How to treat tick paralysis

  • Remove or kill all ticks to prevent more toxin from entering the animals system.
  • Seek veterinary assistance to treat animals with an anti-tick serum to counteract any unbound toxin.
  • Treat animals for secondary symptoms and complications.
  • Prevent further exposure to paralysis ticks.

Counteracting unbound tick toxin

Due to circulating tick toxin, once paralysis occurs the animal is likely to die unless it is treated with anti-tick serum by a veterinarian.

It is recommended that all animals showing symptoms are treated with anti-tick serum, as the sooner any unbound toxin is neutralised, the less severe the signs, the fewer the complicating factors and the better the success rate.

Find and remove or kill all ticks

Calves as young as 4 days of age can be affected and a single tick may be sufficient to paralyse these young animals. More than 1 tick is usually required to cause paralysis in older calves and adults. Ticks causing paralysis may have already engorged and detached when the animal is examined, but even if ticks are not found it is important to treat the animal for ticks as the treatment for tick paralysis will fail if attached ticks are missed.

Ticks can attach anywhere on the beast, but tend to be found on areas that are constantly exposed to low lying shrubs and grass, so mainly around the head, belly and perineal area (under the tail).

Ticks are often felt rather than seen, especially on hairier animals, so use your fingers to ruffle through the coat, a lot like a monkey looking for nits. TICKS ARE EASILY MISSED.

Once found, the most practical means of removal in the field are to either spray with a pyrethrin based chemical and remove after several minutes, or simply pull them off with fingers or forceps. Grasp towards the head of the tick and pull off with a slight twisting motion. Tick Twisters are another useful cheap tool for removal.

After thorough searching, the animal should be sprayed with a registered product following the label directions.

MOST PARALYSIS TREATMENT FAILURES ARE DUE TO TICKS BEING MISSED

Treatment for secondary symptoms and complications

Stress

Calves should be moved to a shady area to avoid heat stress which will exacerbate symptoms. They should ideally remain in the paddock close to their mothers as transport and post treatment mismothering reduces success rate.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia following lung congestion, or after aspiration of gastric reflux, is a common complication from tick paralysis. Keeping the animal in sternal recumbency (sitting up on chest) is a critical part of the nursing process. A broad spectrum antibiotic may also be required to help prevent or treat pneumonia.

Dehydration

Hydration status should be assessed. If eyes are sunken, or the neck skin remains tented for a second or so after pinching, then the animal will require fluids. This may be via intravenous drips, or via stomach tube. Force feeding of fluids orally should be avoided as the animal’s ability to swallow is impaired and aspiration will result.

Most calves, if kept cool, will be back up and on mum before dehydration becomes an issue.

Downer Cow Syndrome

Nursing is critical for these animals. They should be placed in a cool comfortable area, with provision of fluid and nutrients as required, as well as having protection from the environment. Regular rolling of the animal from side to side, as well as passive range of motion exercises, can improve circulation if the cow has been down too long. The Dairy Australia website has extensive information on the treatment and management of down cows, including videos, fact sheets and decision aids.

Protection of other animals

To prevent further cases, livestock, especially calves on cows, should be moved to paddocks that are known to have a low risk of tick paralysis problems.

Paddocks with evidence of bandicoot activity are best avoided as bandicoots are the primary host of the paralysis tick. Bandicoots are often found in open grassland paddocks where Black Wattle and Sally Wattle grow.

Paddocks that have been burnt in the last 5 years are lower risk, as fire destroys the bugs in the leaf litter that the bandicoots seek.

The worst times for tick paralysis are October to December, and 'outbreaks' coincide with a drop in barometric pressure.

Use a tick preventative on the livestock.