Dog owners urged to treat pets for ticks after dog dies from dangerous parasite

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Apr 05, 2024 |

photo: file

Biosecurity New Zealand is reminding dog owners to make sure their pets are up to date with flea and tick treatment, after the parasite Babesia gibsoni was detected in a dog in the Canterbury region.

Babesia gibsoni is widespread around the rest of the world, including Australia, but this is the first case in a New Zealand-bred dog.

It can cause the disease babesiosis, which is not present in New Zealand.

Most dogs will only experience mild symptoms, if any, but the disease can be severe in some cases.

Biosecurity New Zealand’s chief veterinary officer Dr Mary van Andel said “Along with ticks, the parasite can also be spread through dog bites, blood transfusion and through the placenta from an infected mother to her pups.

“In countries where Babesia gibsoni is widespread, the focus is on preventing infection by treating dogs with tick treatments or combined with flea treatments, and limiting fighting behaviour.”

 Dr van Andel says dog owners shouldn’t be alarmed.

“At this stage we are aware of just one case in New Zealand. We are working hard to determine whether this is an isolated case and where it came from.”

Overseas, the parasite is often found in a select group of dog breeds – Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Greyhounds are the most commonly affected breeds.

Dogs without symptoms or that have recovered from infection often reach a balance where their immune system suppresses the parasite.

However, this means they may still spread the parasite and may develop disease if they become immune compromised.

Biosecurity New Zealand is working closely with the owners of the infected dog to identify other dogs she had been in contact with so they can be tested.  The affected dog was euthanised at its owners’ request due to it being extremely unwell.

 “A second dog in the household has had blood taken for testing and early results are negative for the disease. Samples have also been taken from several dogs known to be close contacts of the infected dog and another playmate of the infected dog.

“We’re asking vets to help our investigation by contacting us if they have any suspected cases and have been in touch with registered doggy daycare operators to alert them to the case so they can keep an eye out for ticks and remain vigilant in preventing biting and fighting between dogs.”

If dog owners are concerned about their pets’ health, their first port of call should be their veterinarian.

How did B. gibsoni get into New Zealand and is it widespread?

Biosecurity New Zealand has robust measures in place to prevent B. gibsoni coming into New Zealand. All imported dogs must comply with import health standards (IHS) requirements, including veterinary inspections and treatments for external parasites, and serological or molecular testing for parasites.

In the Canterbury case, the infected dog had not been imported, and there is no clear link to overseas. We are working to establish how this dog became infected.

What disease does B. gibsoni cause?

Many dogs do not develop symptoms of disease, but remain infected by the parasite. When disease does occur, it is referred to as babesiosis. The disease is often chronic and mild, but in some cases, it can be acute and severe. Chronic babesiosis often presents as intermittent fever, lethargy, and weight loss. Acute babesiosis is characterised by fever, lethargy, and anaemia.

Subclinical and recovered dogs often reach a balance where their immune system suppresses the parasite, preventing disease, but does not eliminate it. This means they may still spread the parasite and may develop disease in times of immune suppression.

What species are affected by B. gibsoni?

Dogs are the most affected species. Pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, and greyhounds are the most commonly affected breeds.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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