Cause and transmission
Babesiosis is caused by a protozoa called Babesia canis and is spread in dogs by two species of ticks namely, Rhipicephalus sanguineus or Brown Dog Tick and Dermacentor variabilis or American Dog Tick. The protozoa are ingested by the tick when it bites an infected animal and then it dislodges and transmits the protozoa to an uninfected animal attaching to it. The protozoa then attach and penetrate the new host and transmit the disease.
Symptoms of infection
Canine babesiosis can be identified easily by pet parents by its peculiar clinical signs which include high fever (more than 105oF), inappetence, reddish/coffee colour urine, pale yellow gums and mucus membranes and enlargement of lymph nodes. The affected dog will appear weak and lethargic. Since the disease is caused by tick vector, it may be associated with other tick-borne diseases like Lyme Disease, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, etc. This is often responsible for complication of the diseases and increase in severity of the symptoms of the disease.
History of the case will provide useful clue to the diagnosis of Babesiosis. Your veterinarian may like to know about the prevalence of ticks in the area and exposure of your pet to the ticks.
The diagnosis of the disease mainly depends on history and clinical signs. Confirmatory diagnosis of the disease can be made by examination of blood smear prepared from freshly drawn blood from capillary rather than from blood vessels and detection of pyriform organism in the smear. Babesia organism appears in pair as tear shaped organism. The prevalence of tick in the particular area along with characteristic clinical signs gives a clue about the disease. Other laboratory findings include development of anaemia, low haemoglobin, low PCV, increase in concentration of blood. Other methods of diagnosis of Babesiosis include Antibody Testing, Imunefluorescence Technique, Hematocrit Centrifugation Test, and Polymerase Chain Reaction by RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) using a known primer.
Treatment & management
Different drugs have been used for the treatment of Babesiosis with varying degree of success. Diminazine aceturate is the most common therapeutic option at a dose rate of 3.5-5 mg/kg. The dose rate of Babesia gibsoni is 10 mg/kg body weight. There may be distinct side effects of this drug and hence it may be used judiciously; preferably rehydration should be done before the administration of the drugs in case of dehydrated and debilitated animals. Severely anaemic patients may require blood transfusion and oxygen therapy before administration of antiprotozoal drugs.
Supportive therapy with i/v fluids, cortico steroids and liver tonics may be useful in treatment of Babesiosis.
Prevention & helpful tips
- Prevention or control of Babesiosis mainly depends upon the control of tick population of the area.
- Pets should be regularly checked for the presence of ticks if they are going outside.
- Regular spray of drugs which kills ticks should be done on the floor of kennel after consulting your vet.
- Tick-infected dogs should be washed with drugs effective against ticks after preparing the dilution of recommended strength.
- Injection of Ivermectin can also be given at six months interval as it will help to control ticks as well as other parasites.
- Tick collar or other accessories should be tried on expert’s advice.
- Blood transfusion from infected dog should be avoided.
(Dr MK Shukla is assistant professor/scientist at Department of Animal Reproduction, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, College of Veterinary Science & AH, Jabalpur, MP).