Dogs are highly exposed to pathogens transmitted by ectoparasites. The Mediterranean climate of Southern Europe, together with the presence of stray and/or neglected pets in close proximity with humans, contribute for tick expansion and stand for increased risk to infections in humans due to the zoonotic potential of many of these agents. The aim of this study was to perform a molecular survey in dogs (suspected of tick-borne disease and/or infested with ticks), as well as in ticks collected from those animals, from 12 districts of Portugal to investigate the occurrence of Rickettsia spp. and other tick-borne pathogens (Babesia, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma and Hepatozoon). Additionally, a serological survey of spotted fever group Rickettsia in Portuguese dogs was performed using an in-house immunofluorescence assay (IFA). A total of 200 whole-blood samples and 221 Rhipicephalus sanguineus s. l. ticks were collected from dogs. A total of 14 (7 %) blood samples and 10 (4.5 %) ticks yielded presumptively positive 420-bp amplicons using the Rickettsia spp. partial ompB nested PCR. Screening of the ompB-positive samples using the gltA gene showed 8 positive ticks. All Rickettsia ompB and gltA sequences had the highest identity with R. massiliae. The Rickettsia-positive dogs were further tested for other tick-borne pathogens and were found to be infected with Babesia spp. (n = 5), but not with Ehrlichia, Anaplasma or Hepatozoon. Of the 149 dog serum specimens tested in the serological assay, 103 (69 %) were positive for IgG antibodies against spotted fever group Rickettsia. Antibodies were found in dogs from all the studied districts, in 55 (53 %) of the stray and in 48 (47 %) of the owned dogs. Our study detected and characterized for the first time R. massiliae in dogs from Portugal, broadening the geographical range of this canine pathogen and adding knowledge to the impact of this disease in dogs.
Keywords: Babesia; Dog; Rhipicephalus sanguineus sensu lato; Rickettsia massiliae; Tick.
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