Tick season, northern beaches: Hundreds of pets treated for paralysis

LUCKY: Sally Nicholson and her golden retriever Alva who was taken to the emergency vet with tick paralysis. Picture: Geoff Jones
LUCKY: Sally Nicholson and her golden retriever Alva who was taken to the emergency vet with tick paralysis. Picture: Geoff Jones

TICKS are patient. They often stand with their two front legs outstretched to the sky waiting for the next meal to walk by.

The behaviour is called 'questing' and a tick does it from a blade of grass, a branch or a bush, and when an unsuspecting pet or person walks by it latches on with those outstretched arms. Pets on the northern beaches have already died as a result.

"If a tick attaches and it's feeding well and they're [the pet] not on a preventer it can cause death within two to three days," Collaroy Veterinary Hospital Dr Tennille Bignell said. "Every hour is crucial so don't wait until the morning."

Spring is peak tick season thanks to warm, wet and muggy weather, but pet owners are warned it's a year round problem. Dr Bignell has already treated 27 dogs and cats for tick paralysis since September 1 and, despite her best efforts, some have died.

Of the 207 tick paralysis cases presented to Northside Emergency Vet Service (NEVS) in Terrey Hills so far this spring, 23 pets have died.

For the week ending October 31, 33 pets were treated for tick paralysis in NEVS hospital, with five of them in ICU. The top case location for ticks is Balgowlah (16), followed by Allambie, Belrose, Frenchs Forest and Newport with nine each.

If a tick attaches and it's feeding well and they're [the pet] not on a preventer it can cause death within two to three days.

Collaroy Veterinary Hospital Dr Tennille Bignell

Among the cases Dr Heather Russell has treated at NEVS recently for tick-related issues was an indoor cat who had to be put on a ventilator, as well as a dog that was on a ventilator for 12 days and miraculously survived.

She said the disease is preventable and unforgiving, even if you're just a few days late with your pet's tick prevention medication.

"Once they're on life support it's a 50-50 chance of survival," she said. "Survival is really closely linked to how bad they are when we see them."

A momentary lapse in concentration almost ended up as a fatal error for Sally Nicholson's beloved 10-year-old golden retriever Alva.

After a busy year with a few health issues of her own, the Collaroy woman admits she forgot to give Alva her regular tick prevention medication Bravecto.

A week ago Alva vomited and Ms Nicholson discovered her dog's rear legs had the beginnings of paralysis.

A tick was discovered on the dog's tail during a subsequent emergency vet visit. While Alva is now on the mend after her three-day stay at the vet, her owner said she was lucky she got her pooch treatment in time.

"It's staggering when you think such a small thing can fell such a big dog," she said of the tick.

"I felt like a really bad pet parent, but some things just slip through the cracks, we've all got a lot on our plate."

Ticks can cause illness and death in any domestic animal and while prevention medication can usually kill the tick within 24 hours, vets say this does not negate the need to check your pet's fur and skin on a daily basis.

Signs and symptoms

  • Vomiting or regurgitating
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Lethargy
  • Change in bark/meow
  • Change in breathing, including a sigh
  • Paralysis of back legs, which progresses to the front of animal

Top case locations

  • Balgowlah (16)
  • St Ives (13)
  • Allambie (9)
  • Belrose (9)
  • Frenchs Forest (9)
  • Newport (9)
  • Narraweena (8)
  • North Narrabeen (8)
  • Turramurra (8)
  • Avalon (7)
  • Mona Vale (7)
  • Terrey Hills (7)

Have something to say? Send a letter to the editor at: editor@northernbeachesreview.com.au

Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: