Babesiosis in dogs

Babesiosis in dogs

What is Babesiosis?

Babesiosis is a rare disease in dogs, but it does exist and it is important for dog owners and veterinarians to be observant on Babesiosis symptoms in dogs. Babesiosis is caused by parasitic protozoan from the genus Babesia and the disease is somewhat similar to malaria. Babesiosis is spread by ticks and damages the red blood cells in the dog. Dogs are not the only ones who can catch Babesiosis from a tick; humans are susceptible as well.

The genus Babesia contains over 100 species but not all of them are transmissible to dogs. In the United States, a handful of Babesia species dangerous for dogs have been found, including Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni.

Babesiosis transmission to dogs 

Babesiosis is transmitted to the dog via a bite from an infected tick. A tick must stay attached on the dog for at least 2-3 days to cause disease and checking your dog for ticks at least once a day is therefore a great preventative method against Babesiosis. Dogs can also transmit Babesiosis by biting other dogs, and pregnant bitches can transmit the disease to their unborn puppies.

Babesiosis symptoms in dogs 

The Babesia parasite will infect the red blood cells of the dog, and this will cause the dog’s immune system to kill the infected red blood cells. This will kill the Babesia parasite, but if a great number of red blood cells are killed in the process it will give your dog anaemia. The immune system can also run amok and start killing uninfected red blood cells too.

Common symptoms of Babesiosis in dogs are weakness, fever, a yellow colouring of the eyes (and skin), and urine that looks red or orange. The number of platelets in the blood can drop significantly, which makes normal blood clotting impossible. If parasites infest the central nervous system, a dog with Babesiosis can display neurological problems, as well as local inflammation. The lungs can also become damaged by Babesiosis, and some dogs will also suffer from liver problems. 

Babesia treatment for dogs

The available forms of Babesia treatment have severe side effects, and most vets will therefore avoid treating dogs as long as they show no symptoms. It is possible for dogs to be infected with Babesia without falling ill. Even with treatment, it can be difficult to fully remove all parasites from the dog. If you have a female dog that tests positive for Babesia, she should not be used for breeding – not even if she is completely symptom free.

In addition to killing the parasites, veterinarians will need to decrease the damage already caused by the disease. Roughly 50% of symptomatic dogs will for instance require blood transfusions.

If you live in the United States, your veterinarian will probably use Imidocarb Dipropionate
to treat your dog since this is the only Babesia medicine approved in the United States. One single dose can be enough to rid your dog from Babesia canis, while Babesia gibsoni and other small Babesia species will require at least two doses administered two weeks apart. Imidocarb Dipropionate must be injected and is usually quite painful for the dog. The dog can also develop a fever, muscle tremors, shivering, an elevated heart rate, drooling, facial swelling, restlessness and tearing of the eyes. Some veterinarians therefore inject atropine in the dog before injecting Imidocarb Dipropionate.

If you live outside the United States you might be able to find Diminazene Aceturate since this Babesiosis medication is a very popular treatment for Babesiosis throughout the world, especially for Babesia canis. One single injection is usually enough to cure the dog if the culprit is Babesia canis. Just like Imidocarb Dipropionate, Diminazene Aceturate have serious side effects, which include seizures, drop in blood pressure, and nausea. It is possible for a dog to die as a side effect of this medication. The injection it self is also painful. 

Two other drugs available outside the United States are Quinuronium Sulfate and Phenamidine Isethionate. If you fail to locate Phenamidine Isethionate in your home country, Pentamidine Isethionate can be used as a substitute. (PHENamidine vs. PENTamidine.) Quinuronium Sulfate is similar to malaria treatment and your dog will need two injections two days apart. In most dogs, you can see a significant improvement after the second injection with Quinuronium Sulfate.

Last but not least, Trypan Blue can be used to block the Babesia parasites entry into the red blood cells of the dog. This will decrease the symptoms of Babesiosis in dogs and is administered as an IV drip.

Future Babesia treatment for dogs

A new type of Babesia treatment for dogs is currently being tested and has showed promising results. This treatment consists of combination therapy where the dog is given Atovaquone, Azithromycin, Quinine, and/or Clindamycin.

Babesia vaccine for dogs

A Babesia vaccine is currently available in France, but it seems to be effective only against certain strains of the parasite. Studies in France have shown a 89% effectiveness of this Babesia vaccine.