Pet owners rush to the vet after killer disease found in Essex dogs

German Shepherd Dog Sticking Head Out Driving Car Window

German Shepherd Dog Sticking Head Out Driving Car Window - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

An outbreak of a killer disease for dogs, not usually found in Britain, has led to vets being inundated with calls from anxious pet owners.

Mercer and Hughes with branches in Saffron Walden, Stansted and Dunmow say they received over 50 calls and visits today (Wednesday) to their branches in Saffron Walden, Stansted and Dunmow after an outbreak of babesiosis was mentioned on BBC Radio 4 in the Today programme.

The condition, spread by ticks has affected four dogs – who all walked in the same field in Harlow. After treatment, the dogs are reported to be poorly but recovering.

The disease has never previously been recorded before in the UK. Now Mercer and Hughes have ordered in products including special dog collars which kill the tick by spreading a chemical through the dog’s coat which is harmless to the canine.

Ilse Pedler, a partner at Mercer and Hughes said: “The reason these cases are being taken so seriously is that the affected dogs had not travelled abroad.”

Babesiosis is a malaria-like parasite. The tick bites the dog and injects a parasite into the body, which enters the red blood cells and multiplies, eventually rupturing the cell. Symptoms include lethargy, fever, weight loss and anaemia. The condition can be fatal and it can require hospitalisation, intravenous fluids and in severe cases blood transfusions.

Babesiosis cannot be transferred from one dog to another and it does not affect cats or humans. The cases in Harlow are the only ones so far reported in the UK.

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Until a 2011 change in EU rules, it was compulsory for imported dogs, or those returning home on a dog passport, to be treated for ticks before entry. When this requirement was dropped, vets warned that outbreaks of exotic tick diseases were likely to follow.

Mrs Pedler said: “Not all species of tick carry the parasites so if an owner finds a tick on their pet it doesn’t automatically mean their dog will get babesiosis. There have been no reported cases in Uttlesford. The Animal and Plant Health Agency is monitoring the situation.”

Though there are no vaccines available for babesia in the UK. Vets are recommending prevention is by use of anti-tick treatments and removing ticks from the coat as soon as they are seen.

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