Babesia infection or babesiosis refers to infection with a protozoal parasite from the species Babesia. These small parasites infect the red blood cells of mammals causing anemias and blood clotting problems in our pets. Babesia species are found worldwide, although in North America, most cases found in dogs occur in the southern United States. Pockets of the disease also exist in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. My first confirmed case was accidentally discovered in a routine dog neuter that turned out not to be so routine. After the surgery, the dog continued to have bleeding problems from the surgical area. A blood sample was sent to the lab and with a special tick panel, the babesia organism was discovered. It took weeks on special antibiotics for the dog to recover.
How does the dog get Babesia?
The dog must be bitten by a tick infected with the parasite. The species Ixodes is the common tick capable of transmitting the disease but other ticks may also spread Babesia. The disease may also be spread from animal to animal through bite wounds or abrasions. It is also possible for an infected mother dog to pass the parasite to her unborn puppies through the placenta. I have also seen this occur in dogs infected with other tick bourne diseases such as Ehrlichia Canis.
Special blood panels are used to diagnose Babesia in pets and if a tick bourne disease is suspected, it is wise to test for the other tick diseases at the same time which include Erhlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease.
Best prevention is to monitor your pet frequently for ticks and use tick control products if you are in a tick infested area or take your dog to an area where he may pick up ticks.