Dog: Babesiosis

General information

Other common/scientific names: Babesia canis, Babesia gibsoni, Babesia

The tick population in the United States is exploding due to changing climate (less harsh winters), suburbanization and the increase in the deer population . Because of this, ticks are moving into new areas and bringing new diseases. As a result, tick-borne diseases in dogs are increasing. These diseases include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, borreliosis (Lyme disease) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These diseases are typically infections of the blood. Because these infections are transmitted by a tick bite, a dog may be infected with more than one of these organisms at the same time.


Babesiosis in dogs is caused by the microscopic, blood parasite Babesia canis or Babesia gibsoni. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body tissues. The Babesia parasite attaches, penetrates and lives within the red blood cells. Because of this, these parasites produce an immune-mediated disease. This results when the dog’s immune system destroys its own red blood cells in an attempt to kill the Babesia organism. This condition is called hemolytic anemia. The resulting low numbers of red blood cells and lack of oxygen cause weakness and lethargy in dogs.


Dogs acquire babesiosis by being bit by a tick carrying the parasite. The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) transmits Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni. Dogs can also obtain the infection from other dogs through a bite. Blood contamination can also occur from sharing instruments used for tail docking and ear cropping. Infected pregnant females can spread Babesia to their unborn puppies.

Young dogs, Pit bull terriers and Greyhounds tend to be the most severely infected.

Abb. GSRA9D3B: Nymph stage of the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus).
Each tick stages stage requires a blood meal before it can reach the next stage

Cardinal symptom



Clinical signs of babesiosis include fever, weakness and jaundice. Affected dogs may also have red or orange-colored urine resulting from the hemolytic anemia. This blood parasite also causes severe inflammation which can result in low platelet counts, inability of blood to clot, nervous system symptoms, lung and liver disease.

Abb. GSRAEAGN: Normal urine and dark-colored urine of a dog with babesiosis.


Diagnosis of babesiosis can be difficult. These parasites cannot be seen with the naked eye but are sometimes visible on a blood sample using a microscope. The best method of diagnosing babesiosis is a blood test to detect the Babesia DNA in the blood.

Abb. GSRAIOS1: Babesia.
The parasites are seen in a blood-sample using a microscope. The parasites are the dark particles in the red blood cells.


Treatment of affected dogs includes supportive care and antiparasitic therapy. These antiparasitic medications are given by a veterinarian by injection and can have many side effects. Many of these medications are difficult to obtain in the US. These dogs should be hospitalized and blood transfusions may be necessary in severely anemic dogs. Other medications include intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatories and oral antibiotics.


Dogs with a mild infection which are treated early in the disease have a good chance for a cure. However, dogs with a severe infection may develop a life-threatening anemia or become resistant to the medications and remain life-long carriers.


Dogs which go outdoors in wooded, tick infested areas should have some form of tick protection such as:

  • Topical antiparasitics commonly referred to as spot-on products. These monthly applications can be a combination of medications used to prevent tick, flea, mite, heartworm and endoparasite infections.
  • Liquid spray insecticide.
  • Insecticide impregnated collars.

Because of the warmer winters, tick protection is recommended year around.

While the topical spot-on medications are the best defense in preventing tick-borne diseases, checking your dog for ticks after walking or playing in a wooded area is recommended since it takes several hours for an attached tick to transmit disease. This is especially important if you live in a tick infested area.

Dogs should never be allowed to fight with other dogs. Any surgical instruments should be cleaned and sterilized between uses. Female dogs which test positive for Babesia should not be bred.


When applying the topical, spot-on medications, be sure to part the hair and apply the medication directly to the skin. Do not bath or allow your dog to swim for 2 days after application. The product may need to be re-applied more often than every 30 days.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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