Tick-ing time bomb

Spring has barely sprung, and already I’ve been noticing its impact while treating pets with medical conditions typical this time of year. 

The weather is warming up, and all sorts of creatures that remain dormant in winter reappear. Among those are ticks. 

Probably the most dramatic type of case I get in this season is related to ticks, and is called tick paralysis. 

Whoever has experienced this with their pet will never forget the event. It is very dramatic. Typically the animal seems completely normal (the owners usually don’t notice minor early changes in the animal), then suddenly it appears severely weak, or even completely paralyzed.  

The disease is caused by a toxin that affects the animal nerve system. The toxin is found in the tick’s salivary gland, and is transmitted to the animal bloodstream once the ticks bite the animal to feed off it. 

The toxin causes symptoms within two to seven days after being introduced into the animal’s body. Early signs may include change or loss of voice, vomiting, and dilatation of the pupils.

It then progresses gradually by affecting the back legs, causing weakness and incoordination, which shortly turns into complete paralysis. Eventually the animal becomes unable to move its back legs and front legs, and cannot stand, sit, or lift its head. 

The paralysis also affects the respiratory system, which leads to laboured breathing, and eventually, if not treated, respiratory failure and even death within hours.

The only diagnostic approach for this condition, aside from the lack of other findings from tests, is clinical presentation and/or finding a tick on the animal.

The treatment of tick paralysis consists of removing the tick from the animal’s body. Finding a tick on some patients, especially the large and super hairy dogs, can be very challenging, so often the tick cannot be found.  

Removal of all ticks usually results in obvious improvement within 24 hours. Failure to recover indicates that at least one tick may be still be attached, or that the diagnosis should be reviewed.

To ensure the tick’s removal from the body, I apply a tick-control product. I often find the definitive diagnosis to my patient’s condition is simply the recovery of a tick or ticks after the application of the tick-control product.

Fortunately, this condition is easy to avoid by using a broad spectrum tick-control product. There are a few different products available on the market, but the most suitable product will be fitted to your pet by your veterinarian. He will take into consideration the animal’s health and your lifestyle (for example, a tendency to walk in the bushes, which increases the animal’s exposure to ticks).

It is important to choose a safe product designed to the specific type of animal, one that is also compatible with other medications or preventative products that your pet may be receiving.

Consulting your veterinarian about the best preventative products available for the seasonal hazards upon us is highly recommended as a way to protect your furry friend’s well-being.

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About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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