Tick Serum Shortages

Watch out! This years severe tick season has depleted our national antivenom stockpile, and manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand. The current weather pattern is doing more than just filling the dams; it’s nurturing a thriving a tick population, and paralysing our pets in unprecedented numbers. Is this a sign of climatic things to come?


Over the last decade of El Nino, tick numbers have been suppressed by long, hot, dry spells that kill baby ticks. In contrast, the current La Nina and Indian Ocean Dipole  weather patterns have resulted in regular heavy rain over the entire Eastern sea board, and a booming tick population.

The Australian Veterinary Association today issued a warning regarding nationwide shortages of tick serum, the main weapon in the treatment armoury for animals struck down with tick paralysis. Manufacturers report this is partly due to extremely large numbers of cases currently occurring, particularly along the Eastern seaboard.

There are also reports that ticks this year have been unusually toxic with vets forced to use higher doses of antivenom. It’s likely that environmental conditions like the weather, would impact not only on tick numbers but also on their physiology.  Just as the toxicity or nutritional value of plants can vary due to growing conditions, potency of insect venom may be similarly influenced by the environmental factors.

I can confirm that  Byron Shire’s tick season has been unusually severe with more  ‘tick immune’ animals going down, and unusually high frequency of life-threatening complications. We have seen more cases of secondary aspiration pnemonia and pulmonary oedema, with more animals ending up on oxygen support.

Protracted recovery, taking a week or more, and sudden and unexpected death, many days after almost full recovery, have also been observed.  This is presumed to be cadiomyopathy – weakening of the heart muscle. Usually mortality rates are only about 3%, this year may be 5% or higher.  If we run out of antivenom, death rates could surge to 30% or more.

Such complications result in longer hospitals stays and a greater financial and emotional cost for  pet owners.  It’s more taxing for vets aswell given the difficulties predicting which animals will respond well and which will succumb, despite treatment.

Some manufacturers are predicting that shortages may ease in January and February as tick populations decline through natural attrition. Until then It’s probably worthwhile upping your tick prevention strategies.

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6 Responses to “Tick Serum Shortages”

  1. Lesa Corrine says:

    This is a good article Matt, have had several cats admitted to shelter recovering from tick paralysis, these cats have been left at vets, also my comment on facebook pulling from my cat 7 paralysis ticks in 3 weeks . Lesa

  2. matt says:

    It’s been extreme Lesa, and you’re not alone. 8 ticks off one dog is my record this year. Pets can sometimes unwittingly walk through a nest of ticks, where an egg has hatched. Even the most comprehensive preventatives, like collar and advantix, have a 5% failure rate, so 1 in 20 ticks will survive. If theres 20x the number of ticks out there this year, then were inevitably going to see more cases.

    And the cat population is even worse off. The only preventative options are every second day Proban, near toxic to the cat, or fortnightly Frontine, prone to failure. When they get a tick they run extra risks during treatment as the antivenom is made from dog serum, with the possibility of severe allergic reaction.

    In the cat, watch for one of the early warning signs: change in voice.

  3. troyvanjohnson says:

    Hi Mat.

    is the serum made from the female tick?
    If yes, do u have any info on how and What to catch and where to sell them?

  4. matt says:

    they prefer females but will probably take both genders.

    drag a white sheet through long undergrowth near bandicoot territory.

    i’d google and contact summerland serums, avsl, northcoast serums.


  5. Lesa Corrine says:

    Thanks for your Advice Matt.

  6. Rene Gangler says:

    Amazing post, we will point a link from our website

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