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Canine Babesiosis is a disease that destroys red blood cells. Young babesia parasites go into red blood cells and destroy them.
Younger dogs in kennels are more prone to infection.
The dog's immune system will destroy any infected red blood cells in order to destroy the parasite living inside. If many cells are infected, this results in red blood cell deficiency, called anemia. Sometimes, the immune system will also destroy uninfected cells. This is called immune-mediated hemolytic anemia.
The cause of babesiosis can be:
- Tick bite: a tick feeds on a dog for 2 to 3 days and infects it with the babesia parasite
- Infected pregnant dog: the disease can spread to her unborn puppies
- Dog bite: from an infected dog
The most common signs of babesiosis are:
- Pale tongue and gums (because of red blood cell deficiency)
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Lack of appetite
- Dark urine (red or orange)
It is common for infected dogs to get other tick-related diseases (such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease) when bitten by a tick carrying Babesiosis. These diseases will make babesiosis more severe.
In order to diagnose your dog with babesiosis, your veterinarian will review medical history and discuss possible tick exposure.
Then, the veterinarian will do a few tests to determine if your dog has babesiosis:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): a blood test that measures the amount of red and white blood cells
- Blood smear: examines single cells from your dog's blood
- Immunofluorescence: uses a fluorescent dye to illuminate viruses in the body
- PCR testing: extremely sensitive test which can test for different types of babesia
Most veterinarians agree that specific treatment depends on the exact type of babesia in your dog. Treatment will usually include:
- Medications: injected or through an IV
- Blood transfusions: 50% of dogs will need
Babesiosis can be prevented with tick control:
- Avoid tick-infested environments: sandy, wooded and grassy areas, thick underbrush, and make sure your dog stays on a path if you are near wooded or grassy areas
- Tick repellents: for yourself and your dog, especially if you are going into woods or anywhere where there may be ticks
- Tick checks: for yourself and your dog after walking in woods or fields; if you find any ticks on your dog, remove them immediately!
Removing the tick within 24 hours of it landing on your dog will greatly reduce the chance of your dog contracting babesiosis.
If the tick is moving, it has not yet bitten your dog. Quickly remove it and kill it by putting it in rubbing alcohol or crushing it between two solid surfaces. If you crush the tick, do not get its blood on your skin, as the bacteria can enter your body through a small cut.
If the tick is attached to your dog, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your pet's skin as possible, and slowly and steadily pull it straight out. It is important to kill the tick in alcohol after removing it, or it may look for another host to feed on.
The prognosis for babesiosis is guarded. Surviving dogs are usually lifetime carriers of the disease; they may suffer relapses with stress, and they may spread the disease further.
Dogs that have recovered from babesiosis should not donate blood for transfusions because the recipients will get the disease.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM