Babesiosis or Babesia infection is a predominantly tick-borne disease found in dogs and other mammals across the US. Today our Cordova vets share some of the symptoms of this serious disease, along with the available treatments for Babesiosis and how you can help to prevent your dog from falling victim to a Babesia infection.
What is Babesiosis?
Babesiosis is a predominantly tick-borne disease caused by a number of Babesia organisms which invade and attack red blood cells in mammals, including humans and dogs. In North America the most common Babesia organisms found in dogs include Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni.
In the US, Babesiosis is commonly seen in greyhounds and pit bull terriers.
How can a dog catch Babesiosis or get a Babesia infection?
In most cases, Babesia organisims are spread to dogs through the bite of an infected tick, 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.
While most cases of babesiosis are transmitted via tick bites, in pit bull terriers Babesia gibsoni infection is most often due to maternal transmission or dog to dog bites.
Babesia infection could also be transmitted accidentally due to a tainted blood transfusion.
What are the symptoms of Babesiosis in dogs?
Dogs with chronic Babesia infections may not always display symptoms, however even when symptoms are not evident the dog could spread the disease to other pets or people.
The symptoms of this condition will depend on the type of Babesia that has infected your pet, that said, the most common symptoms of acute Babesia include: weakness, jaundice, fever, and dark red or orange urine.
How is a Babesia infection in dogs diagnosed?
Following a full physical examination, your vet will look for signs such as swollen lymph nodes, pale mucous membranes, and an enlarged spleen. If babesiosis is suspected your vet may recommend diagnostic testing such as blood and urine tests to look for signs of anemia, low platelet count, low albumin, or the presence of bilirubinuria.
Often Babesia organisims can be spotted doing a simple blood smear, however other diagnostic tests may include 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 distinguish which type of Babesia organism has infected your dog. This is especially valuable information since infections by different species require different medications to treat the condition.
What is the treatment for Babesiosis in dogs?
Treatment of babesiosis in dogs is typically a 3 pronged approach.
- Antiprotozoal medications can be prescribed to help eliminate the parasite.
- Blood transfusions may be used to treat anaemia.
- Supportive care will be provided to treat the complications or side effects of the disease such as oxygen therapy to treat respiratory issues, or anti-nausea medication to help prevent vomiting.
Imidocarb dipropionate injections are sometimes prescribed to help fight the illness in dogs depending on the type of Babesia your dog is infected with.
A combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (antibiotic) may be prescribed as treatment of dogs with Babesia gibsoni.
What is the prognosis for dogs diagnosed with babesiosis?
By the time most cases of Babesiosis are diagnosed the disease if fairly progressed. How well your dog recovers will depend upon which systems are affected (what side-effects your dog is experiencing due to the infection), and so the prognosis is generally guarded. Dogs that survive an initial Babesia infection may remain infected without symptoms for a relatively long period of time, then suffer a relapse.
Dogs with a chronic (symptom-free or low symptom) infection could still spread the disease to other animals.
Can I prevent my dog from getting babesiosis?
Treatment for the condition can be expensive, so prevention where possible is key! When it comes to preventing babesiosis, keeping your dog on year round tick prevention medication can be an effective way to prevent a range of tick-borne diseases.
Checking your dog daily for ticks, and correctly removing any parasites you find, can be an effective approach to prevention since it takes a minimum of 48 hours for the Babesia transmission to occur once the tick begins feeding on your pet.
Do Wellness Plans cover parasite protection?
At Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital in Cordova our convenient Wellness Plans include parasite protection against ticks and fleas, as well as a host of other annual wellness services. Find out more about our Wellness Plans HERE.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.
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