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Babesiosis In Dogs: Symptoms And Treatments

Babesiosis In Dogs: Symptoms And Treatments

Babesiosis or Babesia infection is a tick-borne disease seen in dogs across the country. Today, our Lithia Springs veterinary team explains the symptoms and treatments for Babesiosis and how you can help to protect your dog against tick-borne diseases.

Babesiosis in Dogs

Babesiosis is a disease caused by a family of Babesia organisms that are spread through the bite of infected ticks. These organisms invade and attack the red blood cells in humans, dogs and other mammals. The most common Babesia organisms found in US dogs include Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni. Babesiosis is most often seen in pit bull terriers and greyhounds.

How Dogs Contract Babesiosis

Dogs usually contract Babesiosis 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. Pit bulls most often develop Babesia gibsoni infections due to dog to dog bites or maternal transmission.

Signs of Babesiosis in Dogs

Dogs with chronic Babesia are often asymptomatic and show no symptoms at all, but it's important to know that even when symptoms are not apparent the dog can spread the disease to other animals or people.

If your dog does contract Babesiosis the symptoms that your pup displays will depend on the type of Babesia that has infected your pet. Some of the most common symptoms of acute Babesiosis include:

  • Jaundice
  • Weakness
  • Fever

Diagnosing Babesiosis In Dogs

Your vet will do a thorough examination of your pup looking for signs of the disease such as swollen lymph nodes, pale mucous membranes, and an enlarged spleen. If babesiosis is believed to be the cause of your dog's symptoms your vet may recommend blood and urine tests to check for the presence of bilirubinuria as well as signs of anemia, low platelet count, and low albumin.

Sometimes, Babesia organisms can be detected from a simple blood smear, but other diagnostic tests may be necessary including 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 determine which type of Babesia organism has infected your dog. This is particularly valuable information because infections by different species need different medications to treat the condition effectively.

Treating Babesiosis In Dogs

Most vets have a three-pronged approach to treating their canine patients suffering from Babesiosis.

  1. Antiprotozoal medications can be prescribed to help eliminate the parasite from your pet's bloodstream.
  2. Blood transfusions may be used to treat anemia in dogs.
  3. Further supportive treatments will be provided to address any complications or side effects of the condition such as oxygen therapy to treat respiratory issues, or anti-nausea medication to help prevent vomiting.

Imidocarb dipropionate injections may also be administered, depending on the strain of Babesia that has infected your dog.

Treatment for dogs infected with Babesia gibsoni often involves a combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (an antibiotic).

The Prognosis For Dogs With Babesiosis

Sadly, cases of Babesiosis in dogs are not caught early on, which means that the disease is often fairly advanced by the time treatment begins. How well your dog recovers from the condition will depend upon which of your dog's internal systems are affected by the disease and how seriously, so the prognosis is generally cautious.

Dogs that survive an initial Babesia infection may remain infected but asymptomatic for a fairly long period of time, then suffer a relapse. Dogs with a chronic (symptom-free or very mild symptoms) infection may still be able to spread the disease to other animals and people.

Preventing Babesiosis In Dogs

As with many diseases, prevention is the best way to head off any potential complications - and in the case of Babesiosis treatment, avoid future medical expenses and heartbreak. 

Keeping your dog on year-round tick prevention medication can be an effective way to reduce your dog's risk of contracting a variety of tick borne diseases including Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis and Lyme.

Daily tick checks of your household pets and proper removal of any parasites you discover, 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.

If your dog has severe symptoms of a Babesia infection contact our Lithia Springs emergency vets for urgent care!

After Hours Emergency & Urgent Care

Westside Animal Emergency Clinic is open weekday evenings, overnight and weekends to provide your pet with urgent care when needed. Our experienced Lithia Springs vets are passionate about restoring good health to companion animals.

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Contact (770) 819-1090