Babesia canis is a parasite that causes one of the two common diseases that are transmitted by ticks to dogs. There is also a Babesia Felis that causes diseases in cats but it is not present in Gauteng .
Babesia canis parasite causes a disease similar to malaria in humans. This is the classical tick bite fever also called; biliary fever, bosluiskoors or babesiosis.
The Babesia canis parasites enters the bloodstream in the saliva of an infected tick when it bites the host animal to feed. The parasites enter the red blood cells and proliferate, causing damage and death to the cells.
The most common early symptom of biliary is a dog that is a bit depressed, will not eat and has a fever ( T>39C). If presented to the veterinarian early these dogs may just require an injection to kill the parasite. They will usually be back to normal within 24 hours. To make a diagnosis the veterinarian will take a tiny sample of blood to look at under the microscope. It is possible to see the parasites within the red blood cells.
For cases not caught so quickly or more virulent forms treatment is not so easy. For patients who have become anaemic due to destruction of their red blood cells treatment can be long, expensive and sadly not always effective. Patients with a complicated form can rapidly develop kidney failure, lung failure, cerebral biliary with severe seizures, blood clotting changes and excessive red blood cell destruction due to an over stimulated immune system.
Our treatment protocol for patients with advanced biliary varies will depend on the signs seen and the support needed. It is common for these patients to be hospitalised in our high care ward for up to a week. They require blood transfusions to replace the ruptured red blood cells. The damage caused by the parasites can persist as the body now has to deal with all the fragmented red blood cells in circulation as well as the internal content of the cells – all of which cause inflammation. In severe cases it is this severe inflammation of the patient that causes most complications and not the anaemia. In these patients blood vessels become leaky and blood pressure is low. They need intravenous fluids and tube feeding as well as kidney and liver support. Their blood pressure needs constant monitoring and their blood values need to be frequently checked to make sure they are getting the correct combination of fluids intravenously.
Prevention is always better than cure. We strongly recommend using tick prevention year-round. Whilst there are still collar and dip options on the market the new oral treatments have proven to be both safer and more effective. They are less smelly and so much easier to ensure the correct does is given and maintained.
After walks and being in tick infested areas a check / groom of your pet and physical removal of any ticks found is an excellent way of preventing them biting. Ticks often end up in dark places, under ear flap, between toes, under “armpit” and in the groin area.
NB. Cats are very sensitive to poisons and dips and only a few products are safe for use in cats. If the label doesn’t say “for cats”, the don’t use it.