Babesiosis in Dogs
Definition of Babesiosis
Babesiosis is a potentially fatal blood-borne disease of mammals, including dogs, cats and people. Babesia are tiny parasites that infect and destroy their host’s red blood cells (RBCs), causing the animal to become anemic, which means that it doesn’t have enough RBCs to carry oxygen throughout its body. Dogs typically get infected from the saliva of ticks, especially brown dog ticks, after they bite a white-tailed deer, a white-footed mouse or another mammal with Babesia in its blood. Babesia can also enter a dog through blood transfusions, mammal bites and across the placenta. The parasites make the dog’s RBCs stick together and, eventually, rupture. Some dogs never develop symptoms. Others become weak, lethargic and depressed, with pale-to-yellow mucous membranes, vomiting and diarrhea. They are reluctant to move, lose their appetite and drop weight. They can become disoriented, uncoordinated and can collapse. Fortunately, babesiosis often can be prevented by tick control and screening of transfused blood. Medical management can help dogs that become infected.
Babesiosis is caused by a tiny parasite that infects the red blood cells of dogs and other mammals. Two species of this parasite have been identified in the United States: Babesia canis (“large babesia”) and Babesia gibsoni (“small babesia”). Babesia organisms are transmitted to dogs in the saliva of ticks. Ticks pick up these parasites when they bite infected rodents, like mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels. The infective form of the parasite is called a
How badly a dog feels when it is infected with Babesia probably depends mostly upon the extent of damage to its red blood cell supply. Dogs of any age or breed can become infected with these parasites. Dogs with severe babesiosis will be weak, tired and depressed. They will be reluctant to rise and move around and probably will lose their appetite. They may also lose weight.Babesiosis can cause extremely debilitating disease in some dogs.
Babesiosis is not particularly difficult to diagnose, although the more advanced diagnostic techniques will require sending blood samples out to a specialized veterinary pathology laboratory. Standard blood work performed on dogs suspected of having babesiosis includes a complete blood count and a serum biochemistry profile. In dogs with babesiosis, the results of these tests typically reveal low numbers of circulating red blood cells (this is called a low packed cell volume [PCV], or anemia). The
Dogs with babesiosis may or may not need to be hospitalized, depending upon the severity of their disease. Any attached ticks should be removed from the animal as quickly as possible. If the dog is dehydrated, supportive care will include aggressive administration of intravenous fluids. Blood transfusions, either with whole blood or packed red blood cells, may be necessary, especially if the animal is severely anemic. Certain oral medications that can potentially clear the organism