Very aptly, the theme of the Modern Pet Dog seminar held last night ahead of today’s roasting 41 degrees in Sydney, was all about summer time. This first installment about the topics covered will focus on paralysis ticks – symptoms and prevention of those poison-packed pests and how to have fun in the sun while staying cool.
Blood sucking and deadly
Dr Bryn Lynar, a vet from Pittwater Animal Hospital, took attendees through the four life stages of the Paralysis Tick. Both adults and nymphs (baby ticks) feed on mammal blood – typically bandicoots, possums, wallabies and unfortunately the dogs, cats and humans they also come in contact with. Scarily, a mature female tick can lay 1000 eggs at a time. That’s a lot of baby blood suckers!
These tiny pestilences are highly adapted at finding an unwilling blood donor – able to smell carbon dioxide on the breath of animals, then climb on for a ride as they brush past vegetation and possess a highly specialised tool in their head with which to bore into the skin and attach for a feed.
The toxins they inject through their saliva are deadly – even the baby ticks can paralyse an animal. Symptoms take 2-7 days to develop as they slowly inject more poison which interrupts the function of the junction between the nerves and muscle – therefore causing gradual paralysis.
There are four stages of tick poisoning, increasing in severity and leading to death:
- Stage 1 – Mild wobbly legs, panting, voice change, vomiting – make sure you’re looking out for the symptoms
- Stage 2 – Very wobbly legs, increased panting and deep breathing, reduced gag reflex
- Stage 3 – Sitting or lying or cannot stand on legs. Grunting to breathe. Loss of gag reflex and ability to regulate temparture.
- Stage 4 – Lying on side, unable to lift head or sit upright, slow breathing, blue discolouration of the skin.
We were shown photos and videos of very sick dogs being given intravenous drips (antibiotics, fluids, anti-serum), oxygen or even on a ventilator. Prevention definitely pays – keeping a dog on a ventilator (stage 4) can cost up to $2000 a night for a minimum of 4 nights and some dogs may be left with permanent heart problems after even a more mild episode.
Bryn then ran through a variety of methods to prevent ticks including:
- Daily tick checks – if you miss the tick on day 1 you can find it on day 2 (I personally check my dog twice a day in summer). Start at the head and work backwards – checking mouth, eyes, head, neck, ears (including inside), whole body, genitals and also between the toes.
- Keeping long-haired breeds clipped short to make it easier to find ticks.
- Don’t go bush walking if you can avoid it – and especially not after rain.
- Remove the tick with a tick hook as soon as you find it (get one from your petshop or vet) and take your dog to the vet if they have any of the stage 1-2 symptoms as the toxicity will get worse as the poison spreads through their system.
- There are a variety of chemically-based tick prevention tablets, collars and wipe-on products available which can be used in combination – speak to your vet if you are unsure what to use. Readers of this blog will know that I’m personally a fan of more natural approaches and which I’ve had success with (Pet Protector disc and cedar oil spray – Scalibor collar at a push) but it does also require high vigilance.
Hot dogs and cool fun
Maxine Fernandez from Canine Kindergarten then focused on the fun side of summer and doing it safely. It’s really important to consider the dog’s wellbeing such as providing adequate access to water, shade and ventilation, and no excessive exercise on hot days as heat stroke can kill them. Dogs at high risk include obese dogs, squish- nosed breeds such as bulldogs or pugs, those with thick or long coats, those with heart disease, or very young or old dogs.
Maxine’s top tips for safe summer fun were:
- Freezing Kongs with their favourite food or making doggy popsicles
- Wading pools to splash around in or lie in
- Play time with sprinklers and hoses
- Be aware of signs of heat stroke include heavy panting, drooling, distressed breathing, dizziness, staggering, very red or pale gums. First aid includes covering them with a damp towel or spraying tepid (not freezing) water on them and put them in front of a fan (no ice or iced water) and see a vet.
- If possible if it’s cooler inside bring them in
- Don’t leave them in a car even with the windows down
- Avoid hot sand, concrete or asphalt as their pads can get burnt. Apply sunscreen to dogs with lighter, exposed skin such as on their noses.
See how Sydney’s furry and feathered residents kept cool in the heat wave today.
Next time we’ll cover storm phobias and dog parks (to go or not).