Babesia Infection in Dogs

Babesia infection, also known as babesiosis, is a disease caused by parasites. In dogs, the infection is most frequently contracted through a tick bite, but babesiosis may also be transmitted through a dog bite or blood transfusions. The condition cannot be treated, but the symptoms are manageable.

Means of Transmission

Babesiosis is transmitted mainly through tick bites, as ticks are carriers of the babesia parasite. However, the infection may also be transmitted through blood transfusions (with infested blood) or through a dog bite (provided the dog that bites is already infected with the parasite).

The infection is also transmitted through birth, from mother to puppies.

Symptoms of Babesia Infection

The parasite will have a 2 week incubation period and during this time there will be no symptoms. Even after the incubation period, the dog may not present signs; some dogs may display some milder symptoms and will only be diagnosed in a few months or even years, when the symptoms will be more severe.

The parasitic infection will affect the red blood cells and these will be in deficit.

In time, the infection can cause hemolytic anemia.

Common symptoms of babesia infection include:

  • Jaundice (due to the fact that the body doesn’t have sufficient amounts of red blood cells), manifested through yellow eye whites and other mucous membranes
  • Anemia, manifested through poor hair and skin condition and lethargy
  • Lack of appetite, which can lead to weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Elevated fever
  • The urine will have a modified color
  • The stool will be discolored

Diagnosing Babesia Infection

The babesia infection will have symptoms that may be specific to other diseases as well, so tests are required to identify the condition. Blood tests may confirm the presence of the infection, however, in some dogs, the tests will not give conclusive results.

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test will give a clear diagnosis.

Treatment Options

The treatment of babesiosis will focus on reducing the symptoms; the condition cannot be cured. The dog will receive injections with Imidocarb dipropionate.

If the condition causes severe symptoms, the vet will keep the dog under surveillance and fluid therapy and blood transfusions will be needed.

The vet will have to repeat the tests to monitor the evolution of the disease. The dog should also be isolated, as even if the parasite cannot be transmitted through saliva, direct contact or feces, the infection can be contracted through blood.

Preventing Babesiosis

If you live in an area with ticks, your dog is more exposed to this infection. Babesiosis can be prevented if you check for ticks on a daily basis, making sure to remove the ticks before these release their toxins in the dog’s blood flow.

Even if you don’t live in an area with ticks, it’s a good idea to check for ticks after each outing in an area where ticks may be present.

To date, there is no vaccine to prevent babesiosis.