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A significant shortage of tick antivenom or serum at the height of tick season could have devastating impacts for local pets, a local emergency vet has warned. Cream Jar
Dr Heather Russell, an emergency veterinarian at Northside Emergency Vet Clinic, said preventative action, such treatments and owner vigilance, is needed to minimise the number of cats and dogs dying or requiring intensive care. While the service currently has supply of the serum, the national shortage means stock won’t last long.
Where normally the clinic would be sent 40 vials of tick antiserum this month, they’ve been able to procure only two, Dr Russell explained.
Tick antivenom/serum is the only treatment available that binds and neutralises the tick toxin in the blood stream. Studies have shown a death rate of around 5% in dogs treated with tick antiserum but a death rate approaching 100% in dogs that receive no treatment.
Studies have shown a death rate of around 5% in dogs treated with tick antiserum but a death rate approaching 100% in dogs that receive no treatment.
The cause of the current shortage was a lack of ticks available to manufacturers early in the season due to flooding in Northern NSW and QLD. This shortage has now been compounded by high demand.
“There are nationwide shortages of tick antiserum, which is really concerning, because we’re right in the middle of our busiest tick month of the year with so many expected tick bite cases to come into our veterinary practice. There will eventually be more cases than the tick antiserum we have available to treat them,” Dr Russell told Manly Observer.
“Tick paralysis is a preventable disease, so it’s something that as a pet owner you can protect against. I think it’s really important that the public realise this. If you prevent your pet from being bitten by ticks, you won’t have the need to come and see us at the clinic for tick antiserum. If the tick antiserum runs out then we won’t be able to offer the pet owners any treatment for their animals’ tick poisoning, which could result in a huge number of losses.
“If the tick antiserum runs out then we Won’t be able to offer the pet owners any treatment for their animals’ tick poisoning, which could result in a huge number of losses.”
“Bravecto, Nexgard, and Simpiraca [tick prevention] medicines have been game-changers in preventing tick paralysis in dogs – we used to see well over a thousand cases in tick season and have over 40 dogs on life support. It was a huge issue.
“Since these drugs have been released it’s probably halved our numbers, but we’ve had a huge boom of cat ownership during Covid pandemic – I think a lot of people got a puppy or kitten during the lockdowns! – so now we’re seeing the implications of having more animals to care for, and thus a greater need for tick antiserum as well.
“I think also people have got a bit complacent with the change of routines that came with Covid-19, and maybe their pets’ tick preventions lapsed, or maybe finances are a bit tight and it’s no longer a priority expense. However, treatment for tick bite paralysis is very expensive, and we don’t always have a good outcome, so it’s a good time to remind people, with the current antiserum shortages, to focus on tick prevention regimes.”
Paralysis Ticks are an Australian native parasite that lives on the East Coast of Australia. We are currently in peak season but they are a problem on the Northern Beaches all year round.
We also recently did an investigation into the problems the these ticks are causing local humans, due to an unusual meat allergy a tick bite can cause in some people.
Animals can get ticks from the environment, such as bush, or long grass, and even from your clothes if you have been outdoors. Once the tick finds a suitable site, it attaches to the skin and feeds for several days. As it feeds, it deposits saliva, which carries several potent nuerotoxins that cause a weakness of all the muscles of the body – causing paralysis, regurgitation and respiratory failure.
Northside Emergency Vet Service (NEVS) is the only 24 hour Veterinary Hospital on the Northern Beaches and provides 24 hours care for more than 35 local veterinarians.
Dr Russell said that the Northern Beaches always sees large numbers of pets with tick paralysis in the spring time but this tick season had been particularly intense and with higher numbers of ticks due to the wet weather.
“NEVS has treated more than 100 dogs and 85 cats for tick paralysis in the last two months. We are expecting to continue to see similar numbers of tick paralysis cases for the next 6-8 weeks.”
You can read our recent feature about ticks here.
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