It’s the season for ticks

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Tarna in her paralyzed state, days after being bitten by an Australian paralysis tick

Wildlife of Greater Brisbane manual, removal should be with ‘fine forceps’. The idea is to grip hold of the head and ‘ease it out’. Squeezing should be avoided as ‘this causes the tick to inject a large dose of saliva into the host body in its attempt to detach’.

My dog had been wearing a tick collar ever since moving to our acreage property.  It was, the vet assured, merely one of several deterrents including a two-weekly application of costly tick and flea repellent.

I watched anxiously as grumpy Leo became a helpless invalid. Paralysis sets in after several days of the tick feeding on the poor unsuspecting mutt. Our own dog seemed to have survived a tick one week prior—a dose of anti venom tick serum seemed to pull her through.

Then the next week, she failed to rise from her bed. Usually keenly interested in catching our chickens, or barking at the noisy early morning magpies that steal her food, she couldn’t even muster the energy to lift her head. Even breathing seemed difficult.

We headed off to the vet once more and our fears were realised—another tick, this time found large and engorged at the base of her back. I berated myself for not finding it but her thick coat had made my mission near impossible.

Paralysis Tick - Courtesy can be totally elusive. A previous neighour’s dog became increasingly ill, and the vet couldn’t find the obvious cause—there were symptoms of paralysis but no tick could be found. Blood tests and expensive treatment was administered, all to no avail. The pooch was close to death. Finally, the vet searched one last time for a tick and found the offensive parasite in the gravely ill maltese poodle’s nose. Little Max miraculously survived but he was pretty close to death when the tick was discovered.

So noxious is the poison injected by the tick’s saliva, that it attacks every muscle in the body including the heart, bladder and bowel. On our first trip to the vet, a farm cattle dog—normally a robust breed—was lying immobile, unable to move a muscle.  The vet didn’t hold out much chance at all.

Our own dog continues to slowly recover—it took five days for her to empty her bladder on her own – prior to that she had to be carried and literally manually assisted. We anxiously await her first bowel movement. And there was great excitement when she gave an attempt at a hoarse bark early this morning.

Mostly, she lies inside sleeping on her bed, with the comforting lull of ABC Radio for company.

Dogs of her size are said to take six weeks to become active once more.

I take heart, however, that when I returned to the vet a week after the cattle dog’s admission, it had returned home.

“He survived—I really didn’t think he’d pull through,” admitted the vet, adding, “he surprised us all”.

Promising news—I hold out hope for our beloved pooch.

Just don’t warn the magpies.

Filed under: Pets


Lois Nicholls is an Australian freelance journalist. She is also the author of "Aussie, Actually," which captures her heartfelt experiences as a South African migrant living in Australia. Her second book, "Bye-bye Bikini", published in August 2018, is a series of frank and humorous essays navigating everyday life from the perspective of a fifty-something former newspaper and magazine journalist. Her first children's book, "What Dog is That?" available in hardcopy from was published in May 2019. Her books on Amazon: