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Babesiosis in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatments

Babesia infection or Babesiosis is a tick borne disease diagnosed in dogs across the United States. In today's post our Southeast Memphis vets explain the symptoms and treatments for Babesiosis as well as how you can protect your dog against this and other tick borne diseases.

What is babesiosis in Dogs?

Babesiosis is a disease caused by a family of Babesia organisms that are spread to pets and other animals through the bite of infected ticks. These organisms invade and attack the red blood cells in dogs as well as humans. The most common Babesia organisms found in US dogs include Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni.

Babesia infections are most often seen in pit bull terriers and greyhounds.

How do dogs get babesiosis?

Typically dogs contract Babesiosis through the bite of an infected tick, however, some studies suggest that dogs infected with the organism that have open mouth sores can pass on the infection to other dogs through a bite.

In other cases infected pregnant females transmit Babesiosis to their unborn puppies. Pit bulls are believed to develop Babesia gibsoni infections most often due to dog to dog bites and maternal transmission. 

What are the symptoms of babesiosis in dogs?

Dogs with chronic Babesia can be asymptomatic and show no symptoms at all, but it's important to understand that even when symptoms are not apparent the dog can spread the disease to other animals or people.

If your pet does contract Babesiosis the symptoms that your pup displays will depend on the type of Babesia organism that has infected your pet. Some of the most common symptoms of acute Babesiosis include jaundice, weakness and fever.

How do vets diagnose Babesia infections in dogs?

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination of your pup looking for signs of the disease such as swollen lymph nodes, pale mucous membranes, and an enlarged spleen.

If babesiosis is suspected your vet may recommend blood and urine tests to check for the presence of bilirubinuria as well as signs of anemia, low platelet count, and low albumin.

Babesia organisms can sometimes be seen by doing a simple blood smear, however other diagnostic tests may still be necessary including fluorescent antibody staining, indirect, immunofluorescence (IFAT), ELISA tests, and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing.

Babesia DNA testing (PCR testing) is often recommended to help your vet determine which strain of Babesia organism has infected your pet. This is particularly valuable information because infections by different species require different medications to treat the condition effectively.

What is the treatment for babesiosis?

Most vets take a 3 pronged approach when treating dogs that are suffering from Babesia infections.

  1. Antiprotozoal medications can be prescribed to help eliminate the parasite from your pet's bloodstream.
  2. Blood transfusions may be used to treat anemia in dogs.
  3. Further supportive treatments such as oxygen therapy (to treat respiratory issues), or anti-nausea medication (to help prevent vomiting), will be prescribed to address your pup's symptoms.

Imidocarb dipropionate injections may also be recommended depending on the strain of Babesia your pooch is infected with. 

Treatment for dogs infected with Babesia gibsoni often involves a combination of atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) and azithromycin (antibiotic).

What is the prognosis for dogs with babesiosis?

Unfortunately, most Babesiosis cases in dogs are not caught until the condition is fairly progressed, meaning that treatment is late to begin. How well your dog recovers from the condition will depend upon which of your pup's internal systems are affected and how seriously, so the prognosis is generally guarded.

Dogs that recover from an initial Babesia infection may remain infected but asymptomatic for a fairly long time, then experience a relapse. Dogs with a chronic (symptom-free or very mild symptoms) infection may still be able to spread the disease to other animals and people.

How can I prevent my dog from catching babesiosis?

Babesiosis treatment for dogs can be expensive, which is why prevention is essential whenever possible.

Providing your dog with year-round tick prevention medication can be an effective way to reduce your pup's risk of contracting a variety of tick borne diseases including Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme and Anaplasmosis.

Checking your dog's skin for ticks on a daily basis, and removing any parasites you find, can also help to prevent tick borne diseases since it typically takes 48 hours or longer for Babesia transmission to occur once the tick begins feeding on your dog.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog has symptoms of babesiosis contact your Memphis vet at Southwind Animal Hospital today to schedule an examination for your pooch. Our vets have experience in the diagnosis and treatment of tick borne illnesses in dogs including Babesia infections

How Babesia infections in dogs are treated, Southeast Memphis Vets

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