Often if a dog from a Mediterranean country is sick, it is presumed to be caused by leishmania; but the animal should always be checked for for tick disease. It is not a life long disease such as leishmania but it can be more life threatening.
There have been isolated cases in the UK
Babesia is a small parasite (protozoe) which affects the red blood cells of its host. Babesia is transmitted by ticks (Rhipicephalus, Dermacentor – brown female ticks). Ticks acquire Babesia whilst sucking blood from infected animals. Later, the tick sucks blood from a healthy animal and transmits Babesia.
Babesia infections are reported in horses, dogs, foxes and other wild animals, also in man, but in the Mediterranean area it is mainly dogs who become infected because of the prevalence of Babesia Canis species. Direct infection between dogs and humans is not possible, it is always the tick which infects the mammals.
After the bite of a tick infected with Babesia, the dog starts a period of incubation which lasts between 10 days and 3 weeks. During this time, Babesias start to penetrate the red blood cells and to multiplicate (“to breed”).
After the incubation period, the dog will start with clinical symptoms, whose degree depends on the dogs own defence system:
– dogs with a weak defence suffer an acute shock and die
– dogs with a normal defence show high fever, loss of appetite, general weakness, pale mucous membranes and often a dark brown urine
– in advanced cases, rheumatic like pain, muscle stiffness and serious problems with blood coagulation, spleen swelling and jaundice add to the symptoms mentioned above.
Clinical symptoms and the demonstration of Babesia in the peripheral blood (ear vein) leads to a safe diagnosis. In chronic cases, a blood test (antibodies) for Babesia is recommended.
A special drug, administered twice by injection eliminates Babesia. In severe cases intensive treatment and blood transfusions are required.
Tick prevention! Protect your dog during the main tick season (March until November) with special tick collars or liquids (ask your vet). If you find a tick on your dog, remove it immediately (with turning clockwise movements). The tick needs 3 days of bloodsucking on the dog to transmit Babesia. The earlier you remove it, the less is the risk of this infection.
Dra. Inka Fca.Labsch