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Babesiosis – Tick-borne parasite of dogs

Recently there have been 3 reported cases of Babesia in dogs in Essex.   Babesia is a single-celled protozoan parasite of red blood cells. When Piroplasms (the infective stage of the parasite) multiply in red blood cells it results in the cells being broken down, bursting (both directly by the parasite, and by the immune system trying to kill it) and haemoglobin is released in to the bloodstream. This can lead to jaundice and anaemia as not enough red blood cells are reproduced to replace those broken down.

The most common form of transmission is by tick bites although the tick must be attached for 2-3 days for this to happen. Direct transfer via blood from dog bites, blood transfusion or from mother to pups while in the womb can happen, but is much less likely.

Symptoms in the dog follow in 10-28 days (average 2 weeks), and since ticks usually only feed for 7 days, they are often not seen on the dog when the symptoms first start.  Symptoms may remain mild and some cases may not be diagnosed for months or years.

Symptoms of babesiosis include:

  • ·        lack of energy
  • ·        lack of appetite
  • ·        pale gums
  • ·        fever
  • ·        enlarged abdomen
  • ·        discoloured (red) urine
  • ·        yellow/orange skin
  • ·        weight loss
  • ·        discoloured faeces

There are drugs which will kill the parasite, but prevention of transmission is always best.  Several products which kill ticks quickly are available, please ask us for the best one for your dog.

Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors especially in wooded areas are at increased risk from tick bites and from contracting the parasite more commonly during the summer months (May to September).  Routine tick prevention is the best method for avoiding the onset of disease.

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