It’s high season for ticks so pet owners need to be extra vigilant when checking their pets for ticks to prevent serious harm coming to our furry friends.

While small, ticks can cause serious harm and even death in pets, so it’s important to regularly check pets – especially if you live near coastal or forested areas.

“Dog and cat owners must be vigilant at this time of year, particularly when travelling to tick prone coastal areas,” said Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) spokesperson Dr Tara Cashman.

In the last couple of months the Disease Watchdog database has recorded more than 350 cases of tick paralysis down the eastern seaboard and in Victoria. The hot spots include Moruya, NSW (61 cases), Newcastle, NSW (48) Port Macquarie, NSW (35), Wollongong, NSW (20), Murwillumbah, QLD (19), Beenleigh, QLD (19) and Foster, NSW (13).

“Ticks breed mainly along the east coast in warm and humid weather,” says Dr Cashman. “With the extremely hot weather we’ve experienced lately, which is set to continue, we are urging pet owners to take preventative measures to avoid what can often be a fatal outcome.”

Paralysis ticks tend to attach to the head and neck area of the pet and on the chest and the front of the leg, but can be found on any part of the body.

“Ticks release a toxin when they feed, which leads to a condition known as tick paralysis. Common signs of tick paralysis include difficulty walking, gurgling and choking. Dogs will often not be able to bark properly due to paralysis of the throat,” Dr Cashman says. “Other animals may start to cough when eating or drinking, or may cough up water or food. Some may also have trouble breathing.”

Ideally, if living in tick-prone areas pet owners should check dogs and cats daily. This is done by running your hands over the animal to feel for anything unusual – in cats, ticks often latch around the back of the neck where they can’t groom, so it’s important to pay special attention to this area. If you find a tick it’s vital you take immediate action and contact your local vet for advice.

“Even if you find and remove a tick it’s important to keep an eye on your pet as they can be affected by the toxin for up to 24 hours after removal,” says Dr Cashman. “Early treatment gives the best chance of survival.”