Babesiosis is one of the most important tick transmitted infectious disease in dogs in Europe, the USA, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. Infection in a dog may occur by tick bites, blood transfusions and even from dog bites. Babesiosis is caused by a protozoan and is transmitted by the brown dog tick, (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) in warmer regions of the world and is transmitted by Dermacentor spp ticks in Western and Central Europe. In Canada, babesiosis can be transmitted to humans by the black legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), the vector of Lyme disease.
Once the parasite reaches the blood stream, it will enter the red blood cells, reproduce inside the cells, causing their destruction. The incubation period ranges from 10-28 days. The disease starts with fever, lack of energy and lack of appetite. In severe acute cases, it can be fatal. In chronic cases, if left untreated, the disease causes weight loss, anemia, and jaundice. Definitive diagnosis of Babesia spp relies on identification of the organisms in the dog’s blood cells along with clinical signs. Treatment for babesiosis is extensive and in many cases it does not completely eliminate the infection.
As with other tick-borne diseases, it is important to keep ticks away from dogs by avoiding tick infested habitats and by strict adherence to monthly applications of tick preventatives that are applied to the skin of the dog. Prompt removal of any tick found on a dog will decrease the chance of disease transmission. There is no vaccine against canine babesiosis in Canada.
Babesiosis is not an established tick–borne disease in dogs in Canada. As many pets travel more and more with their owner to areas that are endemic to babesiosis, their risk of exposure to the disease becomes increased. It is important to consult with your veterinarian weeks before departure to initiate tick prevention programs for the duration of the trip. Regular tick checks should be maintained.
Some rescue organizations are now importing dogs from a number of countries around the world, including areas that are endemic to babesiosis. When considering importing such a dog, please consult your veterinarian months before to learn about the importation requirements of the country of origin. The dog should be examined by a veterinarian prior to travelling to Canada and be given the required deworming, vaccination and flea and tick treatments; the dog should be examined by a veterinarian upon arrival in Canada and a recheck visit should be scheduled. If it develops any signs of disease, it should be tested for tick borne diseases, including babesiosis.
Ticks are expected to continue to spread within Canada and all over the world. It is important to discuss tick prevention during each wellness visit with your veterinary team and to discuss any upcoming trips with your pets.
Protecting dogs from ticks and Lyme disease (borreliosis)