Babesiosis – What dog owners need to know

This fatal disease transmitted by ticks has been found in a small number of dogs in Essex, one of which died. It causes severe anaemia in dogs – cats aren’t at risk and neither are we humans as Babesia canis parasites only infect dogs.

Although this disease has been reported in the UK before, previous cases seen were in dogs that had recently travelled abroad. The dogs that contracted it recently hadn’t left the country, which shows that an infected population of ticks has become established in the UK. It is possible that this tick was carried into the country on another dog – as the requirements for tick treatment on animals travelling into the UK were relaxed in 2012.

Risk level of canine babesiosis across Europe 

The infection is passed from an infected tick to her eggs and female ticks lay thousands of eggs, so a spread of this disease is possible. That’s why it’s important to take action to help protect your dog.


Spot the symptoms

If your dog becomes weak and lethargic, has jaundice or pale gums, fever and red/blood coloured urine, take them to the vet as soon as possible. If there is a suspicion of babesiosis, the vet can do a blood test to diagnose the disease.

Treatment includes medicine to reduce the parasite load and stop the dogs own immune system from destroying red blood cells.

Help protect against ticks and the diseases they can transmit

There is currently no dog vaccine for babesiosis in the UK, so you need to do all you can to prevent ticks on your dog.

  • Make sure you check your dog daily, particularly after each walk and if you do spot a tick, don’t panic. Ticks can be removed safely using a tick hook. If you’re concerned about removing them yourself, ask your vet for advice.
  • Use an appropriate tick product such as FRONTLINE® Spot On. Apply the treatment once a month, throughout the year for continuous tick and flea protection. It doesn’t stop ticks attaching but kills them within 48 hours of contact with your treated pet, helping to minimise the risk of tick-borne disease transmission.

Facts you may not know about Ticks

  1. Ticks can transmit a wide variety of diseases, and are second only to mosquitoes worldwide as vectors of disease.
  2. A single female tick can lay up to 10,000 eggs.
  3. Ticks are arachnids, so are more closely related to spiders than insects.
  4. Unfed ticks are tiny (the size of a sesame seed), so they can be difficult to spot on your dog.
  5. Ticks are carnivores and feed on the blood of their hosts – they can consume up to 200 times their unfed bodyweight in blood!
  6. Ticks do not have wings to fly and can’t jump. They walk on the ground and up plants where they quest for a host.
  7. Ticks locate a host by detecting breath (CO2) and body odour, as well as heat, vibrations and shadows.
  8. Ticks vary in colour and differ in size, depending on the species, age and sex of the tick.
  9. Ticks have specialised saliva which numbs the bite area, prevents inflammation and keeps the blood flowing so that they can feed for prolonged periods of time.
  10. Ticks can be active at temperatures as low as 3.5°C. They use plant debris (fallen leaves, branches and rotting vegetation) to shelter in during the cold weather.
  11. Ticks are pretty tough! They can survive being frozen, have been found at altitudes of 2000 metres and even survive going through the washing machine at 40ᵒC!
  12. Tick numbers are rising across the UK, due to changing climate, habitat changes and increased numbers of hosts (such as deer).


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