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Canine piroplasmosis (babesiosis)

Piroplasmosis is a dangerous disease in dogs that is transmitted by ixodid ticks.When a tick bites a dog, the piroplasm is passed into the dog’s bloodstream along with the tick’s saliva.

When can a dog get piroplasmosis?

The disease has a well-defined seasonal pattern: the warm season (spring-summer). The peak months of exposure are May-June and August-September. However, the general onset of the disease can occur from April to the end of October.

How dangerous is piroplasmosis?

Piroplasma parasitises and destroys erythrocytes (blood cells that carry oxygen). The breakdown of large numbers of erythrocytes and the release of large amounts of haemoglobin results in the internal organs (liver, spleen, kidneys) being unable to utilise the haemoglobin quickly and completely, leading to the formation of large amounts of toxic haemoglobin breakdown products (direct bilirubin). It should be noted that degradation occurs very quickly and can cause severe health problems in a dog within a few daysl.

What are the symptoms of piroplasmosis in dogs?

The incubation period of canine piroplasmosis lasts approximately 5-7 days. The course of piroplasmosis is divided into lightning and chronic. In the case of lightning piroplasmosis, the body temperature rises to 41-42C and remains so for 2-3 days. During this time, the dog becomes listless, refuses food, and breathes heavily and frequently. The mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes are initially reddened and later become anaemic with a yellowish tinge.

The dog’s pulse is weak, breathing is rapid and labored. Haemoglobinuria, i.e. the urine turns red or coffee-coloured, occurs on days 2-5 of the disease. The animal has difficulty moving and paresis or paralysis of the hind limbs may occur. This form of the disease lasts for 3-7 days and is fatal.

The chronic form of the disease affects dogs with strong immunity. Body temperature rises to 40-41C only in the first few days of the disease and then drops to normal. The dog is sluggish, tired quickly and has a reduced appetite. The characteristic signs are anaemia and severe exhaustion.
Dogs that contract piroplasmosis develop immunity for 1-2 years.

Diagnosis of piroplasmosis is based on clinical signs, epidemiological data (finding mites on the dog’s skin). Microscopy of blood smears is crucial. But the absence of piroplasma in blood smears is not a guarantee of the absence of piroplasmosis. In such cases, the diagnosis is based on the animal’s course of disease, the history and the results of other laboratory tests (urinalysis, blood biochemistry, complete blood count).

How to treat piroplasmosis?

The treatment of piroplasmosis is twofold: elimination of the causative agent and cessation of intoxication, and maintenance of the general state of the body.
The elimination of the causative agent involves the use of organic dyes (berenil, azidine, methylene blue). The common characteristic of all these preparations is their toxicity not only to the agent but also to the animal itself.
In order to terminate intoxication and maintain the general condition of the organism, the use of there is a wide range of therapeutic methods: saline solutions, vitamins, heart medication, etc. The extent and length of treatment depends on the dog’s condition. In severe cases, drip and even blood transfusion may be necessary.

How to avoid contracting piroplasmosis?

Keep a close eye on the animal. If there is unreasonable drowsiness and weakness, even more so, progressive yellowing of the visible mucous membranes and eye whites, or a change in the color of the urine to a dark or reddish-brown color, take the dog to the vet immediately! The sooner the animal is helped, the better the outcome.

To prevent piroplasmosis, it is essential to examine the dog regularly after walks. Ticks are most often found in the head, neck, chest and groin areas. It is preferable to examine the animal twice at intervals of 1-1,5 hours. If you find a tick, be sure to remove it from the dog.

To remove a tick from a dog, use your hands or tweezers as follows: grasp the tick by the head and gently pull upwards by twisting.

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