24 November 2014 | Advice for Dogs & Cats

Biliary – aka Tick Bite Fever

By Dr Megan Kelly

Also known as tick bite fever or canine babesiosis, biliary is a tick borne disease of dogs which is spread via the saliva of ticks.

The organism infects the red blood cells eventually causing them to rupture resulting in an anaemia. The red pigment from the ruptured red blood cells often causes a red discoloration of the urine.The ticks which carry this disease are the yellow dog tick and the kennel tick.

Symptoms are usually seen 10-28 days after being bitten by the infected tick.

The most common symptoms are:

  • loss of appetite
  • fever (>39 degrees centigrade)
  • pale gums and inner eye lids (due to the anaemia)
  • lethargy and weakness

Vets diagnose biliary by confirming the presence of the parasite in the red blood cells by doing a blood smear. A small prick of blood is squeezed from the edge of the ear, stained and viewed under the microscope.

Treatment in uncomplicated cases is generally very successful, however the complicated cases present more of a challenge as multiple organs can be involved and the prognosis therefore is usually more gaurded.

Uncomplicated cases are injected with an injection which kills the parasite and one normally starts seeing a recovery within about 24 hours. Complicated or advanced cases usually require hospitalization and may even need blood transfusion, drips and supportive treatments. In some cases the body may even start breaking down its own red blood cells.

This is known as immune mediated haemolytic anaemia or IMHA. If this is not treated the outcome can be fatal. Some strains of biliary can result in further complications such as acute renal failure, cerebral biliary and liver problems. For this reason if you suspect your pet may have been infected with biliary it is very important to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. The earlier the treatment starts the better the prognosis.

Tick control is the only form of prevention. There is a vaccine called nobivac piro which induces an immunity which will help reduce the severity of the clinical signs of the disease but will not prevent the animal from contracting the disease. It is given every 6 months after an initial injection and a booster 3-6 weeks later.

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