Potentially fatal tick-borne disease affecting dogs in the UK

Canine babesiosis is a disease that is transmitted by ticks and is relatively common in Europe. Isolated cases have been identified in the UK in dogs that have a history of travel to Europe, where infected ticks were encountered that transmitted the disease. Four dogs that had never travelled outside the UK’s borders were recently diagnosed with babesiosis in Harlow in Essex. These dogs acquired infection from local ticks, with Dermacentor reticulatus ticks being the species implicated. It is currently not known how this parasite entered the English tick population.

Canine babesiosis is caused by the single-cell Babesia canis parasite which invades a dog’s red blood cells. The animals become anaemic and can also show signs of weakness, nausea, jaundice and dark coloured urine. Complications can also occur and damage organs such as the liver, kidneys and brain. This disease can unfortunately be fatal.

Disease can be prevented by using tick control on your dogs to prevent ticks from attaching and feeding on them. Your veterinarian can advise you on appropriate products to use. It is particularly important to discuss tick control with your veterinarian if you intend to travel with your pet outside of the UK’s borders. This focus of infected ticks appears to be localised at present, but the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency is doing work to survey ticks in the UK.

Disease is spread by tick bite and will not spread directly between dogs or affect humans.

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