Biliary in dogs is a very common disease in the KZN south coast area, accounting for a large percentage of cases presented to Vet Hospital Port Shepstone each year. Although this disease may be catastrophic, it can also be treated easily in the early stages. Biliary in dogs can be prevented with proper tick control.
Biliary fever is caused by the parasite (Babesia canis) which is carried by some ticks. The ticks that mainly prey on dogs are the Yellow dog tick (Haemophysalis leachi) and the Kennel tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and infected ticks can transmit the disease. The parasite infects a dog by means of a tick bite and enters the bloodstream through the tick’s saliva. The parasite then penetrates the red blood cells of the dog. Signs of the disease will become apparent from 7-21 days after infection. Symptoms of the disease are caused by generalised inflammation and anaemia (blood loss) and can range from mild to fatal.
It is important to note that not all ticks transmit the disease, i.e. not all ticks are carriers of the parasite. Only after a tick ingests blood from an infected dog can that tick transmit the parasite to another dog. Also, note that you only need one infected tick bite to transmit the disease. Not all infected dogs are tick-riddled!
The parasite causes a reaction in the body and the body’s defence mechanisms act to try to eradicate the parasite from the bloodstream. This causes fever and some of the complications. The parasite also directly causes the red blood cells to rupture and this could cause the urine to become red, if excessive amounts are damaged. The anaemia caused by biliary can be very severe.
Complications which can occur due to the infection include Renal failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid on the lungs), blood clotting abnormalities, liver damage and brain damage. These patients usually require intensive medical care and carry a poorer prognosis for recovery. Killing the parasite, giving a blood transfusion (if the anaemia is severe) and medically managing the complications and symptoms which may be evident, manage the disease.
Early symptoms of infection are lethargy (weakness), anorexia (inappetence) and pale gums with a fever. Other symptoms like depression, vomiting, dehydration and nervous signs are also possible. The diagnosis is quickly made by an experienced veterinarian on a blood smear under a microscope. Blood is preferably collected from a dog’s ear. When diagnosed early, some patients can be treated with appropriate injections. Note that some of these injections can harm the patient if the dose is incorrect or if the patient does not have Babesia in the first place!
On the south coast, ticks are evident throughout the year. To prevent Tick fever in dogs, we at Vet Hospital Port Shepstone recommend monthly use of NexGard tablets, Frontline Plus top spot or Advantix top spot, three-monthly use of Bravecto tablets / top spots or six-monthly use of a Seresto collar. All these products also kill fleas.