Known commonly as tick bite fever, babesiosis causes flu-like symptoms that leave both humans and dogs achy and nauseous. Caused by a protozoal parasite of the Babesia genus, the condition destroys red blood cells in the body, leaving its victim jaundiced, anemic and bloated. Left untreated, the condition causes organs to fail. Although humans and dogs both get the disorder, different strains of the parasite affect each species, so if you end up with the disorder, don't blame it on the dog.
How Dogs Get It
Babesia canis is the primary parasite affecting dogs in the United States. The parasite lives in ticks. The most common way your dog can contract babesiosis is by getting bitten by an infected tick. Your dog also can get it from a bite wound from another dog who has the parasite in his blood stream. If your dog recently has had a blood transfusion, that could be a viable source. Dogs with suppressed immune systems are most vulnerable to the condition. Medications, chronic infection or an ongoing disorder could weaken your dog's immune system. Symptoms of babeosis include pale gums, low energy, enlarged abdomen, diminished appetite and discolored urine and fecal matter.
How Humans Get It
Humans are also at risk for Babesiosis. The Babesia microti protozoa is the most common source of human infection, causing symptoms to appear weeks or even months after a bite from an infected tick. If you've had your spleen removed or have a chronic condition, you're at greater risk of developing the condition. You will notice symptoms such as lack of energy and appetite, nausea and flu-like symptoms. You may have low or unstable blood pressure. A blood test at your doctor's office will reveal a low platelet count.
Sharing the Disease
While the same tick could contain a Babesia parasite that could leave you and your dog infected, you cannot get the disease directly from your pet. Human blood is ideal for Babesia microti to flourish, but this species of babesiosis doesn't affect dogs. Dogs are more likely to develop babesiosis from the Babesia canis parasite or several other species that can't survive in human blood. Humans are most likely to get the disease from blood transfusions, with Babesia microti the most common pathogen infecting donated blood. Dogs usually contract the parasite from black-legged ticks.
What to Do About It
Use a monthly flea and tick repellent for your dog to help keep ticks from taking hold. Check your dog -- and yourself -- thoroughly for ticks after each outdoor excursion, especially when you live in areas where deer ticks are prevalent. Ticks must feed for two to three days to pass along the parasite, so prompt removal is crucial to prevention. If you think you or your dog may have symptoms of babesiosis, seek prompt medical attention. Blood tests are necessary to diagnose the condition and determine which medication is right for you or your dog.
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