Babesiosis or Babesia infection is a tick-borne disease seen in dogs across the US. Today our Benicia vets explain the symptoms and treatments for Babesiosis and how you can help to protect your dog against tick-borne diseases.
Babesiosis In Dogs
Babesiosis is a disease caused by a family of Babesia organisms that are spread through the bite of infected ticks. These organisms invade and attack the red blood cells in humans, dogs, and other mammals. The most common Babesia organisms found in US dogs include
Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni. Babesiosis is most often seen in pit bull terriers and greyhounds.
How Dogs Contract Babesiosis
Dogs usually contract Babesiosis through ticks that are infected, however, some studies suggest that infected dogs with open mouth sores can pass on the infection to other dogs through a bite, and infected pregnant females can transmit Babesiosis to their unborn puppies. Pit bulls most often develop Babesia gibsoni infections due to dog-to-dog bites or maternal transmission.
Signs Of Babesiosis In Dogs
Dogs with chronic Babesia are often asymptomatic and show no symptoms at all, but it's important to know that even when symptoms are not apparent the dog can spread the disease to other animals or people.
If your dog does contract Babesiosis the symptoms that your dog displays will depend on the type of Babesia that has infected your pet. Some of the most common symptoms of acute Babesiosis include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eye whites, nails, and skin)
- Weakness (no energy, lethargic)
Babesia Infections Are Diagnosed
Your vet will do a thorough examination of your dog looking for signs of the disease such as swollen lymph nodes, pale mucous membranes, and an enlarged spleen. If babesiosis is believed to be the cause of your dog's symptoms your vet may recommend blood and urine tests to check for the presence of bilirubinuria as well as signs of anemia, low platelet count, and low albumin.
In some cases Babesia organisms can be seen by doing a simple blood smear, however other diagnostic tests may be necessary including fluorescent antibody staining, indirect, immunofluorescence (IFAT), ELISA tests, and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing.
Babesia DNA testing (PCR testing) is often recommended to help your vet determine which type of Babesia organism has infected your dog. This is particularly valuable information because infections by different species need different medications to treat the condition effectively.
Babesiosis Treatment In Dogs
When treating dogs with Babesiosis most vets take a three-pronged approach.
First: Antiprotozoal medications can be prescribed to help eliminate the parasite from your pet's bloodstream.
Second: Blood transfusions may be used to treat anemia in dogs.
Third: Further supportive treatments will be provided to address any complications or side effects of the condition such as oxygen therapy to treat respiratory issues, or anti-nausea medication to help prevent vomiting.
Imidocarb propionate injections may also be recommended depending on the strain of Babesia your dog is infected with. Treatment for dogs infected with Babesia gibsoni often involves a combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (antibiotic).
The Prognosis For Dogs With Babesiosis
Unfortunately, most Babesiosis cases in dogs are not caught in the early stages, meaning that the disease is fairly progressed by the time treatment begins. How well your dog recovers from the condition will depend upon which of your dog's internal systems are affected by the disease and how seriously, so the prognosis is generally guarded.
Dogs that survive an initial Babesia infection may remain infected but asymptomatic for a fairly long period, then suffer a relapse. Dogs with a chronic (symptom-free or very mild symptoms) infection may still be able to spread the disease to other animals and people.
Protecting Your Dog Against Babesiosis
Babesiosis treatment in dogs can be expensive, which is why prevention is essential whenever possible!
Keeping your dog on year-round tick prevention medication can be an effective way to reduce your dog's risk of contracting a variety of tick-borne diseases including Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, and Lyme.
Checking your dog for ticks daily, and removing any parasites you find properly, can also help to prevent tick-borne diseases since it typically takes 48 hours or longer for Babesia transmission to occur once the tick begins feeding on your dog.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms.