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Babesiosis in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

Babesiosis in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

Babesiosis or Babesia infection is spread by ticks and seen in dogs across the United States. In today's post our Albany, GA vets explain the symptoms and treatments for Babesiosis and how you can help to prevent your dog from contracting this serious condition.

What is Babesiosis?

Babesiosis is primarily a tick borne disease caused by a family of Babesia organisms that invade and attack the red blood cells in mammals, (including humans and dogs). The most common Babesia organisms found in dogs in the United States include Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni.

Our Albany veterinarians most often see cases of Babesiosis in pit bull terriers and greyhounds.

How do dogs catch Babesiosis or a Babesia infection?

Babesia organisms are most often spread to dogs through the bite of an infected tick. Although, 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.

In the case of pit bull terriers, Babesia gibsoni infection is most often due to dog to dog bites or maternal transmission. 

Tainted blood transmitted accidentally can also lead to Babesia infection in dogs.

What are the symptoms of Babesiosis in dogs?

Symptoms don't always appear in dogs with chronic Babesia (asymptomatic), but it's important to note that even when symptoms are not evident the dog could spread the disease to other pets or people.

The symptoms that your dog displays will depend on the type of Babesia that has infected your pooch, however, the most common symptoms of acute Babesia include: 

  • Jaundice
  • Weakness
  • Fever

How are Babesia infections in dogs diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of your pup looking for symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, pale mucous membranes, and an enlarged spleen. If babesiosis is suspected your vet may recommend diagnostic testing such as blood and urine tests to check for signs of anemia, low platelet count, low albumin, or the presence of bilirubinuria.

Sometimes Babesia organisms can be seen by doing a simple blood smear, however other diagnostic tests may include 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 establish which type of Babesia organism has infected your pooch. This is especially valuable information since infections by different species require different medications in order to treat the disease effectively.

What is the treatment for Babesiosis in dogs?

Babesiosis treatment in dogs is typically a 3 pronged approach.

  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 are sometimes given to dogs infected with Babesia depending on the strain your pooch is infected with. 

A combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (antibiotic) may be prescribed as a treatment for dogs infected with Babesia gibsoni.

What is the prognosis for dogs with Babesiosis?

By the time most cases of Babesiosis have been diagnosed the disease if fairly progressed. How well your dog recovers from the condition will depend upon which systems are affected (what side-effects your dog is experiencing due to the infection), and so the prognosis is generally guarded.

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 could still spread the disease to other animals.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Babesiosis?

Treatment for Babesiosis in dogs can be expensive, so prevention where possible is essential!

When it comes to protecting your pet against babesiosis, keeping your dog on year-round tick prevention medication can be an effective way to prevent a variety of tick borne diseases including Babesiosis, Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Anaplasmosis.

Checking your dog daily for ticks, and correctly removing any parasites you find, can also help to prevent tick borne diseases since it takes a minimum of 48 hours for the Babesia transmission to occur once the tick begins feeding on your pooch.

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 think that your dog may be suffering from a Babesia infection? Contact our Albany vets today to book an examination for your canine companion.

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