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What is Babesiosis and why should I care?

Babesiosis is a disease that affects red blood cells and is transmitted by tick bites.

The babesia parasite has recently been identified for the first time in the UK in a population of ticks in Essex where it has caused fatal disease in some dogs. Over a period of time it is likely that the parasite will spread to other parts of the country.

Tell me more about it

Immature ticks, which may only be the size of a pin head wait in the undergrowth until they detect passing mammals such as dogs, cats, foxes sheep etc. They then attach themselves often to the face or feet of the animal where they will feed on the blood of the animal for several days gradually increasing in size. Eventually they will detach from the feeding site, fall off and produce large numbers of young ticks to repeat the cycle.

If a tick is infected with the babesia parasites, these are transferred into the blood stream of the animal it was attached to after 24 – 48 hours of feeding. The parasite then enters red blood cells where it multiplies causing the destruction of the cells. The resulting anaemia and associated problems cause severe disease which can, unfortunately be fatal. Patients that have recovered or been mildly affected may also become lifelong carriers of the parasite.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Affected animals may show signs of fever, weakness, lethargy, pale or yellow gums, be off their food and depressed. Once affected extensive treatment may be necessary and is not always effective.

Diagnosis is made by examining blood samples for the parasite, which may show up 1-3 weeks after the initial bite. It is not however always possible to find the parasites, particularly in longer standing cases so diagnosis can be difficult.

Can I prevent it?

By far the best way to avoid tick borne disease such as babesiosis or Lyme’s disease is to take effective measures to stop ticks from attaching to your pets and immediate removal should they do so.

Here are a few handy tips to consider

Try to avoid walking your dogs in known tick areas and ensure that you use an effective tick prevention programme.

If you do find a tick on your pet, please be cautious about removing it correctly. If you pull it off, the head is likely to stay buried in your pet’s skin and it can still transfer parasites and may cause a painful reaction. If it is convenient to come to the surgery, we can remove it for
you. If you need to do it yourself, use a proprietary tick removal tool or tweezers to grip the body of the tick and rotate it by 360 degrees until the head detaches from the skin. Dispose of the tick without squeezing it and wash your hands carefully after handling it.

There are a number of anti-tick treatments available in the form of spot on treatments or tablets which are effective from 4 – 12 weeks depending on the product used. It is important to use these correctly and sufficiently frequently to avoid the risk of tick bites and to kill any ticks that do attach to your pet before they have time to transfer any parasites. At Bright Side Vets we stock two varieties of tick prevention – Bravecto (12week cover) and Nexgard (4week cover). Please ask the Bright Side Crew for advice on which treatment is most appropriate for your pet.

Please note the information provided here is for advice only and does not replace the advice given in a consultation by a veterinary surgeon. If in doubt, please contact our practice for further information.