The best possible advice regarding ticks is: Avoid them.
Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, especially in this area. The Northern Beaches can claim one of this country's highest incidences of the paralysis tick Ixodes holocyclus. The female of this species is the one that poses the greatest danger to your pets. Not to mention yourself and anyone else in the family.
Because these ticks prefer bushy native terrain and long grass, the worst areas are Avalon, Bilgola Plateau, Newport, Bayview, Church Point and North Narrabeen. But if you live anywhere on the Peninsula, especially on the Pittwater side, you're likely to encounter ticks. Although the worse time is from August through February, you can find ticks all year round. Particularly when rain follows a period of warm weather.
As if that weren't bad enough, scientists suspect that a combination of global warming, recent weather patterns, overgrown gardens, composting and mulching as well as growing bandicoot numbers is contributing to a steady increase in Sydney's tick populations. Compounding the problem are all those shady patches under overhanging branches in overgrown public recreational areas that prove so attractive to pets and their owners.
The University of Queensland has been carrying out research into tick poisoning of pets since 1998. And over the years Pittwater Animal Hospital has contributed to this research by sharing our successful treatment methods as well as trialing new techniques which have resulted in improved survival rates for all poisoned pets. To see a Fact Sheet that describes the treatment in some detail, click Tick Treatment.
The paralysis tick life cycle - They may be small, but they're prolific. The female paralysis tick lays up to 3,000 eggs. After hatching, the larvae climb onto nearby vegetation and look for their first hosts. Normally, this would be a bandicoot or possum, which become immune to the poison. Once they have engorged the requisite amount of blood, the larvae drop to the ground, moult and turn into nymphs. Each nymph will then attach itself to a second host, do the blood-engorging thing again, hit the deck, moult to become an adult tick and find yet another host. After getting her fill of blood - often more than 100 times her own weight - the female paralysis tick is ready to abandon her final host and lay her eggs...to start the whole cycle all over again. If you'd like to see all this in graphic detail, click Life Cycle of Paralysis Tick.
What does a paralysis tick look like? - The picture at the top of the page shows a well-sated adult female Ixodes holocyclus, the three to the right earlier stages of feeding. They tend to be light blue to grey in colour, ranging in size from two or three millimetres to as large as 10 millimetres. But even the smallest can cause paralysis. If you don't have a ruler handy, think of it this way: any tick a quarter the size of your little fingernail can be dangerous, even deadly. Because these ticks tend to attach themselves securely to the skin, they can be difficult to remove. When they are pulled out, they usually leave a noticeable crater in the animal's skin which can last for several weeks.
How can you find a tick on your pet? - Although most ticks are found around the head and neck of the animal as well as inside the ears, they can end up anywhere on the body. It is especially important to search longhaired dogs very thoroughly between the eyes and the end of the nose. The most reliable way to locate the ticks is to systematically run your fingers through your cat or dog's coat. We find using a tick hook like the green one shown below to be the most reliable way to remove ticks. If the head is left in, don't worry as the tick will die and inject no more poison. Always assume there is more than one tick and continue your systematic search.
In case you were wondering, it is true that animals can develop an immunity to tick poison, but it requires repeated mild poisoning and may last only one season. And even those animals that do build up an immunity can still wind up paralysed if they're bitten by multiple ticks or a particularly toxic one. So it's not a good idea to count on your pet being one of the lucky ones.
The signs of tick poisoning - The paralysis tick injects a toxin into its host dog or cat as it feeds. Normally, cats show more resistance to this poison than dogs, but if affected the signs are similar for both. Increased body temperature due to either hot weather or exercise will exacerbate symptoms.
If left to run its course, a case of tick poisoning goes through three stages.
The residual effect - Even when you find a tick and remove it, your pet isn't out of the woods. There's a very good chance the tick could have left a residue of poison under the skin which will then be slowly absorbed. You should keep an eye on him or her for the next two to four days, keeping it cool and calm while avoiding excitement and exercise. Also, do not offer your pet either food or water because its ability to swallow may be impaired. If at any point the signs worsen, call us straightaway. If we're closed, call the Northside After-Hours Emergency Veterinary Service.
