The common or layman’s term for biliary is Tick Bite Fever. Biliary is a disease caused by a parasite named Babesia. Tick bite fever is one of the most common infectious diseases in Southern Africa.

The Babesia parasite is transmitted via ticks. The ticks have to bite the animal and transmit the parasite, where it survives and multiplies in the red bloods cells of the animal. There are different types of Babesia parasites that affect a number of different animals, including people. The important species in dogs is Babesia canis, Babesia vogeli and Babesia rossi, and in cats it is Babesia felis. In South Africa, the yellow tick is the one that can carry the canine Babesia parasite.

Tick bite fever in dogs is seen throughout South Africa. In cats, however, it is only seen in the Western Cape area.


Because the parasites live in the red blood cells of the dogs, these blood cells get damaged or destroyed, causing the observed symptoms. And, of course, the longer the disease carries on and progresses, the worse the symptoms get.

The first symptoms noticed by owners in dogs are lethargy, anorexia (loss of appetite), and fever. The next symptoms seen are pale gums and/or pale mucous membranes of the inner eyelids. Because the dog’s red blood cells get damaged and destroyed by the parasite and the animal’s own body is trying to get rid of the parasite, they can become quite anaemic and jaundice may also be seen. If a dog is not treated at this stage, and the disease progresses, complications can then occur. Complicated biliary occurs when other organs become affected, for example the kidneys, brain, lungs, liver and immune system. These patients will definitely need to be hospitalised and intensive treatment administered. Unfortunately, not all dogs with biliary (non-complicated or complicated form) survive.


Diagnosis is made via clinical examination of your pet and by visualising the Babesia parasite on a blood smear under a microscope.

Non-complicated biliary cases may or may not need hospitalisation, depending on how sick your dog is. They are treated with a medication to kill the Babesia parasites. Your vet will use either Berenil or Forray 65.

If your dog is severely anaemic, it may need a blood transfusion. Complicated cases always need hospitalisation and intensive treatment for several days.


Prevention is always better than cure. The only way to prevent your dog from getting biliary is to make sure that it is always tick-free. To do this you need to apply medication that prevents ticks from attaching to your dog. There are a vast number of products available – spot-on formulations, shampoos, powders, collars, dips, and sprays. It’s best to speak to your vet about what will suit you and your dog the best.

You can also do some tick control in your environment by keeping grass cut short, sealing any cracks and crevices in paving or walls, regularly washing dogs’ bedding, and keeping beds and kennels tick-free.

It is best to do both treatments on your dog and environmental treatments to ensure that the tick burden is under control, as in areas with high tick loads just doing the one will not be sufficient.

Whilst dogs can get infected with the Babesia parasite all year round, there is a higher incidence now during the summer months.


Before we go on to explain the best ways to go about removing a tick from your pet’s skin, here are a few ways not to remove a tick, despite what you might have heard or done in the past:

  • Do not simply brush, scrape or pull the tick forcibly off the skin. This can lead to the tick’s probe breaking off under the surface of the skin, giving rise to a range of potential infections and problems.
  • Do not just leave the tick alone for your pet to deal with.
  • Do not remove the tick with bare hands or your fingernails.
  • Do not attempt to burn or singe the tick off.
  • Do not spray the tick with an insecticide or toxin.
  • Do not use alcohol to remove a tick, nor attempt to suffocate the tick using a layer of Vaseline or soap.

There are several suitable options for removing a tick from your pet safely and effectively. First of all, before you begin, make sure that you have thought about how you are going to dispose of the tick after you remove it. Ticks are parasites that can spread diseases and should not just be thrown outside or left alive. Have at hand a suitable small jar or other small sealed container in which you can place the tick after removal for safe disposal.

Use a pair of blunt needle-nose tweezers to remove the tick. Grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as you can – do not take hold of the body of the tick or squeeze the body, as this can kill the tick, leaving the front part of the head embedded under the skin, releasing toxins. Then gently, and with a consistent pressure, twist and lever the tick away from the skin. Do not apply too much force, because, as mentioned, you do not want the head of the tick to break off under the skin.

Whichever method you use to remove your tick, it is vital to make sure that you remove the whole of the tick and not allow the head end of the tick to break off and remain embedded under the skin. Should this occur by accident, take your dog to the vet for them to have a look at, and possibly arrange a course of antibiotics. Once you have removed the tick, give the affected area of your pet’s skin a thorough wash and a wipe over with a topical antiseptic. Keep an eye on the affected area for a couple of days afterwards to make sure it does not become sore or inflamed.

If your dog spends lots of time outdoors, tick checks should be part of your daily routine. Start by running your fingers slowly over your dog’s entire body. If you feel a bump or swollen area, check to see if a tick has burrowed there. Don’t limit your search to your dog’s torso: check between his toes, under his armpits, the insides of his ears, and around his face and chin.

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