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.