“Casey” a 1 year old Golden Retriever presented to Animal Oasis after being hospitalized at a local emergency clinic overnight for lethargy and onset of orange/ red colored urine. They found a mild decrease in his red blood cells (anemia) a large spleen on radiographs and low platelets. They ran some testing in house and that night they began treatment for suspected IMHA- immune mediated hemolytic anemia (where the body destroys its own blood cells).
He was transferred to us the next day where we performed some more blood testing in house. We confirmed the low blood count as well as the low platelets.
Casey’s most recent history included boarding at a kennel 2 weeks prior where dogs have access to the outside (wooded areas) on the property of the facility. With that in mind further testing sent to the laboratory included an extensive tick panel to test for diseases known to be spread by ticks in our area.
Meanwhile, Casey spent the day in the hospital on IV fluids and supportive care. He was discharged at the end of the day stable, feeling a little better, his urine was clear but he was still lethargic, his red blood cell count was stable and his platelets were still low. We started him on Doxycycline (an antibiotic commonly used for treating many tick diseases) and Prednisone (in case of immune mediated disease) while we waited for the result of the blood testing.
Two days later the results were in and Casey tested positive for Babesia Canis Subspecies Vogeli.
Babesia is transmitted by a tick bite primarily between domestic dogs, by the Brown dog tick and the American dog tick. More than likely Casey was infected while boarding. The organism can also be transmitted through blood transfusions, dog fighting (B gibsoni) most often pit bull terrier breeds, and blood contaminated fomites.
Canine infection with Babesia is common throughout the world and in the United States is primarily seen in the southern states where the brown dog tick is most prevalent. It takes about 24- 48 hours of initial feeding before the organisms are able to pass across the salivary glands of the tick and enter the host. The organisms then enter the red blood cells within 1-2 weeks and cause them to burst which leads to the anemia (low red blood cell count) we see. Other symptoms may include- fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin, mucus membranes and eyes), weakness, red or orange colored urine. At least 50 % of animals may require a blood transfusion and platelet counts can drop impairing normal blood clotting.
If lucky the organisms can be seen on a blood smear, but most often definitive diagnosis of Babesia species usually requires DNA testing which can distinguish between the four different species of Babesia canis subspecies canis , vogeli, rossi and Babesia gibsoni. Once diagnosed treatment is needed, and although clinical disease may resolve, this organism may be persistent in dogs. Even after appropriate therapy, infection can persist for the life of the dog.
Casey was treated and recently had his platelets retested. Platelets were normal. He also had another PCR test for the Babesia DNA and it was negative. Casey is doing great and will hopefully live a long healthy life.
The best way to reduce risk of infection is through year- round tick control, avoiding areas with ticks, and limiting bites between dogs. Casey was on tick control at the time of infection and unfortunately still contracted the disease. While these tick products are very good at controlling tick infestations they are by no means 100 % effective. Being aware of your pet’s surroundings and checking them for ticks will also help in this fight against tick diseases.