Dogs suffering from bartonellosis may have abnormally low levels of circulating red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets (referred to as “anemia” and “thrombocytopenia”). They also may have abnormally high levels of various white blood cells in their blood streams (referred to as “leukocytosis”). Routine blood work may reflect elevated liver enzymes and low levels of circulating albumin. Urinalysis of infected dogs tends to be inconsistent or unremarkable.
Advanced testing may include immunofluorescence assays (IFAs), which are performed on blood samples and can confirm a dog’s exposure to Bartonella. Polymerase chain reaction tests (PCRs) are available at limited specialized veterinary laboratories to diagnose bartonellosis based on blood or tissue samples, although false negatives may be seen if there are low numbers of the bacteria in circulation. One benefit of PCR is that it can distinguish between the different species of Bartonella, which IFA cannot. Blood or tissue cultures can be used in an attempt to grow the organisms in the laboratory; this process can take several weeks. A specialized liquid media preparation which may accelerate the culture and growth of Bartonella in the laboratory is under development, but is not yet widely available for commercial diagnostic use.
The zoonotic potential of Bartonella infection in dogs is unclear. In other words, it is uncertain whether a dog infected with Bartonella can transmit the infection to people. However, authorities suggest that zoonosis is possible. As a result, people with compromised or weakened immune systems should be especially careful around companion animals – particularly when introducing a new pet into their home.