Dog owner Hollie Wilson’s dream French holiday with husband Craig and two dogs Olive and Badger turned into a nightmare when Olive, a pointer, was bitten by a tick. Within days, Olive’s condition had deteriorated and it was clear that she was becoming seriously unwell.
Working in the pet industry as the founder and creative force behind prestigious dog bed and accessories company Hunt And Wilson, Hollie Wilson is passionate about the health and wellbeing of her two dogs, Pointers, Badger and Olive.
She also loves to spend time with these stars of her online store when trialling and researching new products so when her and husband Craig decided to head off on holiday to France for a month, it seemed only natural that Badger and Olive should go too.
Hollie explains: “We got the two of them their passports, Rabies jabs, wormers and flee treatments all done and set off to France for a month. The dogs absolutely loved the south of France having free rein of three acres with woodlands, ponds and rolling fields to explore. At times we thought we could happily move here and I am sure the dogs would agree.
“During our trip a local friend warned us to watch out for ticks on the dogs and ourselves as they are particularly prevalent in that area. Each day I carefully checked the dogs for ticks and removed any I found. During our stay we only found one tick that had actually become attached. It had settled on Olive our youngest Pointer just behind her ear. It was quite large when we found it but I removed it straight away.
“This was mid-way through the holiday and we carried on as normal not thinking anything of it. During the last week Olive was slightly off her food, but this is not unheard of for a Pointer so we continued as normal as she was still running around happy as anything all day.
“It was when we began the journey home that Olive started to show worrying symptoms. The last day before we set off was particularly hot and the dogs were running around all day. We set off about 4.30pm and arrived at our midway hotel at 12pm. By the time we got there Olive was very weak and her eyes glazed, she wouldn’t eat or drink and I was starting to worry about her.
“I then looked at her gums and to my horror they were completely white – I have always checked gums for signs of illness and when I noticed this I panicked. At 1am in the middle of France all we could do was watch her not knowing what else to do. We were convinced it was dehydration as it was a hot day so sat up all night letting her lick water off our hands.
“By the morning she managed to eat some breakfast and the colour began to come back into her gums slightly so we decided to get going to the tunnel so we could get home and see our vet as soon as possible. I had several worried phone calls with them on the way home!
“We eventually got to the emergency out of hours vet at 10pm that night – they took her in immediately and did some blood tests. She was showing signs of anaemia but the vets agreed she was stable and needed to go into our vets for more testing in the morning as they did not know what the problem was.
“After another sleepless night we took her into our vets first thing the next morning – Hugh Duffin’s Animal House in Rugby where we saw a new vet, Katyia from Poland and it was then, with her experience of seeing the disease in Europe, she said there was a possibility Olive had contracted babesiosis from the tick bite and took her in for tests.
“Initial tests were unclear however Katyia was so convinced by her symptoms she spent all day testing her and by 6pm she confirmed Olive had babesiosis. Katyia explained that this would involve two doses of the recommended drug treatment in order to stop the parasite killing more red blood cells and ultimately Olive. She said that the sooner the treatment is administered the better.
“We were then told that finding the drug in the UK it would not be easy. Our vet called all the top research centres in the UK to no avail. My husband and I were all set to travel back to France to see a vet there but luckily on the way, we decided to try Davies Veterinary Specialists in Bedfordshire – only because a friend had taken their dog there. Phoning them at 7pm that night we asked them if they by any chance they had the recommended treatment in stock. To my surprise they had - unfortunately not in the happiest circumstances – the dog it had been ordered in for had sadly passed away before the treatment was given to him.
“That night Olive began her treatment. Her red blood cell count had dropped to 25 and it should be around 45 so she was very close to requiring a blood transfusion.
“The next morning we had a phone call from Ian Battersby, the vet looking after Olive, confirming treatment had gone well. She came home two days later where we had the most amazing greeting from her! She recovered well and went back two weeks later for the final treatment and was given the all clear.
“I can honestly say without all the help from Katyia and Ian, Olive would not be here today. It was due to their persistence in finding she had babesiosis and how Olive was treated so quickly, that she has made a full recovery.
“Looking back, losing Olive to babesiosis would have been heart-breaking. She's a wonderful dog and bred by a close friend so is very special to us.
“The hours leading up to diagnosis were terrible as we were travelling across France with limited French and I was seven months pregnant! We made the decision to get back to England as quick as possible to get her sorted and that's when every moment counted to get a diagnosis and then treatment.
“Back then, I probably wasn't aware so much of the risks of tick-borne disease before all this happened and was probably a bit naive as to where these risks were found. However I am most definitely aware of the dangers carried by ticks now!
“I think my message is to talk to your vet and find a tick treatment that is effective for your dog and ensure you use it on a regular basis as you never know which tick is infected. Although Lyme disease is well documented I am all too well aware now of the risk of other diseases that can be life threatening such as babesiosis. Seeing the disease being carried in ticks in the UK is extremely worryingly as a dog owner and more needs to be done through campaigns such as The Big Tick Project to raise awareness.”