Tick paralysis bad news for horses

Media release date: 
Monday, 27 May 2013

The results of a study will be presented at the Australian Veterinary Association’s annual conference in Cairns today, which reveals an alarmingly high mortality rate in horses with tick paralysis.

Dr Mick Ruppin, one of the co-authors of the study said that prior to 2012 there was limited information published about tick paralysis causing the deaths of horses.

“The paralysis tick is found predominantly along the east coast of Australia, in high rainfall areas. Our study was a retrospective analysis of cases treated at our practice on the east coast of Queensland, over the last ten years, as well as cases treated at other practices along the east coast over the last five years. A total of 103 cases were analysed.

“The number of paralysis ticks required to paralyse a horse is unknown but our study included cases where large horses with only one to two ticks were paralysed and unable to stand. Horses of any age and size can be affected by tick paralysis.

“The mortality rate of 26% in horses is much higher than the mortality rate in small animals which is around five per cent.

“In our study, 26 % of the horses died and of the surviving horses, 35% developed one or more complications including pressure sores, corneal ulcers, pneumonia and sepsis.”

Dr Ruppin said that higher mortality rates in horses could be due to a range of factors including horses being badly affected before vets are called; difficulties associated with nursing a recumbent horse; difficulties with owners needing to deliver the bulk of nursing care and lack of information to veterinarians treating the disease in horses.

“Given the difficulties associated with treating tick paralysis in horses, prevention is the best option for horse owners,” he said.

Prevention strategies include:

  • Reducing exposure to ticks by keeping horses in shorter pasture, away from bushland
  • Owners should check horses daily for presence of ticks and symptoms of tick paralysis
  • Using sprays and other products that can offer some protection from ticks.

“If horse owners find ticks or see signs of tick paralysis it’s important that they contact their vet immediately. The earlier treatment is provided, the better the result,” Dr Ruppin said.

For further information and requests for interviews contact the AVA media office on (02) 9431 5062, 0439 628 898 or media@ava.com.au.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is the only national association representing veterinarians in Australia. Founded in 1921, the AVA today represents 9000 members working in all areas of animal science, health and welfare.

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