Babesiosis is a serious disease that affects dogs. If untreated, the infection can quickly lead to death. However, if it is caught and treated early on in the course of the disease, most dogs recover fully.
Babesiosis is caused by protazoa of the genus Babesia.
Babesia is a genus of protozoa that causes disease in animals, humans, birds, fish and reptiles. It is transmitted to dogs by the bite of an infected tick or deer fly.
Babesia canis is transmitted by the dog tick, Ixodes scapularis. It was formerly known as hemocytic babesiosis or piroplasmosis, but all have been reclassified as a single species now called B. canis. This organism causes severe disease and death in many dogs infected with this organism within a few weeks unless treated with medication.
Babesiosis may also occur in cats if they are allowed to roam outdoors where they can become infected with ticks carrying this parasite; however, it is much less common than in dogs because cats rarely become infected with ticks due to their grooming skills!
The disease occurs in warm climates, in both rural and urban areas.
It is most common in warm climates, in both rural and urban areas. The disease occurs throughout the United States and Canada, but it also occurs in Europe and Asia, as well as Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Dogs become infected with babesiosis when a tick bites them and transmits the disease-causing organism into their blood stream.
Symptoms of babesiosis include fever, anemia, weakness and lethargy. It’s important to note that these symptoms are similar to those associated with other illnesses such as Lyme disease or anaplasmosis; so if you notice any of these signs in your pup it could be worth having them checked out by your vet just in case!
If a dog becomes infected, the disease-causing organism can be transmitted from tick to dog during the larval stage of their life cycle. This occurs when an infected tick bites into the skin of your dog and injects it with its salivary fluid, which contains the disease-causing organism. The organism then enters your pet’s bloodstream and reproduces within red blood cells (RBCs) causing severe anemia.
Babesiosis attacks red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all tissues of the body.
The parasite attacks and destroys red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all tissues of the body. When this happens, your dog’s body can’t get enough oxygen to function properly and he may experience any number of symptoms:
- Anemia – low levels of red blood cells (hemoglobin) in his bloodstream
- Jaundice – yellowing of his skin and mucous membranes due to excess bilirubin pigments in his liver
- Hemoglobinuria – excess hemoglobin being passed through urine instead of being used for normal cell function
- Lethargy and weakness
- Increased respiratory rate
Babesia can be difficult to diagnose because it often looks like other diseases, such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. However, there are some symptoms that may indicate that your dog has been infected with babesiosis. Symptoms of babesia infection include fever, anemia (low red blood cell count), pale gums, lethargy and weakness, increased respiratory rate, jaundice (yellowing of gums, skin and whites of the eyes) hemoglobinuria (dark brown or red urine) and decreased appetite.
The severity of the disease depends upon the virulence (infectiveness) of the infecting protozoa. Virulence is dependent upon several factors:
- Species of protozoa
- Number of organisms in the bloodstream
- Immune system status of individual dogs (immunocompetent or immunosuppressed)
In severe cases, babesiosis can be fatal.
Babesiosis can be fatal in severe cases. A dog diagnosed with babesiosis should be treated with ivermectin, azithromycin or doxycycline for at least a month to prevent the parasite from multiplying and reaching dangerous levels. In addition, the infected dog should be isolated from other pets and people until after a month of treatment has passed.
It’s possible to prevent tick bites by using a tick repellent on your pet and by making sure that he has not recently been bitten by a tick before allowing him into your home. If you live in an area where ticks are common, it’s also helpful to have your yard treated with chemicals such as permethrin or diatomaceous earth every year as they help kill ticks before they bite your pet.
It is important to diagnose and treat dogs with babesiosis quickly as this is an acute illness that can rapidly progress to life threatening disease.
Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the disease from becoming severe. The severity of the disease depends upon the virulence (infectiveness) of the infecting protazoa, which varies with each species of Babesia present as well as specific factors related to individual dogs or populations at risk.
If you and your veterinarian suspect that your dog has babesiosis, a blood test will be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Once confirmed, treatment consists of antibiotics to kill the protazoa, as well as aggressive fluid therapy, red blood cell transfusions and supportive care. Without treatment, death is likely. However, with prompt and proper treatment dogs can make a full recovery from this disease.