Paralysis Ticks: Prevention, Insurance Cover & Treatment

13 September 2016
Australia is a nation of pet owners, and we definitely love our pets! The start of September marks start of peak tick season, so it’s important to understand what’s covered in your insurance and the different preventative methods used to fight these nasty parasites.

September is the start of tick season and analysis of more than 45,000 searches on the CANSTAR pet insurance selector over the past twelve months found that the proportion of Queensland-based visitors seeking pet insurance that specifically provides some cover for paralysis tick treatment rose sharply during the spring season in 2015, becoming the single most-sought pet insurance feature. Early indications suggest this trend is set to repeat in 2016, and pet owners are right to be concerned; according to Richard Malik, Veterinary Internist at the University of Sydney, on average, 10,000 dogs are affected each year, 5% of them fatally. That means around 500 dogs will die from ticks each year, with the remainder undergoing discomfort and suffering. What’s more, ticks, if left untreated, can turn into an expensive medical procedure for owners. Bills for paralysis treatment can range from A$5,000 to A$10,000 in the most severely affected patients.

What Are Paralysis Ticks?

There are approximately 70 varieties of tick in Australia but just one – the Ixodes holocyclus – can cause paralysis. As the tick feeds, it secretes holocyclotoxin (tick toxin) into the bloodstream, causing symptoms within a number of days. Spring and summer are the peak seasons, but ticks can be found all year round, particularly if there is rainfall, as humid conditions are essential for survival of these parasites.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Paralysis Tick Treatment?

Some pet insurance policies do cover tick treatment – although note that you will need to have a policy that covers illness and not just accidents. The dollar value of cover for tick treatment varies significantly from policy to policy though; CANSTAR’s research of pet insurance has found that cover may range from nothing up to the maximum total annual benefit limit of your policy (for example, $12,000).

CANSTAR looks at 3 levels of pet insurance; accident only, accident & illness, and comprehensive insurance. Some pet insurance policies do cover tick treatment – although note that you will need to have a policy that covers illness and not just accidents. Below is an example of wording from a pet insurance policy document.

Paralysis Tick Benefit

What we will pay

  • We will pay you the Benefit Percentage for Vet Expenses incurred by you up to the sub-limit shown for tick Protecting your petparalysis Treatment on your applicable Certificate of Insurance, less any Excess.

What we will not pay

  • Any tick preventative Treatments or measures (e.g. tick baths, sprays, etc.) whether recommended by your Vet or not;
  • Any costs incurred in relation to the Treatment of Conditions arising in your Pet caused by the bite of any other species of tick; or
  • For any tick paralysis Treatment or Related Conditions unless your Pet is covered under Illness Cover

Source: Pet Insurance Australia policy document

What about tick prevention? Some comprehensive policies that include cover for routine care and preventative treatments usually cover worm tablets or flea treatments, and many also cover tick prevention treatments.

What level of benefit do pet insurance policies provide?

Whilst a pet insurance policy may pay annual benefits up to, for example, $10,000, sub-limits will often apply for specific conditions. Of the pet insurance products researched by Canstar in 2016 that cover treatment for tick paralysis, the potential benefit limits advised by the insurers were as follows:

Pet insurance
22 policies advised a benefit limit of $500
31 policies advised a benefit limit of $1,000
12 policies advised a benefit limit of $1,200
5 policies advised a benefit limit of $1,500
2 policies advised a benefit limit of $4,000
15 policies advised that they will pay tick treatment costs up to the annual benefit limit of the overall insurance policy


Where paralysis ticks are found

Signs And Symptoms You Need To Watch For

Animals can go for several days without showing any symptoms  – so it’s important to check your pets for ticks every day. Particularly because animals can worsen in health for more than 24 hours after the tick is removed.

Some dog tick symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Loss of coordination, wobbliness in the hind legs, or not being able to get up
  • Reluctant to get up or less energetic than usual
  • A change in the sound of the bark or voice
  • Retching, coughing, or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Progressive paralysis to include the forelegs
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Grunting noises when breathing
  • Bite marks on dog

If you suspect your pet may have been bitten, take them to vet immediately, so they can begin the necessary removal treatments as soon as possible.

Veterinarian Dr Katrina Ward is warning dog owners of the dangers of the paralysis tick, saying, “These ticks can be lethal.”

