Pets Are Important Too

Babesiosis: A Guide For Dog Owners

by Aurore Fontai

If you're a dog owner, you probably know to be wary of deer ticks, since they spread Lyme disease. However, there's another tick-borne illness to be aware of, too. Babesiosis is an infection spread by the American dog tick and the brown dog tick. If you live in areas such as the West Coast, Florida, or the eastern United States where these species of ticks are present, then you need to know the basics about this disease in order to better protect your dog.

How is babesiosis spread?

Like most tick-borne infections, babesiosis is spread to a dog when he or she is bitten by an infected tick. Unlike most tick-borne infections, babesiosis is actually caused by a protozoan parasite, rather than by bacteria. Most dogs start showing symptoms of babesiosis about 2 weeks after a tick bite.

What symptoms does babesiosis cause?

Symptoms vary from dog to dog, but most all dogs experience a lack of energy, lack of appetite, fever, and weight loss when babesiosis begins to set in. Other symptoms that some dogs show include yellowed skin, darkened stool, and an enlarged abdomen. Some dogs show only mild symptoms, so it may take months or years for their owners to realize something truly is wrong. Thus, if your dog is bitten by a tick, you need to be very vigilant about watching for symptoms in the weeks after the bite and seek vet care even if your dog shows only slight signs of illness.

How is babesiosis treated?

If you suspect your dog may have babesiosis, your vet will test him or her for this condition with a simple blood test. If your dog is diagnosed with babesiosis, treatment will likely include administering imidocarb diproprionate, a medication that will kill off the protozoans causing the infection. Dogs with mild cases of the illness are generally treated at home. However, those with severe symptoms may require IV fluids and blood transfusions, and thus may be treated in the animal hospital.

What is the prognosis for a dog with babesiosis?

Many dogs recover completely when the disease is diagnosed early. However, if a dog has babesiosis for a long time before treatment is begun, he or she may always have bouts of mild symptoms of the disease. Thus, it's important to seek prompt treatment at an animal hospital if you ever think your dog may have this condition.

The best way to prevent babesiosis is simply to keep ticks off of your dog. Steer clear of wooded area, since this is where ticks most enjoy hiding.  Look over your dog for ticks when he or she comes inside, so you can hopefully remove them before the infection is passed from the tick to the dog.