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Exclusive: A Sydney vet has warned pet owners in the city’s Inner West to be extra vigilant after she discovered deadly paralysis ticks attacking a cat in “highly unusual” circumstances.

Finding two small, eight-legged parasites on a “very sick” male cat in her Glebe clinic was puzzling, Dr Emma Hall said, because the nasty arachnids are usually only found in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and the South Coast.

Chopin the cat had not been taken out of the Inner West, Dr Hall said, which led the vet to speculate ixodes holocyclus, the Australian paralysis tick, may now be circulating in Inner West neighbourhoods.

A shaved Chopin the cat recovers after arriving at a vet clinic in the Inner West 'very sick' because two deadly paralysis ticks had attached to his body.
A shaved Chopin the cat recovers after arriving at a vet clinic in the Inner West ‘very sick’ because two deadly paralysis ticks had attached to his body. (9News)

Hall wondered if floods have driven bandicoots, possums and other traditional tick-carrying hosts into the area. Tick eggs on leaf mulch dispersed by flood waters could also be to blame, Hall said.

“I’ve worked at multiple Sydney clinics … and I’ve never treated an animal for tick paralysis who hasn’t left the Inner West,” Hall said.

“Finding one (on Chopin) was highly unusual, two even more so.”

Cats in the Inner West would be especially vulnerable to a tick insurgency, Hall said, because the tiny bloodsuckers are simply not on the radar of owners in the area.

“It’s something cat owners are not usually worried about (but) if these ticks are related to the floods then I think we’re definitely going to see more in the Inner West.”

Paralysis ticks bite and burrow into animals, gorging for days and releasing toxins which often cause severe breathing difficulty and can lead to blindness and death.

“They are definitely fatal if they’re not removed,” Hall said.

The signs a pet is under attack can often be vague, until it is too late.

A vet hold two paralysis ticks which were discovered on Chopin. The parasite called ixodes holocyclus is a small, eight-legged tick that produces a potent toxin.
A vet hold two paralysis ticks which were discovered on Chopin. The parasite called ixodes holocyclus is a small, eight-legged tick that produces a potent toxin. (9News)

Hall said owners should watch for “a change in voice” and any odd breathing behaviours, unusual levels of salivating, coughing or vomiting.

Often a cat or dog will need to be hospitalised and ventilated while “riding out” the effects of the potent tick toxins.

“If we think that it could be a tick, then we’ll search for it,” Hall said, “but sometimes we don’t end up diagnosing it until they become very weak in their hind legs.”

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She said it’s often necessary for vets to shave a pet “from top-to-toe” to find the hidden parasites, which can be as small as 2mm in diameter or ballooning up to 1cm when fully engorged with blood.

Owners are often reluctant to shave their cat or dog if there is “not a high suspicion” the animal has ticks, Hall said.

Hall and her team had to shave large sections of Chopin once the ticks were found, but he is now recovering well.

Inner West cat owners should closely monitor their pets and even consider using tick prevention medicine if they want to be extra-vigilant, Hall said.

How to search your pet for paralysis ticks

  1. Search your pets thoroughly daily. Use your fingertips to feel through the coat. Ticks or tick craters can be felt as lumps on the skin’s surface.
  2. Most ticks are found forward of the front legs, especially on the face, neck and ears. However, it is important to search your entire pet.
  3. Start at your pet’s nose and slowly examine the face, forehead and ears (outer and inner surface of the ear flap). Also search the eyes and lips and the skin/fur around the eyes and lips. Carefully examine all skin folds.
  4. Remove any collars and search the neck area thoroughly.
  5. Search the shoulder area and front legs. Remember to check between each toe and under surface of the front feet. Don’t forget to check under the ‘armpits’.
  6. Examine the chest area, all along the back, sides, belly, groin area, around the tail and anus and the thighs, back legs, in between the back-leg toes and feet.

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