onwards. Numerous factors and complications can interfere with the successful recovery of your pet, so unfortunately your vet cannot guarantee that all patients will survive tick paralysis.

Keep your pet as quiet as possible, restrict its activity for at least a week. Too much excitement can lead to relapse. It will take a couple weeks to be fully recovered.

As larangeal paralysis is a symptom of tick paralysis, feed small amounts of soft, easily swallowed foods and water frequently. If your pet vomits or gags after either, discontinue for the next 24 hours.

Pay particular attention for more ticks following a bout of tick paralysis. Your pet will be more susceptible the second time around and there is a greater chance they will have an allergic reaction to the tick serum after having it once already.


Daily Searching Ė Carefully feel all over your petís body paying particular attention to the face, head, neck and shoulders. Always remove any collars and check in between the toes, ear folds and around the anal and genital areas. Long haired pets can be clipped during tick season to facilitate tick detection.

Rinses & Sprays- Organophosphates and Permethrin rinses have a residual effect of only 1 to 3 days, they must be applied to a dry coat and left to dry on the coat, but take care for some of these products can only be used fortnightly or else piosening can occur. Pyrethrin .It is important to read the labels, many dips for dogs are toxic to cats. Note though that there is NOT any one product which is 100% guaranteed to provide full protection against paralysis ticks, therefore it is recommended use of a combination of compatible products and always remember to manually check your pet daily

Back to Articles

Back to Home Page