Understanding Biliary in dogs and cats
We live in a lovely moderate climatic area where things never really get too hot or too cold. It is not only us that appreciate this lovely weather. Ticks too show real appreciation and this is done by transmitting biliary ( bosluiskoors / babesiosis / tick bite fever ) to our animals.
Ticks transmit the babesia parasite ( protozoa ) to our animals. Ticks need a blood meal to survive and allow the eggs to mature before they lay them and during the biting they inject their saliva into the skin. There is a numbing agent in the blood but also the biliary parasite in infected ticks. This parasite then digs its way into a red blood cell and from there they multiply and infect more and more red blood cells – they literally take over the body.
Red blood cells are our main transport mechanism for oxygen around the body and when the biliary parasite bursts the cell, it destroys the red blood cell and thus reduces the amount of carrier red blood cells available for oxygen transport. The more parasites there are, the more red blood are destroyed and the quicker the animals become anaemic.
What do you see ? Firstly, most animals become really listless and just lie around the place. They normally have a severe fever ( 39 degrees and more ) and have a poor to no appetite. Depending on the severity and stage of infection, their gums ( mucus membranes ) can either be pink , pale white , white or yellow jaundiced. Early infections normally have pink gums because fewer red blood cells have been destroyed but the more severe the infection, the more cells are destroyed and the paler the animal.
The spleen and liver are our “mopping up “ organs. They will normally identify the infected red blood cells and remove them from circulation. The infected cells and parasites are destroyed in these organs and the pigment is converted to bile. This is then passed out the body and may cause the jaundice and yellow colouration of the skin, eyes and gums.
How do we diagnose this ? The diagnosis is made by examining a blood-smear under a microscope with special stains. We then look for the parasite ( they look different in dogs and cats but all affect the red blood cells ) and then depending one how ill the patient is, we may do a blood and protein count.
How do we treat this disease ? In summary – the earlier the animal is seen, the less severe the infection will be, the less severe the clinical signs and the quicker and easier ( and cheaper ) it will be to treat them. Once the patient becomes anaemic and has pale gums, the disease is more advanced and requires intensive treatment. Dogs are generally treated with a single injection and supportive medication for the liver and immune system. Cats are put on tablets that have to be given over a period of 5 weeks with added liver and immune system supportive treatment. Complicated cases may develop organ failure like kidneys, lung or liver failure and “red biliary “ in dogs can affect the brain function with severe seizures. The immune system in dogs can also contribute to severe complications but destroying all red blood cells – not just the infected red blood cells. All these complications will be addressed accordingly but again – the earlier the animal is presented, the quicker they can be treated and generally the fewer complications there are.
Complicated cases normally require hospitalisation and intensive care for up to a week. They may even require blood transfusions to replace the ruptured red blood cells.
How do I prevent this disease ? Tick control is the only form of prevention. Dips, sprays, collars and spot-on treatments are all effective but must be used strictly according to manufacturers’ instructions for the best results. Some preparations are effective against only ticks or fleas and others are effective against both. Dips are generally cheaper than other treatments but weekly dipping is required, whereas spot-ons are more expensive, but only a monthly application is usually required. Cats are very sensitive to poisons and dips and only a few products are safe for use in cats. Please make sure the product states that it is SAFE for cats.