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The Paralysis Tick

In many areas of Australia the onset of Spring means and increase in the incidence of certain conditions and parasites in our pets. One of the most concerning of these is the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus). It is quite amazing how much such a small creature can cause to your pet. Current research is improving our understanding of what is happening during a case of tick paralysis and hence treatment is better, but of course we would still prefer to prevent tick paralysis than treat it.
  1. The Tick
  2. What do they look like?
  3. The Problem
  4. Clinical Signs of Tick Paralysis
  5. Treatment
  6. What to do if you find a tick?
  7. Tick Prevention
  8. Immunity

Ixodes holocyclus

The Paralysis Tick

The Paralysis or Scrub Tick is found along the Eastern coast of Australia and lives on Bandicoots and Possums causing them no problems as they have acquired immunity. The tick attaches to dogs and cats as they brush past foliage in bush land, near creeks or even in your own back yard. They are particularly evident on warm days when it has rained previously. Once they attach at a suitable site they begin to engorge with blood and after adequate feeding will start injecting a potent toxin. The season is August through until February but they have been found nearly all year round.


What do they look like?

There a few species of tick which you may find on your pet. Those that aren't the paralysis tick are quite harmless. Being an arachnid all ticks have mouthparts and eight legs when adults. Their size can vary from pinhead size when larval up to thumbnail size when fully engorged. The paralysis tick varies in appearance from the other in that it has a light greyish coloured body, it's legs all originate from the front of it's body and the 1st and 4th legs on each side are often brown. After a paralysis has been attached for a while there may be a skin reaction which can last for some time after the tick is gone.


The Problem

When the paralysis tick attaches to your dog or cat it produces a toxin which it injects into the host while it is feeding. This toxin binds to nerves where they join the muscles and inhibit the action of the muscles leading to paralysis. The muscles most commonly affected are the muscles around the throat which control swallowing, the hind limb muscles and the diaphragm. The oesophagus (food pipe) is also effected in this way meaning that swallowing is difficult and fluids (eg saliva) can pool in the oesophagus causing gagging.

It is now known that part of the tick poison has a direct effect on the heart muscle causing a type of heart failure which leads to a build up of fluid in the lungs.


Clinical Signs

After a tick has been attached for a few days the following signs may be seen:
  • Change of voice - bark/meow sounds different
  • Glazed look in the eyes
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Drooling due to an inability to swalllow
  • Forced breathing due to paralysis of muscles associated with breathing
  • Grunting while breathing
  • Coughing/Gagging
  • Weakness in legs or inability to get up
* Contact your Vet if displays any of the above signs - early treatment is much more successful and cheaper than a 'wait & see and starting treatment later.



The treatment of tick paralysis varies from case to case. One case can be very different from the next depending on which organ systems are mostly effected. Each case must be assessed to see what is the main effect of the tick in this particular case. This can only be determined by your Veterinarian.


What to do if you find a tick on your pet?

This has been an area of great debate over the years. The latest thinking is to remove it quickly with a pair of tweezers - go as close to the skin as you can and twist (either way). Once removed there is often a wound left behind which can persist as a lump for weeks. Often pieces of the mouth parts of the tick may be left behind - these are harmless, also the paralysis tick does not burrow it's head into the skin as is often said.

It was once thought the tick needed to be dead before you could remove it safely, but this is not the case. If you aren't confident you can remove the tick quickly and cleanly, then you certainly can kill it first before removing it. To kill it you can apply directly to the tick any pyrerthrin based solution or derivatives of this [eg Pyrethrin rinse (Fido's), permethrin rinse (Permoxin), even the knockdown fly sprays are suitable (not surface sprays)]. You can also apply a drop of Frontline directly to the tick. When the tick begins to shrivel it is usually dead

Importantly, don't apply anything irritant eg petrol, kerosene, turps etc these may stimulate the tick before killing it and cause skin damage to your pet.



The most important thing to be aware of is that nothing is 100% effective against the paralysis tick. Some products are very effective but all products registered for the control of paralysis tick still recommend daily searching for ticks.

Oral Prevention:
Nexgard - given orally every month for tick and flea protection. [*only for dogs]
Bravecto - given orally every three months for tick and flea prevention. [*only for dogs]

Frontline PLUS - when applied every 2 weeks Frontline will help to prevent tick paralysis by killing the tick or rendering it unable to do harm. [*only for dogs]
Frontline Original - when applied every 2 weeks Frontline will help to prevent tick paralysis by killing the tick or rendering it unable to do harm. [*only for dogs]
Advantix - when applied every 2 weeks Advantix will help to prevent tick paralysis by killing the tick or rendering it unable to do harm.[*only for dogs]

Tick Collars work by slowly releasing an active ingredient which spreads over the coat. The tick collars (Preventic, Kiltix) we have at VetStop can be used with other forms of tick control for an extra level of prevention if you wish.

Permoxin contains permethrin which, when applied according to the directions will give a limited time of tick prevention.

Read more about all these preventatives here



Some dogs and cats will develop immunity to ticks over several years of low grade exposure. If an animal is affected and recovers from a case of tick paralysis this does NOT make them immune. In fact, if they are affected within a few weeks of the initial case they will suffer more seriously the second time.