Babesia Or Babesiosis in Dogs (Biliary fever)
Babesias are microscopic blood parasites that cause disease in many animals. This group of protozoal organisms are spread from dog to dog by ticks. Babesiosis in dogs is transmitted in South Africa by the ticks. It can also be spread through infected blood transfusions. Two of them, B. canis (“large” Babesia) and B. gibsoni (“small” Babesia) cause the sudden destruction of blood known as acute haemolytic anaemia in dogs. These parasites live within the cytoplasm of the red blood cells.
There are three forms of the disease, peracute, acute, and chronic. In the fulminating or peracute form, young dogs arrive at the animal hospital not eating, depressed and weak. Their gums are very pale and they are generally running a fever. Dogs that have this disease usually arrive with substantial anaemia. They are often jaundiced (yellow) due to large amounts of blood pigments present in their skin. This occurs when destroyed red blood cells overwhelm the liver’s ability to process them. The colour change is particularly apparent in the whites of their eyes.
Babesia is diagnosed with a thin blood smear taken from the earflap. The Babesia parasites can be seen inside the red blood cells. The blood smear will also show anaemia with lots of new red blood cells (reticulocytes) and often an increase in white blood cells.
We treat this disease with anti-babesiosis drugs, cortico-steroids and if needed intravenous fluids, blood building tonics and good nursing care. Dogs that are very anaemic might require a blood transfusion.
Sometimes dogs are simultaneously infected with a second parasite, Ehrlichia canis. When this is the case your dog will also be given a course of antibiotics to treat this.
The secret of keeping the dog free of Babesia is good tick control.
Check your pet and yourself daily for ticks and remove them.
Use a spot on tick product that is effective against ticks every month. For dogs that live in areas that have high tick populations you will need to either use a tick collar that contains amitraz or use an amitraz dip every week to help in tick control.
Treat your yard with insecticides approved for controlling ticks or hire a professional to do so.
Keep your yard closely mowed. Clear brushy areas that harbour ticks and trim your trees so that sunshine reaches the ground.