Babesiosis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Babesiosis can make your dog sick - and may infect other humans and animals. Learn about the causes, symptoms, treatment and prognosis for babesiosis in dogs from our Flat Rock vets. 

What is Babesiosis in dogs?

This tick-borne disease is caused by several Babesia organisms that invade and attack red blood cells of dogs, mammals and humans. In North American dogs, the most common Babesia organisms are the Babesia canis and the Babesia gibsoni.

How can a dog contract Babesiosis or become infected?

In most cases, dogs are bitten by a tick infected with Babesia organisms. However, some studies indicate that dogs can become infected through open mouth sores, then pass the infection to other dogs through a bite. Unborn puppies can catch babesiosis from their pregnant mothers.

While tick bites are the source of most cases of babesiosis infection, Babesia gibsoni infection in pit bull terriers is most often caused by maternal transmission or bites from dog to dog.

Babesia infection may also be transmitted inadvertently due to tainted blood transfusion.

What are symptoms of Babesiosis?

Dogs with chronic Babesia infections may be asymptomatic. However, even when you don’t notice symptoms, it’s possible for your pooch to spread the disease to other pets and people.

The type of Babesia that’s infected your pet will determine which symptoms he or she exhibits. That said, common symptoms of Babesia include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Orange or dark red urine
  • Weakness

How is Babesiosis diagnosed?

Your vet will conduct a full physical examination, looking for signs such as pale mucous membranes, an enlarged spleen and swollen lymph nodes.

If he or she suspects Babesiosis may be the culprit of your dog’s illness, diagnostic testing including urine and blood tests may follow. These will reveal whether your dog has a low platelet count, anemia, bilirubinuria, or low albumin.

Babesia organisms can often be detected by taking a simple blood smear. However, other diagnostic tests may include indirect, immunofluorescence (IFAT), PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, ELISA tests and fluorescent antibody staining.

Vets will often recommend Babesia DNA testing (PCR testing) to help determine which type of Babesia organism your dog has become infected with. This information is especially important since infections from different species require different medications to treat the condition.

What is the treatment for Babesiosis in dogs?

Typically, our vets take a three-pronged approach to treating Babesiosis in dogs. This includes:

  • Prescribing antiprotozoal medications to help eliminate the parasite.
  • Blood transfusions to treat anemia.
  • Providing supportive care to treat side effects or complications of Babesiosis, such as anti-nausea medication to help prevent vomiting, or oxygen therapy to treat respiratory issues.

Depending on which type of the disease your dog is infected with, injections of imidocarb dipropionate are occasionally prescribed to help combat this disease. A combination of azithromycin (antibiotic) and atovaquone (a quinone antimicrobial medication) may be prescribed to treat dogs with Babesia gibsoni.

What is the prognosis for dogs diagnosed with Babesiosis?

Typically, the disease is fairly progressed by the time most dogs are diagnosed. How well your dog will recover will depend on which organs are affected, and the side effects he or she experiences due to infection. Prognosis is usually guarded.

Dogs that survive an initial Babesia infection can be asymptomatic but remain infected for a relatively long time, and may then suffer a relapse.

Dogs with chronic (low symptom or symptom-free) infection may still spread the disease to other animals.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Babesiosis?

Preventing the disease is key, as treatment can be expensive. To help prevent Babesiosis, ensure your dog is on tick prevention medication year-round - this can be an effective way to prevent a host of tick-borne diseases.

Check your dog daily for ticks, and correctly remove any parasites you discover - once the tick starts to feed on your pet, it takes at least 48 hours for Babesia to be transmitted.

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.

Have your noticed symptoms of Babesiosis in your dog? Our Flat Rock vets are experienced in diagnosing a number of conditions and illnesses. Contact our office today to book an appointment.

Babesiosis in Dogs, Flat Rock Vet

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