What dog owners need to know about the Babesiosis outbreak
For the first time in the UK experts have established an outbreak of Babesiosis, a malaria-like disease found in ticks which causes the immune system in dogs to destroy its own blood cells.
The ticks carrying the Babesia canis parasite have been found in fields in Harlow, Essex. Currently, four dogs have been confirmed as having contracted the disease, with two becoming seriously ill and needing blood transfusions to survive. These dogs were all walked on the same patch of land. Symptoms of Babesiosis, which dog owners need to look out for, include lethargy, weakness, pale gums, red or brown urine and a fever.
In an attempt to confine the disease, the local council in Harlow has put up a sign with a map defining the area and advising dog walkers not to enter. The reality is that this is unlikely to be contained to Essex and experts suggest that it will be impossible to stop the spread of the disease, which is caused by a single-celled parasite. Prof Richard Wall, of Bristol University’s biological sciences school, who is leading the largest UK veterinary study of tick-borne disease, said the outbreak was of “huge significance” and a “major concern for animal health”. Clive Swainsbury, a partner at Forest Veterinary Centre in Harlow, which treated three of the infected dogs, said: “The problem in the future is that every female tick will lay a couple of thousand eggs and all those offspring will carry the disease. Even if you do all you can, you are not going to stop the spread of the disease.”
Although the local council has acted quickly it is possible that foxes and other animals including cats will transport these ticks when walking in the same area. The dog strain of the disease caused by Babesia canis is not thought to present a risk to human health or pet species such as cats so it is still wise that if you own an outdoor cat you assist with the prevention by regularly checking for ticks which may easily be passed on to dogs through contact outdoors.
Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said prevention is key: "Owners should also check pets for ticks after walks and if one is found on the body it should be removed completely using a commercially available tick-remover or fine-pointed tweezers, even if they are dead." We agree that prevention is the best form of protection against all ticks and always recommend that you regularly treat your dog for ticks.
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