Emerging Diseases part 2 – Canine Babesiosis

Emerging diseases part 2:


What is it?

Babesiosis is a protozoal parasitic disease which is transmitted by ticks. The parasite infects the red blood cells of dogs. Up until recently the tick species that primarily transmitted this disease was not present in the UK. However in February 2016 there were 3 cases of Babesia in dogs which had not been abroad. This shows that the infection is circulating in our tick species within the United Kingdom. These cases were all confined to Harlow, Essex suggesting a local infected tick population.


There is no direct dog – dog transmission of the disease, the infection has to come from an infected tick which has been brought to the UK or bitten an already infected dog. This is the reason it is so important to remove any ticks on your dog as soon as they are seen, or ensure adequate tick protection. If the infected tick is not removed it can feed on your dogs blood and inject the parasite into the dogs blood stream. The ticks will continue the life cycle as any females will lay eggs which also carry the infection. There is a 48 hour window between attachment of the tick and transmission of the parasite into the dogs blood stream. This is key for preventative tick treatments. The tick species involved in transmission is Dermacentor reticulatus, which has only localised populations in the UK.

Clinical signs:

The clinical signs of Babesia canis include lethargy, weakness, vomiting, anorexia, fever, pale mucous membranes, and dark discolouration of the urine. Other symptoms can include neurological and respiratory signs.


The clinical signs are very vague and can be suggestive of many other diseases so diagnosis can be difficult. It can be diagnosed by looking at the red blood cells under a microscope or a blood sample is offered in some labs, a history of travel abroad can make the diagnosis more likely. If you are concerned your dog is showing any of the above clinical signs please contact your nearest branch.


Babesiosis is difficult to cure and there are no licensed treatments for dogs in the UK. The aim is to reduce the parasite levels in the red blood cells and provide supportive treatment to the dog during this time. Dogs often become carriers of the infection and may not show other signs. This continues the risk; if the dog is bitten by ticks further transmitting the infection back to the tick cycle. Like many diseases PREVENTION is better than CURE.

Preventative tick treatments:

There are so many tick treatments available; some repel, some kill and some last 4 weeks others 12 weeks – so which one? It will depend on what suits you and your dogs lifestyle. Below is some information about the products available highlighting the key information points:

Nexguard spectra – ticks have to bite and attach to take on medication, 4 weekly administration.

Simaparica – ticks have to bite and attach to take on medication, 4 weekly administration.

Bravecto – ticks have to bite and attach to take on medication, kills ticks within 12 hours of administration, 12 weekly administration.

Advantix – has repellent activity for 3 weeks, ticks may remain attached more than 2 days after treatment, so it’s advised to remove any ticks seen. Repeat at 3 weekly intervals.

Seresto collar – kills and repels ticks for 7 months, drug levels increase in the skin after 2 days of placement of the collar.

There are tick hooks that can also aid in the physical removal of ticks as soon as they are seen. If in any doubt about tick removal please contact your local branch of Swayne & Partners and we can remove it for you.

Remember the importance of tick prevention not only in this country but also for any pets travelling abroad. Since the introduction of the pet passports in 2000 there has been a huge increase in the number of dogs entering the UK. Up until recently tick prevention was compulsory as part of the passport scheme. This has now stopped, but we strongly advise preventative treatment as the tick population which carries Babesia is much larger on the continent, increasing the risk of bringing back infected ticks into the UK.

Babesia poses NO risk to human health as it is not a zoonotic disease (one that can be transmitted between animals and humans).