New killer tick-borne disease now in the UK
As many dog owners will now already be aware, a new killer dog disease (Babesiosis) has been identified in the UK. Four dogs in Harlow, Essex have been confirmed to have had the disease. One died and the other three became seriously ill.
Babesiosis is a disease that is spread by ticks. It is widespread in the rest of the world, including Europe, but up until now, we have been free of this nasty disease in the UK. Importantly, none of the 4 dogs in this current outbreak have ever been abroad which suggests that the disease is already circulating in tick populations in the UK. It is likely that the relaxation of the pet travel rules has allowed infected ticks to come into the country where they have now bred.
Currently, the disease appears to be confined to a small area of Essex, but it is almost inevitable that it will spread to the rest of the country, including West Sussex. AlphaPet vets in Chichester and Bognor are on the lookout for any dogs with suspicious signs.
Dogs are usually infected within 8-24 hours after ticks attach, so there is opportunity to prevent infection by checking dogs over after walks and removing any ticks you find. There are various methods for doing this, including special tick remover tools that mean there is no risk of leaving the heads behind. These are available at all of our surgeries and are also included in the AlphaPet Pet First Aid Kits.
Symptoms in infected dogs to look out for include lack of energy, poor appetite, pale gums, fever, weight loss and coloured urine. Once a dog is infected, the parasites multiply rapidly in the blood cells. This causes the body to try and kill its own cells resulting in a severe anaemia. The time it takes for clinical signs to develop after infection (the incubation period) is variable but averages around 2 weeks, although symptoms can remain mild meaning that the disease may not be diagnosed for months or even years.
There is no vaccine and there are no specific licensed treatments for Babesiosis in the UK currently so tick prevention is vital in protecting your pet.
Until January 2012, there was a requirement for all dogs to be treated against ticks before entry into the UK, but that was dropped to comply with EU regulations. Strong UK veterinary objections were ignored and it is very sad that our predictions that these sort of diseases would enter the UK without proper tick control for imported pets have come true.
It is important to remember that currently, this disease is still very rare in the UK and it does not affect humans. However, we do already have another serious tick-borne disease which is in Chichester and Bognor Regis areas - Lyme disease. Whilst we do not see many cases of Lyme disease in dogs, this is a human disease (zoonosis) also and we are aware of several clients who have been infected and become seriously ill themselves.
Tick prevention is definitely the best way to prevent infection with Babesia. There are a number of highly effective anti-tick products that can be integrated with other routine parasite control (fleas and worms) to help keep your dog healthy. AlphaPet vets strongly recommend that dog owners who exercise their dogs in the countryside should consider using routine tick control measures. If you want to know more about the safest and most effective ways to do this, please call us at the surgery or speak to an AlphaPet vet or AlphaPet qualified nurse.
AlphaPet is very fortunate to have vet, Lisa Rokebrand, working for us who has seen a lot of Babesia cases in South Africa and will be able to give us additional advice as and when we start to see cases.