“Over the past twenty years I have seen many heart breaking situations where people have lost their beloved dogs to tick paralysis or spent thousands of dollars in vet bills,” she said.

Director and Veterinary Specialist at The Animal Emergency Service, Dr Rob Webster is already seeing the devastating consequences some owners face if their dog is not protected, especially when it comes to deadly paralysis tick.

“Tick paralysis causes terrible suffering, with thousands of cases of paralysis due to ticks, treated by vets every year. In August alone we saw some fatal cases of tick paralysis at the Animal Emergency Service in South-East Queensland and sadly, these deaths may have been preventable.”

The peak season runs from (roughly) September to March, so this is the period when owners should be inspecting their dogs for ticks daily, and keeping an eye out for telltale early-onset symptoms.

People Spreading Awareness

By analysing the searches on our pet insurance comparison table, we can judge what people want in their policy. Since the introduction of the pet insurance comparison table in October 2015 until August 2016, more than 45,000 visitors have compared pet insurance policies with CANSTAR. The below information is based on all searches conducted between January 2016 to August 2016, of which there was more than 27,000 unique visitors. The percentage values represent the distribution of usage for each specific filter. Across the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, we saw peak times for pet insurance searches, depending on the extras you’re looking for. In Brisbane, southeast Queensland and the north coast of New South Wales, the tick season is longer and the disease is even more common, therefore it was unsurprising to see that more than a third (34%) of users from New South Wales, and 30% of users from Queensland were searching for tick paralysis cover in January 2016.

Throughout the colder months, when paralysis ticks are not as much of an issue, fewer visitors search for pet insurance that specifically covers tick paralysis But, as we near the beginning of tick season once again, CANSTAR has noticed a spike in the number of users looking to include tick paralysis on their pet insurance policies, with 35% of New South Wales viewers, and 28% of Queensland viewers using this filter in August 2016.

Treatments To Help Prevent Paralysis Ticks

The danger of paralysis ticks can’t be stressed enough, so if you’re a dog-owner, be sure to start checking your dogs daily for ticks, and don’t stop until the tick season is well and truly over.

Also, ensure that you are using a product such as NexGard or Bravecto®. Just like anti-flea treatments but for ticks, such products are essentially insecticides that kill the tick and can also change the tick’s reproductive system so that any eggs laid will not produce living offspring. Most tick treatments can take up to 24 hours to kill an adult tick – so it’s still vitally important that you keep checking your pets for ticks even if you’re using a treatment product.

Richard Malik wrote about the importance of taking preventative measures in a recent article for The Conversation.

“From a welfare perspective, it’s better to focus on prevention, rather than treatment,” he said.

“Until last year, prevention relied on a daily search of every at-risk pet for ticks, and the prophylactic administration of systemic or topical acaricide or drugs with a tick repellent and/or killing action, such as fipronil or permethrin. These are all applied directly to pets’ fur. But these treatments can be washed off by rain, shampooing or swimming. Permethrin, although quite effective and safe in dogs, is devastatingly toxic to cats. Many were inadvertently treated (and killed) as a result of poor labelling of various canine products.

“Last year there was a paradigm shift in tick paralysis prevention. MSD Animal Health released fluralaner (sold as Bravecto) – a new preventative drug. This is one of the first of a new class of drugs that act on both ticks and other arthropods, including fleas.

“One tablet of the correct size will protect dogs against tick paralysis for four months or longer and be effective also against flea infestation for three months. (Australian studies show the drug is 100% effective against paralysis ticks for four months, and 96% effective for five months.) There are other products that are similarly effective but need to be given once a month.”

Tick treatment: What to do if you find a tick

If your pet has shown any symptoms of a tick, arrange an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

If a tick is found, it needs to be removed immediately with tweezers or a similar tool. After removing the tick, be sure to contact your local vet, because removing the tick doesn’t always ensure total safety for your pet.

Ticking It Off Your List

Paralysis ticks, whilst harmful, are an easily preventable condition. Knowledge is the key when it comes to tick treatments, and it’s important to gain an understanding of what products are available to you. Don’t let your loved one fall into the hands of a nasty parasite, treat your pets early, and then ‘tick’ it off your list this Spring.


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