Four dogs in the Harlow area of Essex have contracted tick-borne babesiosis. The Babesia parasite is transmitted mostly via a tick bite but can be transmitted via an infected dog’s bite or blood transfusion. The incubation period is approximately two weeks, but symptoms can be hidden for months or years. The parasite infects red bloods cells and replicates to produce anaemia and jaundice. There are several strains of babesia that infect dogs, some of whch are distributed worldwide, although this is the first infection reported in the UK.
- Infected dogs may:
- Lack energy
- Be off their food
- Have pale gums
- Have a fever
- Have an enlarged abdomen
- Produce red urine or a discoloured stool
- Have yellow or orange skin
- Lose weight.
Young to middle-aged dogs may be more predisposed to infection as are dogs with compromised immunity. Dogs that acquire some immunity may remain carriers for years; stress or other diseases may induce sudden onset of weakness and collapse.
Treatment depends on the species of Babesia which can be identified via tests but there is no product that is licensed for use in dogs in the UK. Treatment for shock and anaemia may be required in addition in severe cases. There is no vaccination for dogs available in the UK.
Tick prevention using a prescription medication is essential. Dogs should be checked for ticks after each walk, especially after walking in woodlands and long grass. Ticks should be removed using a tick hook as soon as possible. It is important not to use tweezers or fingers, alcohol or burning to remove the tick as inexpert handling or pain in the tick can cause it to regurgitate into the wound. Any dog showing unusual symptoms should always be checked by a vet.