Canine Babesiosis: A Tick-Transmitted Disease

November 16, 2019
Babesia canis is a parasite that infects red blood cells and can lead to anemia. This is a species that falls under the overarching genus Babesia.

In recent years, canine babesiosis has ceased to be an exotic tick-transmitted disease. It has already become a cause for concern on almost every continent. As a result, scholars of veterinary medicine point towards the need to study and learn more about this infectious disease. After all, it’s for the sake of our dear pets’ health.

The increase in cases of this canine infection in the last decade is basically due to tick proliferation. Especially the Rhipicefalus sanguineus subspecies, a brown tick that acts as a carrier. That is to say, it shelters and transports the real cause of the disease: the hematozoon Babesia Canis.

Despite developing more easily in the canine species, the bacteria can also affect cats and humans, causing serious damage to health.

A tick-transmitted disease to watch out for

Canine babesiosis consists of a generalized infectious process. It’s caused by a specimen of the hematozoa family: Babesia Canis. The microorganisms found in this family can also cause innumerable yet more benign diseases than canine babesiosis.

A dog with a tick transmitted disease.
Photo credits: Soggydan Benenovitch

The latest studies have found that there are 4 genotypes of Babesis: Babesia canis vogeli, Babesia canis canis, and Babesia canis rossi (Lahler’s disease). So far, only Babesia canis vogeli relates to canine babesiosis. It has been found in the blood of infected animals and ticks from the Rhipicefalus sanguineus species.

Babesia canis vogeli is an intracellular hematozoon. Therefore, it needs an intermediate host to develop its larvae. It usually colonizes the intestines, ovaries and mainly the salivary glands of various ticks. The most commonly infected tick family is the Rhipicefalus sanguineus.

This tiny external parasite has an enormous capacity for survival, but its optimum development occurs in warmer or more moderate climates. As a result, we can find the largest population in tropical and subtropical countries. In Europe, the population has been growing and tends to proliferate during summertime.

The most common form of transmission is through tick bites. Therefore, the best form of prevention is avoiding the spreading of these parasites.

Symptoms and treatment

Once bitten by the infected tick, the incubation period in dogs usually lasts 2-4 weeks. The first noticeable symptoms of this infectious disease may take between 1 to 2 months to appear.

The most worrying thing about this disease is the hematozoa’s rate of expansion. When they reach the bloodstream, they quickly affect red blood cells, macrophages and also lung and liver tissues.

A general health deterioration in the affected animal begins to be evident within 24 hours after the first symptoms. Most dogs with this parasitic disease need intensive therapy to control the evolution of the infectious pathogen.

The most frequent symptoms are hyperthermia (fever) and:

  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Lethargy and excessive sleep
  • Jaundice (yellow tinge to the skin, gums, and whites of eyes)
  • Hemoglobinuria/rupture of red blood cells
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Enlarged spleen.

An early diagnosis

It’s important that the disease is properly treated after the first symptoms appear. Otherwise, it can evolve rapidly and cause irreversible damage to the animal’s liver and lungs.

Symptom intensity varies from case to case. An immune-suppressed dog or an older dog may have more intense symptoms than younger, healthier animals. Malnourished or undernourished dogs have the most vulnerable immune systems to all kinds of diseases, for instance.

Early diagnosis is essential to allow a comprehensive cure for this disease. Therefore, the animal must be hospitalized promptly after the first symptoms are present.

Complexity in some cases

In some symptomatic cases, treatment consists of glucocorticoids, heparin, and blood transfusions.

A dog laying on a hospital bed.

It’s often difficult to recognize the symptoms. They can be mistaken for signs of other minor or benign disorders. Therefore, the best way to avoid infection in our pets is to regularly take them to the vet for routine check-ups and tests.

This is essential in order to prevent parasites from spreading in the animal’s body. Therefore, internal and external deworming should be carried out frequently. Special soaps or flea collars can also be used, either as natural remedies or to repel the parasites through the smell.

We hope this article was useful and offered you a great look into this tick-transmitted disease that infects our loved pets and even us! Until next time.