Background: Hepatozoon canis is a widespread tick-borne protozoan affecting dogs. The diagnosis of H. canis infection is usually performed by cytology of blood or buffy coat smears, but this method may not be sensitive. Our study aimed to evaluate the best method to achieve a parasitological diagnosis of H. canis infection in a population of receptive young dogs, previously negative by cytology and exposed to tick infestation for one summer season. Results: A total of 73 mongrel dogs and ten beagles younger than 18 months of age, living in an animal shelter in southern Italy where dogs are highly infested by Rhipicephalus sanguineus, were included in this study. In March-April 2009 and in October 2009, blood and bone marrow were sampled from each dog. Blood, buffy coat and bone marrow were examined by cytology only (at the first sampling) and also by PCR for H. canis (second sampling). In March-April 2009, only one dog was positive for H. canis by cytological examination, whereas in October 2009 (after the summer season), the overall incidence of H. canis infection by cytological examinations was 43.9%. Molecular tests carried out on samples taken in October 2009 showed a considerably higher number of dogs positive by PCR (from 27.7% up to 51.2% on skin and buffy coat tissues, respectively), with an overall positivity of 57.8%. All animals, but one, which were positive by cytology were also PCR-positive. PCR on blood or buffy coat detected the highest number of H. canis-positive dogs displaying a sensitivity of 85.7% for both tissues that increased up to 98% when used in parallel. Twenty-six (74.8%) out of the 28 H. canis-positive dogs presented hematological abnormalities, eosinophilia being the commonest alteration observed. Conclusions: The results suggest that PCR on buffy coat and blood is the best diagnostic assay for detecting H. canis infection in dogs, although when PCR is not available, cytology on buffy coat should be preferred to blood smear evaluation. This study has also demonstrated that H. canis infection can spread among young dogs infested by R. sanguineus and be present in the majority of the exposed population within 6 months.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research has been partially sponsored by Bayer Animal Health GmbH. Publication of the CVBD6 thematic series has been sponsored by Bayer Animal Health GmbH.