Seasonality of Tick Paralysis in Byron Bay

If you were surprised when your dog was struck down by tick paralysis last spring, think again.  Just like many insects, the life cycle of the paralysis tick is closely tied to the seasons. Cued by warmth and humidity, adult and baby ticks, living in the humid micro-climate of the undergrowth and grass, come out to play.

Come spring, infant nymphs and adult ticks go questing: looking for a host to feed on. They climb onto vegetation, waving legs  in the air, grabbing a host as it walks past.  The Byron Bay stats below, demonstrate the repeatable seasonal pattern.  Ask your regular vet to give you a more accurate idea of the peaks in your local area.

tickgraph

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Rain and humidity are important for triggering tick activity, and the onslaught of after hours emergency tick cases after spring rain is a common source of sleeplessness for the on-call vet. Rain patterns can also be used to explain the variation in number of cases from year to year. Wetter years tend to have higher caseload peaks. Conversely long dry spells, at any time of the year, can fry baby ticks.

Looking for concrete links between local weather and tick seasons is hard, there’s a lack of broadscale epidemiologic stats for cats and dogs, and simply too much noise in climatic data. Coolangatta data below, courtesy Wolfram Alpha.

humiditydataSo what about the effect of climate change? Too early to say.  Tick season timing and duration may change in the future.  Compared against the predicted expanding range of independently mobile, malaria and denge-laden mozzies, ticks may be slow.  They don’t travel far; their world may not extend far from a bandicoot burrow, to a neighbouring backyard lawn.   Hitchhiking a few hundred metres on your cat is like a flight to Paris.

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Recommendations

  • Recognise that, if your pet leads an outdoor lifestyle, in our local area, you’re a fool not to start tick prevention in June/July; August at the latest. A $14 tick collar can save you $400 in treatment. Continue until February.
  • Small numbers of ticks continue to paralyse pets in the low-season, February to June, during periods of unseasonably warm and wet weather. When you marvel at how mild the winter is, or how nice a little autumn rain was for the garden, consider how it may make other members of the ecosystem feel.  Believing that your dog’s vomiting and lethargy can’t be a tick because it’s the wrong time of year could be a fatal mistake.
  • A pet owner’s attitude to risk will influence their use of tick preventatives. The ultra-cautious may chose to treat all year round, ignoring the uncertain long-term effects of all that insecticidal load.
  • While you don’t have control over the weather, you do have some control over the micro-climate in your backyard. Keeping the grass short, dries out and dehumidifies the grass environment, killing off the nymph ticks.

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13 Responses to “Seasonality of Tick Paralysis in Byron Bay”

  1. Hi Matt

    Can we put this on our Goonengerry website. We had allot of interest from an article on ticks we published last year. http://www.goonengerry.com.au/news-mainmenu-2/1-latest/65-has-tick-season-started-yet.html

  2. rich says:

    Hi Matt,
    nice idea plotting that and I love the inverse relationship to hours of sleep for on call vets, nice one!
    By the way, I took our demanding visitors from last week bushwalking in Wanganui gorge, there were some lovely spots, saw two very mature cedar trees, tyhat looked like they must have been at least a couple of centuries old.
    We should go bushwalking sometime now you’re back up this way
    Catch up soon
    Cheers Rich

  3. Thanks for the great article and information. We need to get our new calves drenched too–apparently ticks can kill cows too.

  4. matt says:

    yep greg, all animals are susceptible to the paralytic toxin. Theres only 2 mechanisms that render animals resistant to their effects

    1. Body size. The bigger then animal, the less toxin per kg of tissue, the less the impact. Horses and Cows would need many ticks to have an effect while calves, goats and other smaller farm animals suffer paralysis more readily.

    2. Immunity to tick venom, only occurs after repeated exposure to the venom, a bit like vaccination boosters. Even wildlife species which dont usually get ticks, like birds, can go down with paralysis if tick affected.

  5. Ben says:

    Hi Matt,
    On the issue of flea and tick control, if you use comfortis to control fleas, would using a tick collar in conjunction with it be too much insecticide for the dog, all at once? (Or using Proban in conjunction for that matter?). Secondly, are you at all familiar with the flea control products that are made from Neem oil, such as soaps and oils? Do you have any anecdotal experience with them?
    Cheers,
    Ben

  6. matt says:

    hey ben, spinosad, the insecticide in comfortis is of low toxity in mammals, with no reported hepatotoxicty, and i’d be comfortable using a tick collar in conjunction. This is a good combination in terms of efficacy, transportability and cost. The only dilemma is whether swimming decreses the duration of tick prevention of the collar – maybe change every 4-5 weeks.

    Proban in conjuction with a collar would be pushing the bounds of safety, an probably overkill as proban is very effective on its own. Proban with spinosad (comfortis), would proably be ok, and havent heard of any adverse events.

    Neem is natural, or low toxicity to pet and environment, and has been useful in controlling fleas, but not proven as a tick preventative. I’d love to hear the kill percentages for neem is anyone knows. The manufacturers technical data of newfangled spot ons are up in the high 90%’s for the first few weeks, then fall to 60-70%. Anecdotally, there are some very convincing stories of resistance and these figures may be falling below 50% now, earlier in the month.

    Be careful with any online claims of anti-tick efficacy of neem, as no other country has the paralysis tick, and you need to be very confident in your tick product claims here.

  7. Fiona Wells says:

    Have lost animals using Summerland tick serum that would normally be no problem on North Coast serum. Have to give 3 to 4 times dose to keep anything alive, and sometimes still fail. NOT HAPPY!!!

  8. Norv says:

    Hi Matt,
    Do you reckon dingoes or dingo X dogs have better resistance to ticks?
    Cheers,
    Norv

  9. matt says:

    hey norv, theres 2 types of immunity:
    1) inate: passed down generations, partly genetic, placental, and mothers milk, and
    2) aquired: our immune systems learning from exposure, during our lifetime. Vaccination stimulates this one (they are looking into the fesability of a tick vaccine).

    You’d expect 40,000 years of cohabitation would have given dingos more inate immunity, and this may be passed into some crosses, but there isn’t any science to prove it.

    Dingos living wild, with lots of tick exposure would also develop aquired immunity; as do our farm dogs and domestic pets if they pick up paralysis ticks often enough.

    Tick antivenom manufacturers, who have colonies of dogs infested with ticks, acknowledge there are some dogs that cant cut it and repeatedly develop paralysis during ‘training’, while others quickly develop strong, longlasting immunity. Again, there would have been evolutionary pressure for dingos to have this stronger aquired immunity too.

    So, yep, if you can find one, a purebred dingo may save alot of grief.

  10. Norv says:

    Thanks Matt! Of course, if you get a dingo, then you have to find some way of keeping it at home. They’ve got a wanderlust stronger than a Wicked van with 12 months supply of free petrol!

  11. Thanks! great stuff like this.

  12. jess says:

    Hi Matt,

    Love your website & would love to be able to share it on Facebook.

    Any chance you’ll link this to FB someday?

    Jess & Bindi 🙂

  13. admin says:

    hey Jess, yep, one day. I started this blog when my business was small, and I had lots of spare time, and heaps I wanted to get off my chest, and out into the public forum.

    Bust since then I’ve taken on renovating a paddock, and work is busier, leaving less time for this.

    The site needs to be simplified, i need a ghost writer, and a social media coordinator. Maybe if we sold advertising, that could pay for some of it. Things to think about…..

    thanks for the positive feedback

    cheers
    m

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