Babesiosis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Babesiosis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Babesiosis can infect dogs, other animals and humans. This contagious tick-borne disease can damage your pet’s organs and cause illness. In this post, our Waxhaw vets share some insight about babesiosis in dogs, including symptoms, treatment, prognosis and prevention. 

What is babesiosis in dogs?

Many different Babesia organisms can cause this tick-borne disease. The organisms can invade and attack your dog’s red blood cells. In addition, they can infect mammals and humans. Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni are the most common Babesia organisms to cause the disease in North American dogs.

How can a dog become infected with or contract babesiosis?

Typically, an infected tick bites a dog, transmitting the Babesia organisms to him or her. But some studies suggest that dogs may also become infected via open mouth sores, then pass the infection onto other dogs by biting them. Pregnant mothers can also pass on babesiosis to their puppies.

While tick bites are the culprit for most cases of babesiosis infection, in pit bull terriers bites from another dog or maternal transmission are statistically responsible for more cases.

Tainted blood used in a blood transfusion can also be a source of infection for dogs.

What are the symptoms of babesiosis?

Dogs with chronic babesiosis infections may be asymptomatic, but your pet can still spread the disease to other animals and people.

If a dog does display symptoms, they will depend on the type of Babesia organism that’s infected your dog. Common symptoms of babesiosis can include:

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Orange or dark red urine
  • Jaundice

How is babesiosis diagnosed?

Your vet will examine your dog to check for signs such as pale mucous membranes, an enlarged spleen, and swollen lymph nodes.

If babesiosis is suspected, diagnostic testing including urine tests and blood tests may be taken to reveal whether your dog has bilirubinuria, low albumin, anemia, or a low platelet count.

Babesia organisms can often be detected with a simple blood smear. Other diagnostic tests, including ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) tests, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), IFAT (immunofluorescence), indirect, and fluorescent antibody staining may also be performed.

A vet may recommend PCR testing for Babesia DNA to help identify which type of Babesia organism has infected your dog. This information will prove especially useful as infections from different species will require different medications to treat the condition.

How is babesiosis in dogs treated?

Our vets typically take a three-pronged approach to treat babesiosis in dogs. This includes:
  • Blood transfusions to treat anemia
  • Prescribing antiprotozoal medications to help kill the parasite
  • Providing supportive care to treat complications or side effects of the infection, such as oxygen therapy to treat respiratory issues and anti-nausea medication to help prevent vomiting.
  • Occasionally, imidocarb dipropionate injections are prescribed (depending on the type of babesiosis) to help fight the infection. For dogs with Babesia gibsoni, a combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (antibiotic) may also be prescribed.

What is the prognosis for dogs diagnosed with babesiosis?

Usually, the disease has progressed by the time most dogs are diagnosed. How well your dog will recover will depend on which organs are impacted, and the side effects caused by the infection. Prognosis is typically guarded.

Dogs that survive a first round of Babesia infection may remain asymptomatic. They retain the infection for a relatively long time and can then suffer a relapse. In chronic cases (which are symptom-free or low symptom), the disease can still spread to other animals.

How can I prevent my dog from getting babesiosis?

Since treatment can be expensive and recovery not certain, prevention of babesiosis is key. To help prevent your dog from contracting the infection, ensure he or she is on tick prevention medication year-round - an effective way to prevent numerous tick-borne diseases. Check your pup daily for ticks, and correctly remove any parasites you find. It takes at least 48 hours for Babesia to be transmitted once the tick starts to feed on your pet.

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.

If your dog is showing symptoms of a tick borne disease, it is important for you to seek veterinary help as soon as possible. Contact our qualified team at Providence South Animal Hospital for diagnosis and treatment of any tick borne illness your dog may have contracted.  

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