What is Biliary

Biliary (or tick bite fever) is a potentially fatal tick born disease, which kills 1000s of dogs in South Africa every year. It is a protozoan disease caused by a microscopic organism, Babesia canis. If a tick bites a dog infected with Biliary, it will in turn become infected. This infection will last for it’s entire life and will be passed on to its offspring and to every dog that the tick bites. Once transmitted, the protozoa multiply in the dog’s body, destroying the red blood cells. This progresses rapidly causing the dog to become anemic. If left untreated, the dog can die in a matter of days. If treatment is delayed, many dogs die anyway as a result of kidney and liver damage. How will I know if my dog has Biliary? Within a week to two of being bitten by an infected tick, your dog may display some of the following symptoms.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever and shallow breathing
  • Anemia – Pale gums which may turn yellow as the disease progresses.
  • Darkening of urine
  • Yellowing of faeces
If your dog is usually an enthusiastic eater and he suddenly loses interest in food, you can suspect Biliary. Rush your dog to the vet where a quick analysis of a blood sample can confirm the diagnosis. How can I prevent my dog contracting Biliary? The only way to protect your dog against Biliary is through tick control. The most effective fleas and tick control products are available through your vet. Maintain a tick and fleas programme all year round to give your dog the best possible protection.

17 Responses to “What is Biliary”

  • K. D. Codd says:

    My vet tells me that there are two types of bilary. one attacks the red blood cells the other attacks the white blood cells. The white normally remains dormant until triggered by stress the red is well known and is treatable. The white type is treatable but difficult and the system never gets rid of it so that it can flare up at any time.

    Sounds odd to me. I have never heard of two different types of bilary, but I am not a vet. I was also told that if cortisone is injected it masks the real problem so it should not be used. Can you comment?

    • julie says:

      This article should answer your question:
      Understanding Biliary in dogs

      By Tears on July 12, 2012 in Useful info

      Common parasites can cause serious problems
      Ectoparasites, such as ticks, are more harmful to animals and humans than is generally realised. Not only do they cause debilitating and irritating conditions themselves, but they can transmit hazardous diseases to their hosts and humans. Certain zoonoses (disease transmitted from animal to human) have increased in recent times due to the rise of the pet population, with ticks and fleas being the main causative species.

      Biliary fever (Babesia) in dogs
      Biliary is a serious tick-borne disease which affects the red blood cells of dogs, cats, horses and livestock. Ticks transmit tiny infectious parasites into their host’s bloodstream where they multiply in the red blood cells (erythrocytes) (Fig.1). During this continuous multiplication process many more red blood cells are invaded and eventually destroyed (haemolysis) resulting in anaemia (Fig.2). This disease can be most troublesome as the clinical signs may be acute, chronic, protracted or relapsing.

      Clinical signs of infection


      Anaemia (pale mucous membranes)

      Anorexia and depression



      Jaundice (yellow mucous membranes) (See picture above)

      Red urine (haemoglobinuria)

      Nervous signs

      The ticks that prey on your pet are mainly the yellow dog tick (Haemaphysalis elliptica) and the kennel tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) (Fig.3). Both are major transmitters of canine biliary fever (Babesia canis). In severe infections death may occur very quickly, within as little as one day, unless there is an effective response to treatment. Some animals in endemic areas will carry the disease, but without clinical signs, whilst in other animals showing poor condition, the disease may have reached a chronic stage.

      Ticks attaching to such infected carrier dogs, will engorge blood cells containing Babesia sp. parasites. In the tick’s digestive system these parasites undergo another developmental cycle, and by further multiplications disseminate throughout the tick’s intestinal cells and, more importantly, invade various organs of the tick including the ovaries of the female and subsequent eggs laid by the female. This transmission ensures propagation of the Babesia sp. organisms to the next tick generation. This means that a certain percentage of the larval stages of a Babesia-infected female tick pass the infection to dogs, without prior attachment to the infected or carrier animals.

      Humans in close and frequent contact with infected animals are at risk of contracting tick-borne diseases, of which tick-bite fever (infection with Rickettsia conori) is the most common in South Africa. Tick-borne diseases are transmitted by the kennel tick as well as other tick species. Of late, Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is transmitted by the immature bont tick (Hyalomma spp.), also has to be considered as an increasing human health hazard.

      Diagnosis and sampling
      Blood samples, preferably from a capillary bed such as the ear tip as these are richest in parasites, should be collected for parasite identification. This procedure should only be done by a veterinarian.

      Ehrlichiosis in dogs
      Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne rickettsial disease transmitted through the saliva of ticks. This bacterium infects and kills the white blood cells. Clinical signs may be acute or chronic.

      Clinical signs of infection


      Anorexia and weight loss


      Bleeding tendencies (nose bleeds)

      Nervous signs


      Enlarged lymph nodes

      Ocular pain

      Treatment of biliary involves a visit to your local veterinarian, where he/she will recommend the best treatment for the animal according to the clinical signs, often with a combination of products. He may also suggest post-biliary supportive treatment for the animal that could be given at home.


      Babesiosis is normally transmitted by tick bites, so prevention depends on stopping the attachment and feeding of ticks, which may be achieved by avoiding tick-infested areas and by using dips, spot-on products or repellents with or without acaricides.

