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Babesiosis

By: Dr. Arnold Plotnick

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Diagnosis In-depth

  • Complete blood count, chemistry panel, and urinalysis. These routine tests do not diagnose babesiosis directly, but can reveal abnormalities consistent with the disease and help assess the severity and presence of complications. The complete blood count often shows anemia, low platelets, and high white count. Chemistry panel abnormalities vary with the severity of the disease. Uncomplicated cases typically have no biochemical changes. Complicated cases may have a variety of abnormalities. Urinalysis may also show a variety of complications, depending on the severity the disease and presence or absence of complications.

  • Evaluation of a blood smear. Babesiosis is diagnosed based on demonstrating Babesia organisms within infected red blood cells on a blood smear. Large pear-shaped organisms, present in pairs, indicate Babesia canis infection, while smaller organisms present singularly are Babesia gibsoni.

  • Serology. This test detects antibodies to the organism in the bloodstream, and has the advantage of detecting infection in cases where the number of parasites infecting the blood cells is low.

    Therapy In-depth

    The primary goals of treatment are to eliminate or suppress the Babesia organism, and reverse the life-threatening anemia. Mild uncomplicated cases only require anti-Babesia therapy. Severe cases require anti-Babesia therapy plus a blood transfusion. Complicated cases require additional therapy, depending on the complication. Three drugs are known to be effective as anti-Babesial medications.

  • Diminazene aceturate. One dose of this drug, injected into the muscle, is effective in treating uncomplicated Babesia canis infections. The drug has a narrow margin of safety, and severe or potentially fatal neurologic side effects may develop if overdosed.

  • Imidocarb. One dose injected into the muscle or under the skin is effective in treating babesiosis. The injection is painful, and side effects may occur, although they are not as severe as with diminazene aceturate.

  • Trypan blue. This drug alleviates clinical signs and suppresses the organism in the bloodstream by blocking its entry into the red blood cells. It does not eliminate infection. It is given intravenously and is very safe, making it a good drug to use initially in severe cases. Once the dog is on the mend, diminazene aceturate or imidocarb is given in an attempt to eliminate the infection.

  • Blood transfusions. Dogs with severe anemia will require a blood transfusion to stabilize them.

  • Supportive care. Depending on which complications may or may not be present, dogs may require additional laboratory tests and therapeutics, such as intravenous fluids, medication, or placement in an oxygen cage.

    Follow-up

    Optimal treatment for your dog requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your dog does not rapidly improve.

    Administer all prescribed medications as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your dog.

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