Why is my vet now suggesting tick-bite prevention?

Volunteer member of Vets for Climate Action, Regina Warne (BSc (Vet Bio)) was recently published in The Canberra Times on 18 March 2023, answering the question for Ask Fuzzy "Why is my vet now suggesting tick-bite prevention?":

Tick-bite paralysis in pets is a condition commonly caused by the eastern paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus). When dogs, cats, or even humans are bitten by this tick it can cause respiratory distress and muscle paralysis which, if not treated, can quickly become fatal.

This tick is currently found in the coastal regions of eastern Australia, from northern Queensland to Gippsland of Victoria. This is because the survival of ticks is highly reliant on climatic conditions - they prefer hot areas with higher rainfall. Therefore tick control products are recommended by veterinarians in these high-risk areas to prevent disease and have not been necessary in locations where the climate is unsuitable and cases are rare. 

However more tick-paralysis cases in dogs and cats are appearing in areas that have not historically had cases. Researchers have suggested why this may be: climate change.

As the planed continues to warm and we see more extreme weather events, the standard "climate" of a region is altered. This changes the suitable habitat for the tick, either expanding or shrinking where it can live or just shifting its habitat to a different region. 

Unfortunately there's no way to predict which path will be taken - we don't yet know how the tick distribution is likely to change. This means that pet owners can be caught unawares, not knowing whether or not they need to protect their pet against ticks. If you are concerned, please discuss it with your local veterinarian.

Ticks are not the only pest we need to be concerned about because other parasites will also be affected by climate change. Veterinarians are most concerned about the change of distribution of insects that carry diseases. We've seen this recently with the swarming of mosquitoes in Victoria in the floods causing increased disease in people and pigs due to Janapese Encephalitis (JE) virus. Seven people have died from JE. 

There is also increasing concern for heartworm in dogs - another potentiallly fatal disease. Transmitted by mosquitoes, the US have already reported increased cases of heartworm in dogs in areas that have historically had few. And this is only the beginning.

Instead of trying to rid the world of pesky insects, we should direct our efforts to fighting climate change. We need to pressure our government to act quickly and take responsibility for our personal behaviours (from reusable coffee cups to electric vehicles) to reduce any further warning and curb its effects for the sake of our pets, ourselves and our planet.

Regina Warne