Itchy Skin in Dogs

Are there Paralysis Ticks in Canberra?

The great answer is NO. (We do have harmless bush ticks though)

Kaleen Veterinary Hospital does, however, see many cases of tick paralysis each year in pets that travel to the coast on holidays. The tick Ixodes holocyclus occurs along the East Coast of Australia. The worse time is from August through February, you can find ticks all year round. Particularly when rain follows a period of warm weather.
As if that weren’t bad enough, scientists suspect that a combination of global warming, recent weather patterns, overgrown gardens, composting and mulching as well as growing bandicoot numbers is contributing to a steady increase in tick populations. Compounding the problem are all those shady patches under overhanging branches in overgrown public recreational areas that prove so attractive to pets and their owners.

The University of Queensland has been carrying out research into tick poisoning of pets since 1998. And over the years Canberra Veterinary Hospital Hospital has contributed to this research by sharing our successful treatment methods as well as trialing new techniques, which have resulted in improved survival rates for all poisoned pets.

Ticks may be small, but they’re prolific. The female paralysis tick lays up to 3,000 eggs. After hatching, the larvae climb onto nearby vegetation and look for their first hosts. Normally, this would be a bandicoot or possum, which become immune to the poison. Once they have engorged the required amount of blood, the larvae drop to the ground, moult and turn into nymphs. Each nymph will then attach itself to a second host, do the blood-engorging thing again, hit the deck, moult to become an adult tick and find yet another host. After getting her fill of blood – often more than 100 times her own weight – the female paralysis tick is ready to abandon her final host and lay her eggs…to start the whole cycle all over again.

Paralysis ticks tend to be light blue to grey in colour, ranging in size from two or three millimetres to as large as 10 millimetres. But even the smallest can cause paralysis. If you don’t have a ruler handy, think of it this way: any tick a quarter the size of your little fingernail can be dangerous, even deadly. Because these ticks tend to attach themselves securely to the skin, they can be difficult to remove. When they are pulled out, they usually leave a noticeable crater in the animal’s skin, which can last for several weeks.

Although most ticks are found around the head and neck of the animal, they can end up anywhere on the body. It is especially important to search longhaired dogs very thoroughly between the eyes and the end of the nose. The most reliable way to locate the ticks is to systematically run your fingers through your cat or dog’s coat. If the head is left in, don’t worry as the tick will die and inject no more poison. Always assume there is more than one tick and continue your systematic search.
It is true that animals can develop an immunity to tick poison, but it requires repeated mild poisoning and may last only one season. And even those animals that do build up immunity can still wind up paralysed if multiple ticks or a particularly toxic one bites them.

The paralysis tick injects a toxin into its host dog or cat as it feeds. Normally, cats show more resistance to this poison than dogs, but if affected the signs are similar for both. Increased body temperature due to either hot weather or exercise will exacerbate symptoms.

If left to run its course, a case of tick poisoning goes through three stages.

Early signs:

  • A change in voice; the meow or bark becomes softer and/or changes pitch.
  • Weakness in the back legs; walking along then sitting down suddenly is a common early sign.
  • Vomiting, especially if it happens several times in a day and you see froth.

Later signs:

  • Wobbliness in the back legs.
  • Excessive salivation and vomiting is not uncommon.
  • Panting, progressing to loud breathing, even grunting noises.
  • Many dogs will exhibit a moist cough and breathing problems before other signs.

Worsening signs:

  • As signs of poisoning progress, the animals become unable to stand.
  • Breathing becomes exaggerated and difficult.
  • As breathing becomes more difficult, the gums become cold and blue-tinged. Death follows quite quickly.

Even when you find a tick and remove it, your pet isn’t out of the woods. There’s a very good chance the tick could have left a residue of poison under the skin which will then be slowly absorbed.

You should keep an eye on them for the next two to four days, keeping them cool and calm while avoiding excitement and exercise. Also, do not offer your pet either food or water because its ability to swallow may be impaired. If at any point the signs worsen, call us straight away.

Preventive measures

While new, improved products are appearing quite regularly, the paralysis tick can become resistant to insecticides. Also, no product claims to be 100% effective. So even if you use a preventative, you should still search you pet every night during the tick season. These search-and-destroy missions become even more imperative after your animal has been in bushy terrain. A small tick missed one day is often found the next. Incidentally, tick control on dogs tends to be easier than on cats but, luckily for cats, they seem better able than dogs to remove attached ticks by grooming. Ask us for the most recent advice on prevention and when to apply it.

Cats – the silent baby assassin?

A vet mate of mine, Dr Dave Nichol, wrote this great article recently that I thought I would share it with you.

