Biliary in dogs: Understanding tickbite fever & symptoms of biliary

  • by DR Roxanne Jones
Biliary in dogs: Understanding tickbite fever & symptoms of biliary

Biliary is a serious tick-borne disease (hence ‘tickbite fever’) that affects the red blood cells of dogs. It’s caused by a tiny blood parasite called babesia canis, or B. rossi for short.

Ticks transmit this infectious parasite into a dog’s bloodstream through a bite. Once in the bloodstream, it multiplies within the red blood cells and invades other red blood cells, causing destruction of these cells and resulting in severe anaemia and other complications.

Which kinds of ticks cause biliary in dogs?

The yellow dog tick and the kennel tick are the two types capable of transmitting the parasite. Once the tick bites your dog, it needs to remain attached to the animal for at least 24 hours for the parasite to be ‘activated’ and transmitted via the saliva of the tick into the dog’s bloodstream.

If your dog is infected, it takes 10 to 14 days from the time of the bite for your pet to start showing symptoms of biliary.

What are the symptoms of biliary?

The most common clinical signs of biliary include those listed below. If you notice any of these in your pet, take her to the vet immediately:

    • Anaemia (evidenced by pale or white gums)
    • Anorexia (not eating)
    • Lethargy (listlessness, no energy, just lying around)
    • Fever
    • Jaundice (evidenced by gums turning yellow)
    • Haemoglobinuria (dark or red-coloured urine)
    • Nervousness

How serious is tickbite fever?

It’s very serious. Biliary is a potentially fatal disease, especially when left untreated, but the good news is that it’s easy to diagnose. A small sample of blood is taken from a prick to your dog’s ear, and the parasites can be seen under a microscope.

It’s vital that dogs affected with biliary are treated quickly and correctly; if not, severe, life-threatening complications can occur. In most cases, your dog will be put on a drip and hospitalised. If her anaemia is particularly bad, she may be given a blood transfusion.

I’ve heard that the drug used to treat biliary can be dangerous. Is this true?

When administered incorrectly, yes, this drug can be poisonous to your pet. Overdosing can be lethal, but underdosing may not kill all the parasites. That’s why it’s critical that the drug be administered only by a vet.

Is there any medication that protects against biliary in dogs?

Indeed there is, and we fully believe in prevention rather than cure! We usually recommend Nexgard, a chewable tablet given to your dog once a month. It’s safe, effective, simple to administer (it tastes good!), and most importantly, it’s effective against ticks and fleas.

Another great product is Bravecto, also chewable, which is given to your dog once every nine to 12 weeks. Both these products are relatively new on the market in South Africa, and they’re highly effective at preventing complications associated with ticks and fleas.

Frontline Top Spot, squeezed onto your dog’s skin, also works very effectively. However, you must ensure that your furry friend isn’t bathed for three days before and three days after application, to ensure that it’s properly absorbed into her skin.

How do these treatments work to prevent biliary?

If a tick bites your dog, it will be poisoned by the treatment that you’ve given to your pooch, and will quickly die and fall off your pet. This means there won’t be enough time for the tick-borne parasite to infect your dog – remember, the tick must be alive and attached to your pet for at least 24 hours for infection to occur.

So, if you take your dog for a walk through the veld and she comes home with a tick or two, don’t panic. Simply remove the tick or let the medication work its magic.

What about dips?

These can work too. They’re available from vets and pet shops and work well at repelling ticks (so they don’t bite in the first place), and also killing them if they do leap onto your pet.

If you decide to dip your dog, it must be done on a weekly basis – plus, if your dog gets wet, goes swimming, or gets caught in the rain, the dip is likely to be washed off and you’ll need to re-dip.

Dips can be safely combined with the chewable tablets or with Frontline, so they’re ideal if you frequently take your dog for walks in the bush and want to prevent ticks from jumping onto her in the first place.

What about biliary treatment for puppies?

For baby dogs under three months of age, as well as very small dogs, it’s advisable to use Frontline spray, which is very safe and effective.

I’ve seen lots of tick products at my local grocery store. Are these safe to use?

We don’t advise the use of grocery store-bought dips, powders and collars. They’re not particularly reliable and should thus be avoided.

Anything else I should know about tickbite fever and treating it?

Yes. Firstly, it’s very important that you never use tick and flea products intended for dogs on cats. Dog-specific products can be lethal to cats. Only use cat-specific products on cats.

Secondly, it’s true that biliary can be a deadly disease, but quick and correct treatment is effective in most cases – which is why you should always take your pet to the vet as soon as you notice anything worrying.

And lastly, remember: prevention really is better than cure, and biliary is highly preventable. So pop your pup some tasty chewable tabs as directed. We highly recommend tick control treatment all through the year in South Africa.

Love learning about keeping your pooch healthy, happy and in the best possible condition? Read more of our helpful articles on dog health and wellness.

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