Red biliary is not a new strain of biliary (Babesia) but a complication of the disease where the dog shows a higher than normal red cell count and often loses consciousness. Two strains of biliary occurs in South Africa, namely Babesia rossi and Babesia vogelli. The other stains (Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni) do not occur in South Africa.
Babesia affects all species, with each species having their own specific strains. The typical clinical signs of Babesiosis are listlessness, poor appetite, temperature and pale gums. Unfortunately the disease can result in a number of complications including heart, lung, and kidney failure, vomiting and diarrhoea (from inflammation of the pancreas), the so-called ‘red biliary’, low blood sugar levels, seizures, and severe anaemia from an auto-immune destruction of the red blood cell. Clinical signs of the complications are directly related to which organ or organs are affected.
As Babesia is a tick-borne disease, the best prevention is to stop the tick from attaching onto the animal. This can be done with various ‘topstop’ preparations, insecticidal collars, and dips. Brushing the dog after he has been for a walk, especially in long grass and open fields, will also reduce the number of ticks. There is also a vaccine available that will reduce the severity of the disease.
The earlier an animal is diagnosed and treated the better the outcome. The two strains of Babesia that affect South African dogs respond well to the currently available drugs. A dog showing any of the complications of the disease will require intensive treatment.
Dr Remo Lobetti, Veterinary Specialist Physician