A closer look: Babesiosis (Piroplasmosis) in Dogs
Babesiosis is the second most common type of blood parasite in dogs. There are over 100 species of Babesia spp. worldwide, although only a small percentage of species can infect canines or humans. Different species of Babesia are found across North America. Sometimes the red blood cell damage caused by babesiosis is severe enough to lead to liver disease, kidney disease, and central nervous system disease complications.
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Factors that increase the risk of exposure to babesiosis include:
- Tick exposure
- Inter-canine fighting
- Kennel housing
Certain dog breeds show a high incidence of infection, including pit bull terriers and greyhounds. Uncommonly, humans are infected by blood transmission. Only those who are immunocompromised or have had their spleen removed have cause for concern.
Babesiosis is caused by infection with a blood parasite called Babesia sp.
Babesia parasitees can be transmitted through:
- Tick bites
- Direct blood transmission, especially during dog fights
The immune system recognizes and attacks the infected blood cells, and in many cases also attacks the healthy blood cells. This happens faster than the cells can regenerate, developing into a condition called immune mediated hemolytic anemia.
The symptoms of Babesiosis are primarily the result of anemia (a low red blood cell count) and hemolysis (red blood cell damage).
Many cases of babesiosis are asymptomatic.
Testing and diagnosis
Common diagnostics used to identify babesiosis are:
- Blood tests
- PCR tests
- Fluorescent antibody test
By itself, serology is an unreliable method of diagnosis, as the results can produce false positives or negatives. Definitive diagnosis relies on identifying the parasites on a blood smear or through a PCR test which also identifies the specific species of Babesia.
With cases where babesiosis is strongly suspected, it is recommended to begin treatment while awaiting a specific diagnosis.
Steps to Recovery
Babesiosis is treated using antimalarial medication and antibiotics. Blood transfusions and fluid therapy are sometimes necessary to recover healthy blood cell levels. With treatment, dogs are expected to recover within a few weeks. Recovered dogs are still considered at risk of relapse and may still transmit infection to other dogs. The prognosis is dependent on severity and which systems are affected by the infection.
Babesiosis spreads primarily through tick bites or blood contact.
The most effective method to prevent infection is through tick control, as well as avoiding exposure to inter-dog aggression and canine racetracks.
Is Babesiosis (Piroplasmosis) in Dogs common?
Babesiosis is common in dogs.
- Antimalarial medication
- Blood transfusion
- Supportive therapy