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Aside from certain species of spider, ticks are amongst the most dangerous pests we deal with; if left unchecked and untreated, they have the capacity to cause considerable harm to both you and your pets. If you suspect that there is a potential tick problem on your property, contact us immediately; a pest management technician will zero in on any infestation and duly deal with it before they have chance to cause any harm.
The two varieties of tick that are often found around any Australian home are:
- Brown ticks
- Paralysis ticks
Brown dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus
Although not as life threatening as the paralysis tick the brown dog tick can cause an irritating skin condition when in large numbers. The blood loss in dogs can cause anaemia and they can becomes listless. Tick numbers will increase rapidly if dogs are left without treatment; very high tick infestations may kill dogs.
THE LIFE CYCLE
Tick are excellent survivors. They lay large numbers of eggs and can survive several months without feeding. There are four stages of the life cycle of the tick: egg, larva, nymph and adult. The adult female tick leaves the dog after it is fully engorged and seeks out a dark sheltered location to lays its’ eggs – all 4000 of them. This may be in leaf litter, soil or under your lounge chair. The eggs hatch into reddish brown larvae, which are very small and difficult to see. They may be found crawling up walls. They attach to the dog and feed until engorged. Then they drop off the dog and moult to become nymphs. Nymphs are larger than larvae and can be distinguished by having eight legs instead of six. Nymphs also feed on blood until they are engorged and then drop off the host. They then develop into female or male adults. The female attaches and starts to feed.
The engorged female represents the largest and most obvious stage in the cycle. Engorged females are about 12mm in length and are brown to blue/grey in colour, with dark brown legs. Male ticks are much smaller, shiny dark brown in colour and actively move about. They do not engorge like the females, but may be found close to females. All adult ticks have eight legs.
Constant reinfestation will occur if the dog’s environment is contaminated with tick larvae and nymphs. Treat the dogs resting area, bedding, and crevices in the kennel and any other items in the vicinity will harbour ticks. So treat or remove them all.
Ticks will shelter in cracks and crevices associated with brickwork, skirting boards and mouldings.
RECOMMENDED ACTIONS FOR SEVERE PROBLEMS
1. Contact Frontline Pest Management to spray your house and yard.
2. Treat dog with Frontline Plus or similar.
3. Restrict the dogs movements to treated areas so no ticks are picked up from elsewhere.
4. Treat all dogs at the same time.
5. Do not allow dogs with ticks into your yard.
6. Persist with treatment for at least four months.
Prevention is the best strategy for controlling ticks. Regular grooming and inspection of dogs is essential for management. Treat dogs when tick numbers are low and keep infestations low. If tick numbers are allowed to increase, control becomes a costly and prolonged exercise.
The Paralysis Tick of Australia Ixodes holocyclus
Tick paralysis occurs when toxins from the saliva of the tick enter the bloodstream of the host on which it is feeding. The toxin causes symptoms within 2-7 days, beginning with weakness in both legs which progresses to paralysis. The paralysis ascends to the trunk, arms, and head within hours and may lead to respiratory failure and death.
Experiments have indicated that the greatest amount of toxin is produced between the fifth and seventh day of attachment (often initiating or increasing the severity of symptoms), although the timing may vary depending on the species of tick. Spring is the peak season for tick paralysis because this is when the ticks moult and develop into the final adult stage of their life cycle (it is the adult stage that also produces the most toxins during feeding). Sporadic cases of tick paralysis, however, can occur all year, even in mid-winter.
Once attached the female draws blood and gradually swells. In typical warmer weather conditions the initial engorgement is slow but after four or more days it becomes very rapid. The rapid engorgement phase is also associated with the greatest injection of the toxic saliva.
The dog or cat may show a great variety of signs that may be very subtle in the early stages. Early signs include lethargy, inappetance, apparent groaning when lifted, altered voice (bark/meow), noisy panting, coughing, drooling of saliva, gagging, regurgitation (dogs) and enlarged pupils (cats). Occasionally a single limb may appear to be weak or lame. A tick attached to the side of the face may cause loss of blink reflex, corneal ulceration and an ocular discharge. A tick attached near the anus can cause anal incontinence.
As toxicity progresses the combination of signs becomes more characteristic of tick poisoning. There is progressive limb weakness which is seen first in the hind legs. A dog may appear to walk as though ‘drunken’ (ataxic). There may be an inability to climb stairs or an inability to turn in tight circles without stumbling. The respiration may become slower and have a grunt at the end of expiration. Some animals are easily panicked at this stage and should be handled calmly (especially cats).
Ultimately paralysis becomes so severe that an animal is unable to stand or even lift its head. The breathing becomes slow, exaggerated and gasping. A foul odour on the breath can signal aspiration pneumonia. Although pain is not regarded as being a feature of tick paralysis animals would appear to be in severe distress. Finally mucous membranes develop a bluish hue (cyanosis). A state of coma indicates that death is imminent.
It is important to note that when the Australian paralysis tick is removed, the signs usually continue to worsen for up to 48 hours, though worsening is usually most pronounced in the first 12–24 hours after removal.
The primary treatment for tick paralysis is the careful administration of anti-tick serum. The effectiveness of anti-tick serum is most dependent on how early it is administered. Early treatment offers the best chance of full recovery.
Prevention of tick paralysis is mostly achieved by a combination of daily searching and the use of tick-repelling or tick-killing agents. These may be topical sprays, rinses and collars or systemic oral insecticides. Some owners decide to clip the fur short to help detect ticks.
Daily searching usually gives a person a few days to find an attached tick. However ticks at the early stage of attachment are small and flat and so easily missed. Whilst most ticks on dogs are found around the head, neck and shoulders, they can be anywhere on the dog’s surface. They are easily missed on the face, legs and between the toes. Occasionally they are found inside the lips, ear canals, prepuce or vulva, and anus. Cats mostly have ticks where they cannot reach to groom themselves – often on the back of the neck. Matted coats and skin with lumpy lesions also make it more difficult to find ticks. Some veterinarians perform a close clip of the entire coat to help find attached ticks.