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Biliary fever

Biliary is a tick-borne disease caused by a protozoan blood parasite. The species of biliary that is found in Zimbabwe is called Babesia canis. Hence biliary’s other names, Babesia and Babesiosis. Tick fever is a different disease caused by a parasite called Ehrlichia canis.

The organism is spread to dogs through the bite of a tick and can infect dogs of all ages.

There is a peak incidence during summer and the rainy season when ticks are more prevalent.

Biliary affects red blood cells, causing anaemia, many organ systems can be involved, and many complications can arise; the disease can be mild, or can be fatal.

What to Watch For

  • Inappetance (not eating)
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Laboured breathing, fast breathing
  • Haemoglobinuria (red coloured urine)
  • Collapse
  • Ticks found approximately a week earlier
  • Jaundice that appears as a yellow coloration of the gums and whites of the eyes
  • Fever (temperature over 39.5°C)



In most cases diagnosis can be made easily at the surgery by examining a drop of blood under the microscope. Large pear-shaped organisms, present in pairs, indicate Babesia canis infection.
In more severe cases a larger blood sample may be taken from a vein on the front leg to check the degree of anaemia or to check for Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia.


We usually treat biliary with Imizol, dexone and B-vitamins with follow-up injections of dexone and B-vitamins the next day. This follow-up consultation is also important to check for complications that often occur following biliary infection.

More severe cases are treated with Trypan blue. Sometimes drips, oxygen, blood transfusions and additional supportive care lasting days to weeks may be required.

Trypan blue alleviates clinical signs and suppresses the organism in the bloodstream by blocking its entry into the red blood cells. It does not eliminate infection. It is given intravenously and is very safe, making it a good drug to use initially in severe cases. Once the dog is on the mend, Imizol is given in an attempt to eliminate the infection.

Home Care and Prevention

Since ticks spread the disease, preventing tick exposure is extremely important. We recommend weekly dipping throughout the year using an effective dip. Fipronil (Frontline) may also be used but must be applied every three weeks for tick control.

Complications following biliary

Common Complications include;

  • Acute kidney failure
  • Cerebral biliary (neurologic signs are the most evident)
  • Coagulopathy (a blood clotting disorder)
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the mucous membranes)
  • Liver damage
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Shock

Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia, IMHA, whereby normal red blood cells are destroyed by the body’s own immune system, is a common consequence of biliary infection, especially if your pet has had biliary before. Many variations and complications can occur.

Although the parasite infects red blood cells, it can trigger an excessive inflammatory response that may cause widespread inflammation and multi-organ damage. The kidneys may be affected, and acute kidney failure may occur. The parasitised red blood cells may cause sludging in the small vessels in the brain, resulting in neurologic signs such as seizures, semi-coma, or coma. This excessive inflammatory response that occurs throughout the body may affect the lungs, causing serious acute respiratory distress syndrome in which dogs show severe life-threatening respiratory problems.

Cerebral biliary involves the brain and is characterised by neurologic signs such as in coordination, partial paralysis of the hind legs, muscle tremors, different sized pupils, intermittent loss of consciousness, seizures, or coma. Often dogs do not survive cerebral biliary

In advanced cases of biliary jaundice can occur. Jaundice is often seen in dogs that have anaemia caused by destruction of their red blood cells, however, jaundice may also be due to liver damage. Medication to promote liver recovery will be given.

There is currently no preventative medicine or vaccine in Zimbabwe against biliary.