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Dog owners warning: Dangerous tick-borne disease, canine babesiosis, found in the UK

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Scientists at the University of Bristol have confirmed that four dogs in Essex, who had not travelled abroad, have been infected with Babesia canis, a life-threatening disease transmitted via a bite from an infected tick.

Babesiosis is usually found in Europe. These cases have raised concerns about the spread of this disease and the need for increased surveillance in the UK. It also raises concern for UK dog owners wanting to ensure their pets are protected.

Holly Wilson, owner of two dogs, has first-hand experience of the scary consequences of canine babesiosis. Hollie was on a dream holiday to France with husband Craig and their two dogs Olive and Badger. This turned into a nightmare when Olive, a pointer, was bitten by a tick. Within days, Olive’s condition had deteriorated and it was clear that she was becoming seriously unwell. On arrival back in the UK, the Wilsons rushed their dog to the vet and after extensive tests, canine babesiosis was confirmed.

Hollie says: “Her gums were completely white and she was anaemic. The race was on to find the recommended drug treatment and there was a lot of ringing round before she could finally be treated. I can honestly say without all the help from our vets, Olive would not be here today. It was due to their persistence in finding she had babesiosis, and how Olive was treated so quickly, that she has made a full recovery. Losing Olive to babesiosis would have been heart-breaking.

Back then, I probably wasn't aware so much of the risks of tick-borne disease. Before all this happened I was probably a bit naive as to where these risks were found. However, I am most definitely aware of the dangers carried by ticks now!

I think my message is to talk to your vet and find a tick treatment that is effective for your dog and ensure you use it on a regular basis to protect them; you never know which tick is infected. Although Lyme disease is well documented, I am all too well aware now of other tick-related diseases that can be life-threatening also, such as babesiosis.

Seeing the disease being carried by ticks in the UK is extremely worrying as a dog owner and more needs to be done through campaigns such as The Big Tick Project to raise awareness.”

Here’s how to make sure that your dog is protected from this disease and understand its effects on your dog. 

What are the symptoms of Babesia canis?

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, anaemia, pale gums, an enlarged abdomen, weight loss and jaundice. If your dog has or previously had ticks and you are concerned for their health, please contact your local Medivet immediately.

How to detect ticks and what to do if you find one

Check your pets’ skin on their head first (around the mouth and ears, behind ears and on their neck), then work your way down the forelegs and the rest of their body, searching for any lumps on the skin surface.

If you find a lump:

  • Part the hair and look at it more closely (with the help of a magnifying glass, if necessary) 
  • The place where the tick attaches may, or may not, be painful and there could be skin swelling – you can distinguish this from other skin swellings and growths because close scrutiny should reveal the tick’s legs at skin level.

If you do find a tick do not attempt to burn, cut or pull the tick off with your fingers. The entire tick needs to be removed properly. If you have found a tick or if you are in doubt, we advise you to contact your local Medivet straight away. Find your closest veterinary practice with our online practice finder.

How to protect your dog from ticks and tick-borne diseases

To reduce the risk associated with ticks on dogs, our veterinary surgeons have innovative and convenient treatments that are only available on prescription. Tick control is offered as a part of the Medivet Healthcare Plan; this will mean that your dog will always be protected from these life-threatening tick-borne diseases.

For more information or to book an appointment and protect your pet, simply contact our friendly team.

Posted March 17, 2016

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