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Hepatozoonosis

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Hepatozoonosis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Hepatozoon canis and is most often diagnosed in the Southern United States, particularly Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The parasite is transmitted by ticks and most often affects dogs that have ingested infected ticks. The parasite then infects the spleen, liver, muscles, lungs and bone marrow. Young dogs are more often infected, especially if the dog is immunosuppressed or ill from another disease. Infected dogs can show signs of intermittent disease and may develop relapses.

What to Watch For

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pale gums
  • Nasal and eye discharge
  • Bloody diarrhea

    Diagnosis

    Blood tests are often performed to try to determine the underlying cause of illness. Complete blood counts often indicate an elevated white blood cell count. Some dogs may also develop anemia. Biochemical profiles can indicate low albumin levels, low blood sugar and elevated liver enzyme values. Microscopic examination of the blood cells is necessary to diagnose hepatozoon definitively. Infected dogs have the parasite identified in the blood cells with the use of specialized stains. Muscle biopsies can also reveal the parasite.

    Treatment

    Dogs infected with hepatozoon will be infected for life. Some are treated with imidocarb, tetracycline, trimethoprim-sulfadiazine or clindamycin. Some may need to be treated for several weeks. Often, treatment is done when a relapse occurs but the treatments do not cure the body of the parasite.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for hepatozoon. Infected dogs need veterinary treatment when relapses occur. Preventing the initial infection is crucial. Controlling ticks and reducing exposure to ticks will eliminate the threat of infection.

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