Why are we worried?
Recent news reports that Babesia has been diagnosed in four dogs in Essex have caused a great deal of concern. This condition is common in some other countries – notably southern Europe but is not normally seen in the UK. Previous cases have been seen in dogs that have travelled in Europe but the disease has not been spread within the UK before as far as we know. In this case what is really worrying is that we are told that the affected dogs have not travelled outside the UK, or been in contact with dogs that have travelled, but that the common factor appears to be exercise within a certain area of Harlow, suggesting that infected ticks are in that area. In time it seems likely that the ticks that carry this disease will become more widespread and that Babesia may become a more common problem in the UK.
What is it?
Babesia is a single celled malaria like organism which is transmitted by a tick, causing damage to the dog’s red blood cells, resulting in symptoms of fever, pale or jaundiced (yellowy) gums and darkened urine together with lethargy, weakness, breathlessness, collapse and anaemia. Vomiting can also be seen as well as mouth ulcers, swelling of the head and legs, and nerve related symptoms such as wobbliness and even fitting. If untreated the condition can be fatal; successful treatment can involve medication, IV fluids, and even blood transfusions. Early treatment can be successful, but young and elderly dogs are particularly vulnerable.
Can it affect me or my cat?
Infection of humans is not normally reported, but people who are immunosuppressed should be particularly careful, and vigilant to check they do not get tick bites. Cats are also not normally affected by dog babesia, but a similar condition exists in cats in Africa caused by a slightly different organism.
What can I do?
Firstly it would make sense to avoid exercising dogs in the area in Harlow where the affected dogs had exercised as infected ticks may be present there. Using an anti-parasitic product regularly to prevent tick bites is very important. It is advisable to choose a product that repels ticks as well as killing them (which hopefully means that they don’t get to bite at all and should therefore prevent the transmission of any infection). We are recommending Vectra which both repels and kills ticks ( it is a spot-on product which needs to be repeated every 4 weeks) or Bravecto which kills ticks within 12 hours (it is a tablet which lasts 3 months) . We would also recommend thorough grooming after walks to remove any ticks before they attach. If you do find a tick you will need to remove it using a tick hook.
Any signs of disease should be checked out promptly at the vets – please get in touch if you have any queries or concerns.