      Each treatment regime has its place in the control of ticks. Some are fast-acting but short-lived, while others are long-acting. Some combat on-host parasites, while others the off-host parasites.

      Depending on the severity and stage of the tick challenge, different products are recommended. Some products work only against ticks, while others have a combined efficacy to treat both ticks and fleas. Some products kill ticks while others repel and kill. A product that repels ticks reduces the risk of transmission of biliary fever.

      Owners planning to travel with their dogs to areas where ticks are prevalent, should ensure that their dogs are adequately protected against ticks.

      Babesiosis infection in a dog does not usually pose a direct risk for another dog, as blood transfer or ticks are needed for transmission of infection.

  • Louisa Webb says:

    I am absolutley heartbroken. I have just lost my first dog after having had maltese terriers all my life to what they call red biliary. Piccolina was a miniature – 11 years old. I had never heard of it. She was very active and loved being outside. On Monday morning she came in with a slight discomfort to her back leg and I thought she had strained it. On Monday night she would not eat her food. On Tuesday morning I took her to the Vet and they tested her for biliary just in case as we live on a plot and it was positive. They also did a blood count and the red cells were higher than normal. They put her on a drip and I spent the day with her at the Vet. She was still very alert, responding to me and not at all lethargic. She started breathing heavily and the next test said the red cells had increased rapidly. I rushed her to a Veterinary Hospital and she died while they were trying to give her oxygen. Is there anything else I could have done? Your article says it lies dormant and can be caused by stress – which I do not understand as she was such a happy and terribly intelligent little dog. I took my surviving Scampi who is 16 and they tested him and have given me a tablet called Bravecto which I did not know about. Is there anything else I can do or should know about. I so appreciate this web site as it has helped me a little to understand. Thank you. Louisa Webb

    • julie says:

      What a terribly sad story Louisa. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Piccolina. I am sure you must be devastated. Bravecto is an incredible product – just about the easiest way to control ticks. I would really recommend it.

  • Gerolene says:

    My daughter-in-law fostered a puppy she got from a rescue organisation. The dog was sick and then diagnosed with Distemper. I would like to know whether there is any chance that I could have brought home any harmful “germs” etc and given it to my dogs. This was about 10 days ago.
    Thank you for your answer.
    Kind regards.

    • julie says:

      As long as your dogs are not puppies and have been fully inoculated, it is not likely that they could be infected.
      They would also have had to come into contact with secretions from the infected puppy. I hope your daughter-in-law’s
      pup is recovering.


  • Nic vd Reyden says:

    Our 9 week old puppy has biliary. Has had 1x blood transfusion- rate of success?? Is complete recovery possible ? What are possible after effects? Possible relapses?? Advise please. Very concerned. Thanks..

    • Julie Tobiansky says:

      From my experience dogs recover well from Biliary although with a young pup it can be a bit more risky. Some dogs seem to be get Biliary
      quite easily and may suffer many bouts in the lifetime while others will not. You need to make sure you follow a tick prevention
      plan religiously to prevent further bites.

  • Michelle Robinson says:

    There are two forms of tick bite fever, Babesia and Ehrlichia (Ehrlichiosis) and they frequently occur together though Ehrlichia is not as simple to diagnose and often difficult to treat.

  • Wilma van Zyl says:

    A friends dog had Biliary and was treated a month ago. Now the dog’s nose area is severely swollen and sometimes it seems the dog is suffering to breath. The local vet told the lady that there is nose plates that shifted and some is destroyed by the illness and there is nothing that could be done for the dog. This is sometimes the after effects of the illness. The dog is snoring extremely. We want to know if there is in fact something that could be done for the poor animal. My friend is thinking of putting the poor dog to sleep to help him out of his misery. The dog is very irritated with his swollen nose and shakes his head quite often.

    • Julie Tobiansky says:

      That is not a side affect I have heard of before. The best thing would be to get a second opinion from another vet.
      I hope your friend’s dog recovers soon.

  • Sam says:

    I am so worried as I have just found a tick on my golden retrievers nose. I haven’t used any spot ons for my dogs. Is there anything I can do for him?

    • Julie Tobiansky says:

      Not all ticks carry biliary. First you need to remove the tick carefully. You need only be concerned if your dog loses his appetite or becomes lethargic.

  • Shelley Bennet says:

    Hi there,

    I want to know how soon after having biliary in a 6 month old puppy, can exercise (a 3.5 km walk) be resumed?

  • Carina says:

    Good day. My 7 year old boerbull has been in hospital for a week now with tick bite fever. She will hopefully be coming home tomorrow. This was the second time she has contacted the disease and this time it was a very aggressive form of it. She developed fluid on her lungs that was treated with success but I am still a bit worried. When she comes home what can I feed her to improve her health and get her on her feet again and how long for a full recovery? Will this desease have a relapse? How can I make her immune system stronger? Can I give her blue liquid to boost her health?

    • Julie Tobiansky says:

      So sorry to hear about your dog. You really do need to chat to a vet to get health advice as we are not qualified to give that kind of guidance.
      Hope she recovers quickly.

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