Dog owners in the UK are advised to be on the alert to symptoms of a new-to-the-UK disease that is spread by ticks, after scientists confirm the country’s first outbreak of a virus called babesiosis. Within the last month, two dogs in Essex have died from the disease, and another three became seriously ill, requiring blood transfusions in order to remain alive.
The disease is being investigated by Public Health England and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, and in the meantime, dog owners are advised to learn as much as possible about the vector and symptoms of the disease, and stay alert to the possibility of infection.
In this article, we will look at babesiosis in more detail, including the areas of the country that are affected at present, what the disease means for dog, and steps that dog owners can take to avoid their dogs becoming infected. Read on to learn more.
Babesiosis is a disease that is prevalent in various parts of the world including the USA and South America, and is caused by the Babesia canis parasite, a single-celled organism that is carried by the bite of certain ticks in areas where the parasite is prevalent.
While there are many different tick species in the world, not all of them will potentially carry the disease-but the same species that can be a carrier for Lyme disease, another potential threat to the health of dogs in the UK, can also carry babesiosis.
The Babesia canis parasite that causes babesiosis is spread by ticks, making ticks a potential vector for the disease, but not its cause. When a tick latches onto the skin of a dog to feed, they can also pass on bacteria, parasites and infections, which enter the dog’s bloodstream through the tick’s bite.
This means that if a dog is bitten by a tick, they will be at risk of contracting tick-borne bacteria that can lead to disease, and while previously, Lyme disease was the big tick-related threat to dogs in the UK, now babesiosis is on the list of potential risks as well.
Babesia canis has not been recorded or identified as a potential threat to the health of dogs in the UK before, and it is thought that the parasite could have been accidentally brought into the UK by means of ticks that arrived on animals coming into the UK from other countries.
None of the dogs that have been diagnosed with Babesiosis so far have travelled abroad themselves, and so it appears evident that they were infected in the UK after ticks carrying the parasite were brought into the country on another animal.
Up until 2011, part of the Pet Passport Scheme regulations and rules was designed specifically to regulate the potential import of tick-borne diseases, and all dogs being brought into the UK or Ireland from anywhere else in the world had to be treated for ticks shortly before entry.
However, this part of the Pet Passport Scheme regulations was scrapped in 2011, to bring the UK’s policies in line with those in the rest of the EU-and disease specialists and veterinary surgeons at the time predicted that the transmission and outbreak of exotic tick-borne diseases in the UK was likely to be a consequence-and unfortunately, it would seem that they have been proven correct.
At present, all of the dogs that have been diagnosed with babesiosis live in the Essex area, and further investigation has found ticks carrying the Babesia canis parasite in the Harlow area, leading to Harlow Council itself advising dog owners to keep their dogs away from popular dog walking areas between Tendring Road, and Second Avenue/Third Avenue in the town, in order to reduce the risk of infection.
However, dog owners in other areas of the country too should not relax entirely, because experts say that it will be virtually impossible to restrict the outbreak to a localised area and stop the parasite being carried to other areas of the country by ticks, as wildlife including foxes, rabbits and hedgehogs can carry ticks and help to spread them.
It is virtually impossible to limit the spread of a tick-borne disease due to the prevalence of parasites, and how easily dogs can pick up ticks when out and about. However, you can reduce the risk of transmission by keeping your dog away from fields or areas where you know ticks tend to be found, and also, by checking your dog over very carefully every time you come back in from a walk to see if they have picked any up-and removing them straight away.
Being vigilant to the symptoms of babesiosis is important too, as the sooner the disease is identified, the sooner you can get professional help, and give your dog the best chance of survival.
Dogs with babesiosis become highly anaemic due to the dog’s own immune response to the presence of the parasite, so lethargy, paleness and weakness and strong indications of something being wrong. A high fever, blood in the urine and other general indications of ill health that can come on quickly may all be indicative of babesiosis too, and so be extra vigilant about ticks over the coming months, and act quickly if you spot a potential problem-it may save your dog’s life.