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Symptoms and Treatment of Babesiosis in Dogs

Babesia in dogs

Babesia is a parasitic infection that can be transmitted to dogs when they are bitten by an infected tick. Babesia is found worldwide, but in the United States, it affects dogs in the southern states more frequently. Continue reading to learn about this tick-borne infection, including symptoms, treatment, and prevention for dogs.

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What is Babesia?

Babesia is a protozoal parasite that is transmitted to the bloodstream of dogs through the bite of an infected tick. The tick species that most frequently carry Babesia are found more prominently in the southern United States, so while Babesia can be found throughout the country, dogs in southern states are more commonly affected. All dog breeds can contract Babesia but racing Greyhounds and Pit Bull Terriers have historically been most affected.

When an infected tick bites a dog, this allows the Babesia organism to pass into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the organism will invade the dog’s red blood cells. Once in the red blood cells, the immune system will try to fight off the Babesia by destroying the infected cells. In some instances, the immune system may overreact, which will lead to the destruction of infected red blood cells, as well as uninfected blood cells.

Symptoms of Babesia Infection in Dogs

Clinical signs of Babesiosis in dogs can vary based on the severity of the disease but can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Dark, red, or brown-colored urine
  • Weakness
  • Enlarged spleen

How will the vet test my dog for Babesiosis?

Bloodwork performed on a dog actively infected with Babesia may show a low red blood cell count (anemia), low platelet count, or a low albumin (protein in the bloodstream) level.

These changes alone do not confirm Babesia infection but can be interpreted along with further testing. Confirmation of a Babesia infection may include visual confirmation of the parasite on a blood smear, fluorescent antibody staining, ELISA, PCR, or serologic testing.

Treatment Options for Dogs with Babesiosis

Treatment for Babesia infection is difficult and can vary based on the specific Babesia species your pet is infected with. One treatment option is an antiprotozoal agent that will attack the Babesia directly while another treatment is with antibiotics that will treat the infection specifically. Many dogs will also require supportive care, with up to 50% of cases requiring blood transfusions.

How to Prevent Babesiosis in Dogs

The number one way to prevent Babesia infection in your pet is with tick control! There are many products to protect your dog from tick bites including topical or oral products. Please discuss these options with your veterinarian or our vets at FirstVet to determine what product may be best for you and your pet.

Also, a tick needs to feed for 2-3 days to pass Babesia to your dog so checking your dog for ticks daily, especially after walks through the woods or tall grass is very beneficial.

If you’re concerned your dog may have had prolonged exposure to ticks or is exhibiting any of the symptoms above, it is important to contact your vet immediately.

Read more:

Lyme Disease in Dogs

Anaplasmosis in Dogs

Your Guide to Heartworm Disease in Dogs

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