Tick paralysis is easily the most common serious problem we see at PAH, and we routinely treat affected animals with tick anti-serum. We hasten to add that it does not provide any sort of immunity. As you might expect, the sooner we see a poisoned animal, the more effective the treatment. Fortunately, as we said above, using the new protocols that Bryn helped formulate has resulted in a continually improving success rate.
Even so, this can be a very traumatic time for your pet. Clearly, preventing tick paralysis is a much safer and cheaper alternative than treating the condition once your animal has begun to suffer its effects.
Preventive measures - While new, improved products are appearing quite regularly, the paralysis tick does become resistant to insecticides. Thus, none can ever claim to be 100% effective. So even if you use one (or a combination) of the repellents described below, you should still search you pet(s) every night during the tick season. These search-and-destroy missions become even more imperative after your animal has been in bushy terrain. A small tick missed one day is often found the next. Incidentally, tick control on dogs tends to be easier than on cats but, luckily for cats, they seem better able than dogs to remove attached ticks by scratching.
Advantix® Advantix will kill both fleas and ticks when applied every two weeks. As well, it may repel ticks. (Because it is water-safe, it is suitable for dogs that occasionally swim.) Advantix is toxic for cats. Please separate your dog and any cats on the day of application and, obviously, do not use on cats.
Permoxin® This is a most effective rinse for adult ticks as well as larval and nymph stages, offering up to one week's residual effect. Available as a concentrate, you mix Permoxin with water and use it as a soaking rinse or spray, leaving it on your dog to dry. You must be careful to sponge carefully around your dog's face to ensure thorough coverage. If you're in the habit of exercising in bushy areas, a light spray of Permoxin will give your dog(s) added protection against ticks. You can use Permoxin as often as every day if necessary.
Frontline® Plus When you apply this preventative onto the skin between the shoulder blades, it spreads over the your dog's entire body, killing ticks on contact. It must be applied every two weeks, and you should not wash your dog 48 hours before or after application. Because the chemical can be diluted by daily or frequent swimming, we recommend you regularly search for ticks just in case. Frontline Plus is not an effective preventative for larval- and nymph-stage ticks.
Frontline Spray® This spray claims three-week protection from paralysis ticks. If you do use Frontline, it should be at the highest dose rate at least every two to three weeks, but no longer.
Tick collars. We have received mixed reports about these collars. On the plus side, they are relatively inexpensive and can work well, particularly at preventing larval and nymph tick attachment. On the negative side, they must be replaced every six to eight weeks depending on the type, they're unreliable for dogs that swim and they have a rather pungent chemical smell which puts some people off. We also don't recommend tick collars in situations where there are young children or multiple dogs who play rough.
Proban® One tablet of this insecticide for every 10 kilograms given every second day offers simple, reasonably reliable tick prevention. We particularly recommend Proban for dogs that swim a lot. It is very important that you do not combine Proban with a tick collar (it could use the same insecticide, effectively increasing the total to danger levels). If you have any questions about which other flea and ticks products can be used with Proban, please ask us.
Fido's Free-Itch Rinse Concentrate® Despite the name, we use this product at PAH as part of our protocol for all cats with ticks. It kills ticks on contact and prevents further attachment for up to three days.
Frontline Spray® This insecticide is effective for cats when sprayed every three weeks, but only if the coverage is thorough. Registered for tick prevention in cats, it is safe to use from just two days of age.
Proban® A tablet that can be used in areas with severe tick infestations. Give Proban every second day to significantly decrease the incidence of ticks on your cat(s). Please note that while this product is registered for use in cats for fleas, the manufacturer makes no claims as to its effectiveness against ticks. However, our experience suggests it works very well against ticks.
Frontline Top Spot® This product is not actually registered for tick protection in cats, but it is used by a lot of clients and we believe it gives reasonable protection if used every two weeks.
IMPORTANT: Advantix and dog rinses should never be used for cats. Also, don't rely totally on the products we've listed here. We recommend that you search your pet(s) for ticks every day as well.