Piroplasmosis in dogs, or babesiosis, is a parasitic disease that affects dogs. It is caused by a parasite, Babesia canis , also called piroplasm. It is transmitted to the dog by the bite of a tick.
This disease is quite common and can be treated if it is detected in time. However, it can be serious or even fatal if treated too late. If your dog may be exposed to ticks, it is important to know the existence of this disease so that you can see a veterinarian at the first symptoms.
Causes of piroplasmosis in dogs
The responsible parasite is transmitted exclusively by ticks, so piroplasmosis is not contagious. It affects dogs without predisposition of breed, size or sex. However, this blood parasite does not affect other animals or humans. It is present everywhere in France, and more frequent in spring and autumn, periods of high tick activity. Note that other babesiosis exist in other species, carried by other ticks or biting insects.
When a contaminated tick attaches itself to a dog, it injects some of its saliva by biting it. It thus transmits piroplasms through saliva. They then gain the blood where they enter the red blood cells. By multiplying there, they cause their bursting, a phenomenon called intravascular hemolysis. This hemolysis is responsible for the symptoms of the disease.
Symptoms of piroplasmosis
Symptoms most often appear within 3 to 8 days of infection. But, in some cases it can be up to 3 weeks.
At the beginning, the dog presents a sudden depression, a loss of appetite even anorexia, as well as a high fever, which can go up to 41 ° C.
Then, the parasites causing the destruction of the red blood cells and anemia, other symptoms appear. They include mucous membranes are pale. These symptoms can observe at the level of the gums and around the eye; the urine turns a dark orange or brown color, which is a sign that the disease will already advance; organs can start to poison, especially the liver, kidneys and spleen.
The symptoms are quite suggestive, especially if you are aware that your dog may have been exposed to ticks in the days leading up to it. If this is the case, it is important to inform the veterinarian at the time of the consultation because this will guide his diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis, the more likely the treatment is to succeed and the better the prognosis.
The veterinarian will start by performing a complete clinical examination. And, he will ask you about your dog’s lifestyle: country walks, hunting activities. However, ticks can also be present in hedges or tall grass in gardens.
Additional examinations will allow him to complete his examination and confirm the diagnosis. They include urine examination, blood test, search for the parasite under a microscope on a smear of a drop of blood.
Additional blood tests can also check the functioning of potentially damaged organs, such as the liver or kidneys.
Treatment and prognosis of piroplasmosis in dogs
The treatment is very effective if it will administer as soon as the first clinical signs appear. If your dog is brutally cut down and exhibits a loss of appetite in the days following a walk in the countryside or in the forest, even if you have not seen a tick on him, it is important to contact your veterinarian. On some dogs with long and thick hair, ticks can indeed go unnoticed. A specific treatment allowing to kill the parasite exists. It is administered in the form of injections.
Depending on the stage of the disease, other treatments may be necessary. Hospitalization may be recommended to put the animal on a drip. This makes it possible to rehydrate it and to treat or prevent possible hepatic and renal insufficiencies.
If the anemia is severe, specific treatments can try to compensate for it and help the body make new red blood cells. In the most advanced cases, a transfusion may also be considered.
The prognosis is good if treatment is early enough. The more the general condition of the animal is degraded, the more the prognosis can be reserved. Hemolysis can in fact so important that the damage cause to the liver and kidneys becomes irreversible. And, the anemia too intense to be able to correct. In some cases, piroplasmosis can even be fatal.
Prevention of piroplasmosis
Several effective prevention methods exist. It is important to know them and to take advice from your veterinarian to use the best suited for your animal.
First, antiparasitic products that prevent ticks from attaching to dogs are an essential preventive measure against piroplasmosis. It is important to use effective products. Indeed, the contamination taking place at the time of the bite of the tick. The anti-parasitic must have an action on the ticks before they bite. In addition, these treatments must be renewed regularly, whether they are collars, pipettes or even sprays.
There is also a vaccine against piroplasmosis. It is not 100% effective. But it can still recommend in certain situations (dog more exposed, frequent walks in the forest…). Do not hesitate to discuss it with your veterinarian.
Finally, after a walk in the countryside or in the forest, you can examine your animal’s coat, by brushing or washing it for example. If you find ticks, be vigilant in the days that follow. A possible depression and / or a decrease in appetite should alert you. To remove ticks, avoid methods such as tweezers, alcohol or even ether. Adapted and very effective hooks, available from your veterinarian, allow them to easily remove.
Piroplasmosis only exists because your dog catches ticks. The elimination of these parasites remains the best prevention of this disease with sometimes serious consequences.