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A Pet Parent's Guide to Babesiosis in Dogs

Babesiosis is a relatively common tick-borne condition diagnosed in dogs across the United States. Here, our Voorhees vets explain symptoms and treatment options for this disease. 


Babesia Infections in Dogs

Babesiosis is a disease caused by a group of Babesia organisms that appear all over the world and spread to animals through the bite of an infected tick. Once inside your dog's body, these organisms invade and attack your pet's red blood cells, often leading to anemia. 

Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni are the two most common varieties of Babesia infections seen in dogs across the United States. 

How Babesiosis is Spread 

Dogs most often contract Babesiosis through the bite of an infected tick. However, dogs that also have open mouth sores and become infected with the organism can pass the infection on to other dogs through biting. Pregnant females can also potentially transmit Babesiosis to their unborn puppies. 

Signs of Babesiosis in Dogs 

Chronic Babesia can be asymptomatic in dogs (no obvious symptoms). However, it's important to understand that even when symptoms are not clearly visible, the dog can spread the disease to other animals or even to people. 

If your pup does contract Babesiosis, the symptoms your four-legged companion develops will depend on the type of Babesia organism that's infecting your pet. Common symptoms of acute Babesiosis include weakness, fever, and jaundice. 

How Babesia Infections Are Diagnosed 

When you bring your dog to a vet for an examination, the vet will thoroughly examine your dog for signs of Babesiosis, including pale mucous membranes, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged spleen. 

If your vet suspects a Babesia infection, blood and urine tests will likely be recommended to determine whether bilirubinuria (a pigment from breaking down red blood cells found in your dog's urine) are present.

These tests will also reveal any signs of anemia, low platelet count (which increases the risk of bleeding), and low albumin (a protein formed in the liver and carried into the blood). Albumin regulates blood volume by controlling pressure in the blood compartment and is also important for retaining fluid in the vascular compartment. So, a deficiency of albumin can have grave risks for a dog, including a dangerous buildup of fluid.

Babesia organisms can sometimes be discovered by conducting a simple blood smear. However, diagnostic testing, such as fluorescent antibody staining, indirect immunofluorescence (IFAT), ELISA tests, and PCR (polymerase chain reaction testing) may be required. 

Since different strains of Babesia infections will need to be treated differently, your veterinarian may recommend Babesia DNA testing to determine which strain of the organism has infected your pet. 

Treatment for Babesiosis in Dogs 

Babesiosis treatment requires a three-pronged approach to fight the infection. Your vet may prescribe:

  1. Antiprotozoal medications to help eliminate the parasite from your dog's bloodstream. 
  2. Blood transfusions to treat anemia in dogs. 
  3. Further supportive treatments like oxygen therapy (to treat respiratory problems), or anti-nausea medication (to help prevent vomiting). 

Depending on the strain of Babesia your canine companion is infected with Imidocarb dipropionate injections may also be recommended. A combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (antibiotic) is typically used to treat Babesia gibsoni infections in dogs.

Prognosis For Dogs with Babesiosis

The prognosis for dogs with Babesiosis is generally guarded. Most Babesiosis cases are not caught until the condition is fairly progressed, meaning that treatment is late to begin. How well your dog recovers from the condition will depend upon the severity of the condition and which systems of the body are affected.

Dogs that recover from an initial Babesia infection may remain infected but asymptomatic, then experience a relapse. That's why pet parents need to be aware that dogs with chronic, symptom-free, or very mild symptom infections are still able to spread the disease.

Preventing Babesiosis in Dogs

Keeping your dog on year-round tick prevention medication can be an effective way to reduce your dog's risk of contracting tick-borne diseases such as Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.

Examining your dog's skin for ticks on a daily basis, and removing any parasites you find, 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 pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your dog may have Babesiosis? Contact our vets at Voorhees Veterinary Center to schedule an examination for your canine companion.

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