“I’ve heard a few things recently about pets and children that have been wide of the mark. Cats in particular seem to come in for a lot of bad press.

Perhaps it was just that the nice lady leading our maternity class wasn’t a “cat person”, but I suspect it’s a wider PR issue for these oft-misunderstood creatures. For cats, unlike dogs, seem to polarise opinion. You either love them or fear them; very few people have a neutral position.

It seems that their aloof nature, tendency to scratch people they don’t like and their generally stealthy nature can be quite unsettling.

Which is perhaps why the advice in the prenatal class was so negative. Our tutor’s recommendation for cat owners was to “boot your moggies out of the house or build an outdoor pen so they didn’t come into contact with the child”.

The insinuation being that there was this huge body of medical evidence that cats are somehow a big risk to babies.

The basis for this ‘professional’ advice was that cats like heat and would therefore be attracted, like a heat seeking missile, to the warmth generated by your sleeping baby, presenting a risk of suffocation should the cat decide to sleep on the child’s face.

Appalled, but feeling like I should do some further research, just in case I had missed the whole ‘Cat vs Baby’ thing, I embarked on some detective work.
Cat V Baby

There are millions of homes where cats have cohabited with babies over the years. So with this degree of contact you’d think that there would be some solid evidence of ‘cats-on-baby’ incidents.

A scan of Google revealed only two suspected cases both grossly misreported by the press with the attention grabbing headlines:

A closer read of the articles revealed that no such proof existed, and any evidence was circumstantial. In one case there was cat hair in the cot, so the possibility couldn’t be ruled out. Hardly definitive proof, and certainly not as clear-cut as the misleading headline would suggest.

Sadly, in today’s society, because the explanation sounds vaguely plausible and was given weight by this kind of sloppy journalism the myth is perpetuated.

After a couple of hours scouring the journals and internet I came up with absolutely nothing definitive about cats suffocating babies what so ever.

Six tips for expectant parents with cats

OK, so let me give you my advice for a happy life where cats and kids can live comfortably alongside each other.

  1. The risk of your cat suffocating your baby, while theoretically possible, seems to be non-existent in reality. I mean think about it. Most of the cats I know (my own included) like the quiet life. As such they would be as likely to spend time around a screaming newborn.
    However, in the interests of promoting responsible pet ownership it would be wise to avoid letting your cat into the nursery unattended. If you are really worried, then use a crib-net to prevent them jumping in the cot.
  2. Fathers should change the litter trays each day while mum is pregnant – Toxoplasmosis is a nasty parasite that can be found in cat poo. If you ingest the parasite then it can cause serious harm to a developing foetus. So better for pregnant mums not to go near the kitty litter at all, although may only be a real issue if the faeces is left in the tray for a few days and that is highly unlikely.
  3. Wash all worktops, your hands and all your vegetables before preparing meals (especially if from your own veggie patch, plus don’t eat undercooked meat – again we’re trying to prevent toxoplasmosis and your cat might just jump on the kitchen work surfaces when you are not looking.
  4. Make sure your cat is wormed regularly to kill off intestinal worms that can harm children.
  5. Never leave infants unattended with cats, (or dogs for that matter). As the owner of a pet, you are responsible for its behaviour. Don’t put an animal in a position where it feels threatened or out of control.
  6. Use Feliway calming pheromone to reduce stress for your cat during the first 12 months with your newborn. And in between nappy changes and midnight feeds, try to make time for a few extra kitty cuddles to avoid your first ‘child’ feeling too left out.”

This post was originally written in 2012

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Catnip!

Catnip is a perennial herb and member of the Mint family that is well known for it’s ability to get cat’s “high”.

The main active ingredient which causes this is an essential oil called nepetalactone, which can be found in the leaves & stem of the plant.

When a cat encounters catnip, it usually sniffs it, rubs against it, licks it & finally eats it. It’s actually the sniffing that gets produces the high, it’s believed that cats eat catnip to bruise the catnip & therefore release more of the nepetalactone. The high produced will usually last between five & ten minutes. When sniffed, catnip will stimulate a cat, however when eaten it can act as a sedative.

Around 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and those who are, are affected to differing degrees. I have seen one cat who drools & rolls on the floor, another one who becomes very hyperactive, a third becomes aggressive, and picks fights with the other cats.

Interestingly, kittens younger than 8 weeks old aren’t able to enjoy it’s effects. In fact, they show an aversion to it.  The response to catnip appears to be inherited as an autosomal gene. It’s not just domesticated cats who enjoy the effects of catnip, many lot of wild species also enjoy it and they can detect 1 part in a billion in the air.

