Parasite Infection (Babesiosis) in Dogs
Babesiosis in Dogs
Babesiosis is the diseased state caused by the protozoal (single celled) parasites of the genus Babesia. Infection in a dog may occur by tick transmission, direct transmission via blood transfer from dog bites, blood transfusions, or transplacental transmission. The most common mode of transmission is by tick bite, as the Babesia parasite uses the tick as a reservoir to reach host mammals. The incubation period averages about two weeks, but symptoms may remain mild and some cases are not diagnosed for months to years. Piroplasms infect and replicate in the red blood cells, resulting in both direct and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, where the red blood cells (RBCs) are broken down through hemolysis (destruction) and hemoglobin is released into the body. This release of hemoglobin can lead to jaundice, and to anemia when the body cannot produce enough new red blood cells to replace the ones being destroyed. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is likely to be more clinically important than parasite-induced RBC destruction, since the severity of the condition does not depend on the degree of parasitemia.
Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in wooded areas, at at an increased risk for tick bites and for contracting this parasite. This is especially true in the summer months, from May through September, when tick populations are highest. Being vigilant about tick prevention and removal is the best method for avoiding the onset of Babesiosis.
Symptoms and Types
You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health, including a background history of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog. A blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel will be conducted.
Your veterinarian may use a Wright’s stain to stain a blood sample for microscopic examination, since this will allow for your doctor to distinguish blood cells, making an infection of the blood more readily apparent. Immunofluorescent antibody (IFA) tests for antibodies in the serum that react with Babesia organisms may also be performed. Cross-reactive antibodies can prevent the differentiation of species and subspecies. However, some infected animals, particularly young dogs, may have no detectable antibodies.
PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for the presence of Babesia DNA in a biological sample can differentiate subspecies and species and are more sensitive than microscopy.
Most patients can be treated on an outpatient basis, but severely ill patients, especially those requiring fluid therapy or blood transfusions, should be hospitalized.
Living and Management
Your veterinarian will want to monitor your dog's progress, and will schedule regular follow-up appointments to repeat blood chemical profiles, complete blood counts, urinalyses and electrolyte panels. Two to three consecutive negative PCR tests beginning two months post-treatment should be performed to rule out treatment failure and persistent parasitemia.
In addition, when one dog housed in a multi-dog kennel is diagnosed with babesiosis, all of the dogs in that kennel will need to be screened since there is a high percentage of carrier animals in kennel situations.
If your dog is spending time in an area that is a known tick habitat, prevention is the best course of action. Check your dog daily for the presence of ticks and remove them promptly. The longer a tick stays on the body, the more likely the transmission of the parasite is to occur.
The process of turning an egg into a bird
A condition in which the skin becomes yellow in color as do the mucous membranes; this is due to excess amounts of bilirubin.
Having the strength to cause disease; deadly in nature; pathogenic
The removal and destruction of red blood cells
An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness
The breakdown of blood cells
A protein in the body that is designed to fight disease; antibodies are brought on by the presence of certain antigens in the system.
The species that a living thing has descended from
The protein that moves oxygen in the blood
A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.
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