Parasitic Blood Infection (Haemobartonellosis) in Dogs


PetMD Editorial

Published Sep. 11, 2008

Hemotrophic Mycoplasmosis (Haemobartonellosis) in Dogs

The mycoplasma is a class of bacterial parasites belonging to the order of Mollicutes. They are able to survive without oxygen, and lack true cell walls, making them resistant to antibiotics and therefore a greater challenge to detect and treat. They are the most common cause of urinary tract infections and pneumonia.

Hemotrophic mycoplasmosis is the result of infection of the red blood cells by the mycoplasma parasite M. haemocanis. Dogs usually will not show signs of illness or suffer from severe anemia (lack of red blood cells) with this kind of infection unless they have had their spleens removed (splenectomy). Since the purpose of the spleen is to filter and remove damaged red blood cells, the lack of this organ allows the mycoplasma to take a stronger hold in the system, and the body suffers systemically from the overload of damaged blood cells.

Symptoms and Types

  • Mild signs, unless the spleen has been surgically removed
  • Lack of appetite
  • Listlessness
  • Whitish to pale purple gums
  • Infertility (both genders)


The mycoplasma bacteria is transmitted mainly by ticks and fleas that have fed off of other infected animals. It is also spread through fighting between animals (body fluid exchange); and rarely, from blood transfusion - where infected blood from one animal is transfused to an uninfected animal. Transmission of the mycoplasma from a mother to her young (typically through milk) is not yet proven to take place with dogs.

M. haemocanis (previously classified as H. canis) is the main type of mollicute that causes this condition.


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health and recent activities. A complete blood chemical profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and a blood smear. The blood smear will be stained to identify the mycoplasmas in the blood. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, or a Coombs’ test, may also be used by your veterinarian to positively identify the presence of mycoplasmas.


If this disease is caught early, your dog will more than likely be treated with antibiotics and sent home. Depending on the severity of th einfection, your veterinarian will prescribe either a standard or long course of antibiotics for your dog. If anemia is also present you may also need to go with a course of steroid therapy. In most cases, only severely anemic, or very ill and listless dogs will be hospitalized. Fluid therapy, and possibly even blood transfusions, will be necessary to stabilize your dog if the condition has progressed to a severe stage. Left untreated, this disease can have fatal results.

Living and Management

Your dog will need to be checked by your veterinarian for progress within a week of treatment, when a red blood cell count will be performed to examine for mycoplasma levels. An infected dog can remain a carrier of the disease even after complete recovery. If you have other dogs in the home you will need to monitor them for possible symptoms and act quickly if symptoms do appear. In addition, breeding of affected dogs should be avoided until your veterinarian has given you the all clear.

The condition or disease described in this article can affect both dogs and cats (though it is not communicable between the two species). If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD Pet Health Library.

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