Nepetalactone causes a hallucinogenic effect. The response to catnip is via the olfactory system with a region called the Vomero Nasal Organ which is not present in humans.

Catnip is not harmful to your cat. They won’t overdose on it.  Most cats know when they’ve had enough & will refuse any further offers.

Catnip is usually fairly easy to grow, you should be able to purchase the plant from your local garden centre. It likes light sandy soil, and grows best in full sun. Most pet shops either sell catnip toys, or dried catnip. When storing catnip, put it in an air tight container, in the fridge or freezer.

This post was originally written in 2012

Lily Poisoning In Cats

We have seen a few cases lately of kidney failure in cats that has been caused by eating Lilys, so in this Blog, I thought I would pass on a few matters of importance. If you suspect your cat has eaten any, prompt veterinary attention is of utmost importance.

Any part of the plant is poisonous & only a tiny amount (less than one leaf) needs to be eaten to cause poisoning.

Vomiting is a common sign and usually subsides a few hours after exposure but this doesn’t mean your cat is making a recovery. As the toxin starts to affect the kidneys, excessive thirst & lethargy often follows.

If Lily poisoning is suspected, we run several tests to determine the condition of the kidneys, which may include;

  • Biochemical profile will be taken for testing. Elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine are both indicative of renal failure.
  • Urinalysis will be able to provide additional information on the extent of kidney damage & urine-concentrating ability.

Prompt medical treatment is absolutely vital, the sooner your cat sees a vet, the better. Even with veterinary attention there is no guarantee that your cat will survive, but the chances greatly decrease if treatment isn’t commenced within 6 hours of exposure.

Best thing is to avoid and possible problem and don’t have the Lily plant or flowers in a house with cats.

This post was originally written in 2012

Smart Dogs

“How smart are dogs?”

We all know that dogs are smart. Just look at all the amazing things they can do! They learn to follow commands, perform tasks, and work at jobs.  They even learn how to trick their owners!

Research tells us that the average dog can understand about 150 words. Their intelligence level is estimated at around the same level as a three-year-old child. Some breeds are considered generally smarter than others, and Border collies are thought to be among the smartest.  We know that some of these dogs understand hundreds of words.

A challenging situation that tests your dog’s problem solving skills is both interesting and fun… and it’s also a good way to help keep them mentally engaged.  Without these satisfying tests of intellect, boredom will soon set in.  And a bored dog can soon lose interest in play or even become destructive or lethargic.

A good interactive puzzle toy can give your dog the satisfying intellectual challenge he craves in a fun and safe way. Interactive toys will hold your dog’s attention for hours and provide satisfying intellectual play.  Playing with puzzle toys will help keep your dog’s mind sharp – and it’s a lot of fun.

This post was originally written in 2012

Utopia March 2012

Well, March has come and gone and our second visit to Utopia 350km north-east of Alice Springs to help with a volunteer dog control programme is over. This time Dr Alison from Kippax Vet Hospital and myself (Dr Michael Archinal) were joined by Dr Fiona from Kippax and Nurses Leah and Geraldine, Dr Kate from Hall along with 3 other vets and 4 helpers from around the country.

We met some fantastic people and as usual, had an amazing experience. The 12 hours it takes from Canberra and the logistics to get to this remote community were well worth the effort. This time, Dr Alison was able to attend the local High School and spend some time with the children discussing appropriate dog health care.

It was very reassuring to see many of the dogs we treated last time for skin parasites (Sarcoptes) and worms, as well as being desexed, look so happy and healthy. It was great to hear a number of indigenous people who were very thankful for our efforts last time. We managed to desex 184 dogs this visit, as well as examine 1 very brave cat!

We were greatly helped financially by a fantastic fundraising night organised by Dr Kate and Geraldine, but as always, the next trip (planned for September) will rely on generous donations. If you would like to help us continue this good work or know more about the programme, just call Kaleen Veterinary Hospital and we would be happy to discuss this with you.

This post was originally written in March 2012


I know it’s early, but I was overwhelmed by all the Easter eggs and Hot Cross buns in the supermarkets the other day, so I thought I should warn all pet owners early of the potential for issues with poisonings over the Easter period.

It reminded me of a Beagle who ate all the chocolate in the house 2 weeks before the event!

Chocolate can be a very nasty poison. Dark chocolate is the worst. Signs of poisoning include diarrhoea, heart issues and nervous signs. The raisins in Hot Cross buns can cause kidney damage that can be fatal. The take home message here is that human food is for humans, and make sure all Easter treats are out of pets way. If you have any concerns, please call us over the Easter break as we have vets working most days.

Finally, with all the holiday festivities, take time to remember the reason for the season.

This post was originally written in 2012