Pet owners are warned to be especially vigilant as the weather warms and tick and flea infestations occur. Ticks carry the potentially lethal disease, biliary, so the sooner you protect your pet the better.
Here’s what to do:
Know your enemy
City and suburban pet owners make the common error of believing their pets won’t get tick bite fever because their dogs and cats don’t play in long grass but this deadly disease is most certainly not restricted to rural farmlands and city veterinarians are currently dealing with several cases.
Biliary kills more dogs in South Africa than any other disease. It is caused by the parasite Babesia canis rossi, which is transmitted by the yellow dog tick and is particularly virulent in Southern Africa. The tick most commonly attaches on the neck and shoulders of animals (though all ticks should be removed from your pet, where ever they occur). While it feasts on your pet’s blood, the parasite is transmitted through the tick’s saliva destroying your pet’s red blood cells. Not all ticks carry the parasite, so if your pet is bitten it doesn’t mean that it will get the disease but it’s wise to use precautions to prevent your dog getting bitten in the first place. Clinical signs of biliary usually take up to 14 days to appear. Your dog will never develop immunity and can fall ill from this disease again and again.
There are two forms of tick bite fever, Babesia and Ehrlichia (Ehrlichiosis) and they frequently occur together though Ehrlichia is not as simple to diagnose and often difficult to treat.
- Loss of appetite and lethargy are usually the first signs
- Anaemia: pale or whitish gums and inside of the eyelids
- Fever: your dog may pant a lot to get rid of the excess heat though not all dogs with biliary have fevers
- A very heavy pulse
- An enlarged spleen
- Jaundice: the whites of the eyes, the gums and the urine will show up bright yellow. This is an advanced, very serious symptom of biliary
- Brown or rust-coloured urine (port wine urine): seen in complicated biliary. The dog will usually be admitted to hospital
- Vomiting and yellow to black diarrhoea
- Seizures, howling and disorientation
- Shock lung: this is usually fatal, and quick in onset
- Muscle pain and lameness
This is not a disease you can cure at home. Don’t wait a day or two to see if your dog feels better especially if you live in South Africa, as he or she may be dead by then. Your vet will diagnose Babesia via a blood smear under a microscope. It is usually easy and quick to diagnose and the sooner diagnosis is made, the more successful treatment is likely to be.
However, dogs with complicated biliary may unfortunately die despite all veterinary treatment, especially if they have shock lung.
Wash bedding regularly and keep kennels clean. Seal cracks where ticks might hide. All pets should have tick prevention every four weeks. There is a range of spot-ons, powders, shampoos, sprays and impregnanted collars available from EberVet Vetshops and veterinarians. These include chewy flavoured pills which don’t wash off and are safe for pups; the collar which offers tick and flea protection for up to eight months; and monthly topical drops
Ask your veterinarian to assist you in choosing the best option for your pet or ask your Vetshop assistant for advice.