Vets predict deadly tick season

Hidden danger ... University of Sydney Veterinary Hospital vet Christina Zhu inspects Oscar who was bitten by a tick on holiday in Jervis Bay in May.

Hidden danger ... University of Sydney Veterinary Hospital vet Christina Zhu inspects Oscar who was bitten by a tick on holiday in Jervis Bay in May.

The number of paralysis tick cases in pets has nearly doubled in the past two years, and the figures are set to increase.

Vets are bracing themselves for a worse tick season, which has started earlier then previous years due to the weather.

''We've had a fairly mild winter, which is perfect breeding conditions for ticks this year,'' vet Peter Higgins said.

In 2010, the national Disease Watchdog database recorded 1640 cases of tick paralysis in pets across Australia. Last year, nearly 2400 cases were reported.

Since January, there have been more than 2700 cases of tick paralysis, with the highest number of cases recorded in the past two months.

''One of the reasons we may be seeing more numbers is that we do have more vets collecting data,'' said Mark Kelman, a former vet and the founder of Disease Watchdog.

''Based on data and anecdotal discussions with vets, it does seem that this could potentially be the worst season of tick cases.''

Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are one of the most dangerous parasites in the bush for dogs, cats and young children.

The ticks are carried by native animals like bandicoots and breed predominantly along the east coast in warm and humid weather.

According to the database, some of the worst paralysis tick areas in NSW are in Moruya, Tuross Head, Warners Bay and Port Macquarie.

There are several stages of physical symptoms after a dog or cat gets bitten.

Owners will commonly see their pet with wobbly legs, vomiting and choking and notice a change in their meow or bark. Eventually, breathing will become extremely laboured as the toxin attacks the respiratory muscles.

Michael Gerber, whose dog Oscar was bitten by a paralysis tick in May, said he first noticed Oscar's mouth drooping after coming home from a holiday near Jervis Bay.

''It was horrible. I cried. My children cried,'' Mr Gerber said. ''It's made me more determined to clip him this season because it's something you don't want to risk again.''

Paralysis tick bites are usually treated with an anti-toxin serum.

However, if a dog or cat is ever bitten again, they can have an allergic reaction to the serum and the chances of dying are much higher with subsequent treatments, vets say.

"Anaphylaxis can occur whereby the body mounts an immune response against the antigens that are in the serum,'' said Christina Zhu, a vet at the University of Sydney Veterinary Hospital where Oscar was treated.

''The second time the animal's immune system gets challenged with these antigens, it's going to have an adverse reaction.''

Dr Zhu said that it is important to check your pet every time they've been out in bushland. She said it can take between three and 14 days after a tick bite before the animal shows any clinical signs of being affected.

However, Dr Higgins said a large dog could die within 36 hours of being bitten.

This story Vets predict deadly tick season first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.