Hazardous Hepatozoonosis – A Silent Pathogen in Dogs!


Dr Neelakshi Deka
Dr A Sangaran
Talk to any pet parent and one common concern for everyone is ticks. If not taken care of, these can cause infection and be so dangerous. Keeping aside the most talked-about blood infection such as Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis, there are some lesser known infections that are equally important from the pet’s point-of-view that usually co-exist with the major blood parasites. Let’s discuss Canine Hepatozoonosis. by Dr Neelakshi Deka and Dr A Sangaran
Canine Hepatozoonosis is a blood infection caused by Hepatozooncanis which is carried by the dog tick species named Rhipicephalus sanguineus, commonly called as the brown dog tick. This tick species has adapted itself to a wide range of environmental conditions and is reputed for being the most widespread tick species amongst dogs. The canine hepatozoonosis has an unusual route of entry into the host body, unlike majority of the cases where the tick essentially has to bite its host for entry of the pathogen. In case of hepatozoonosis, the infection enters the body when our pet accidentally ingests an infected tick, more usually occurring when our pets groom their body by its mouth. Once the infected tick goes inside, the infection enters via the stomach to the blood where it flares up causing widespread blood cell breakdown and resulting in multiple organ damage over a period of time which may take few weeks to few months depending on the severity.

Your pet – prey to this parasite
Apart from the presence of infection and the tick in vicinity of the pet, there are other contributing elements that make our pets fall prey to the infection with the blood parasite Hepatozooncanis. In general, the pups are an easier target as they haven’t yet developed their immunity to full potential and the infection can take an upper hand. It is likely that they succumb to low or medium infection because their body can’t handle the level of infection adequately. The adult dogs too, despite having adequate immunity, may pick up infection if their immunity is compromised due to any previous underlying ailment or due to the use of immuno-suppressive medication that might have weakened their immune system.

Be careful of these symptoms
The affected dogs may manifest the signs of this infection in varying severity. It may remain asymptomatic, usually common, when infection is low. Some may show mild symptoms like intermittent fever, while a few others may suffer from severe life-threatening conditions when the load of infection is high in the blood cell, and is commonly observed in the neutrophils. The infected dog, may exhibit fever, disinclination to eat or drink, lose body weight with pale tongue and gums. In a few occasions, some may develop rhinitis, conjunctivitis and an overall deterioration of the body condition. These signs may be displayed as individual or in combination depending upon the severity of the infection. A timely medical intervention will help to eliminate the cause of the disease.

Vigilance – the best Savior!
As a pet parent you should lookout for these signs and symptoms and act as early as possible. If you notice change in body temperature, behavior, or eating pattern, you must consult your vet. It is advisable to get a routine blood check-up for your pets at a regular interval which ought to be beneficial in detecting any infection at an early stage, helping in speedy recovery. Make sure you keep your pet indoors especially in this humid rainy season. Clean their bedding and play area frequently. Do not allow your pet to venture out in thick vegetation without supervision. Try and minimising their outdoor lifestyle to reduce the chances of picking up any infection. These small steps will help your pet companions to be fit, active, and infection free.

(Dr Neelakshi Deka and Dr A Sangaran are from Department of Veterinary Parasitology, Madras Veterinary College, Chennai)