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Biosecurity NZ: Dog Owners Reminded To Treat Their Pets For Ticks

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

“The parasite is often transmitted by ticks, so we are encouraging dog owners to make sure their dogs are up to date with their flea and tick treatment,” says Biosecurity New Zealand’s chief veterinary officer Dr Mary van Andel.

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.

“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 of Babesia gibsoni 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.

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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,” says Dr van Andel.

“We’re asking vets to help our investigation by contacting us if they have any suspected cases of Babesia gibsoni 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.

Further information about Babesia gibsoni can be found at the MPI website here: Babesia gibsoni: a tick-borne parasite affecting dogs | NZ Government (mpi.govt.nz)

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