East Coast Fever
Kakamega County
Kenya Agricultural and Research and Livestock Organisation
Moses Olum

Strange urine? It’s not witchcraft, blame ticks

Recently, I received a distress call from a new farmer who had just set shop in the heart of Kakamega County.

“Daktari, the prime cow I bought from Kapsabet last month is urinating blood!” The panic in her voice was palpable and her frustration evident.

As the work of the vet is usually well cut out, treat the patient and treat the owner; in this case, the only difference was that the owner came first.

I had to deal with her anxiety. I enquired if the animal had exhibited any other symptom of disease. The farmer had only noted the animal being dull the previous day, failing to feed properly and had dropped milk production from 23 to 17 litres. But she did not raise an alarm to the vet.

So what would make an animal pass blood in urine? That was her main concern. Being new in agribusiness and her neighbours being jealous of her new venture, I could pick that she was of the opinion that witchcraft could be involved.

Back to the disease; we instituted an investigation on what could have caused the problem: Such is usually likely to be caused by urinary tract infections.

The symptoms could also be caused if the animal has been feeding on poisonous plants that would lead to destruction of red blood cells by plant chemicals or a tick borne infection known as Babesiosis.

Later that day we visited the farm, took history, examined the animals and collected a blood sample from the affected cow. The results hours later revealed the animal had suffered from Babesiosis.

But what is Babesiosis?


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Babesiosis is a disease transmitted by ticks. The ticks bite the animal introducing the disease into the animal.

Once in the body, the parasite multiplies in the red blood cells and end up destroying the cells. This leads to the red part of blood known as haemoglobin being passed in urine therefore the red urine passed by affected animals.

Due to this, the disease is usually referred to as red water. Other symptoms seen with this disease include: Fever in affected animals, jaundice or yellowing of body membranes such as the eye and aneamia due to destruction of blood cells. The disease affects older animals than young ones.

Since Babesiosis is transmitted by ticks, the only logical way of controlling such infections is a solid tick control programme. This can be done by dipping or pump spraying and all parts of the animal’s body must be covered.

Since ticks have developed resistance to many acaricides used on them, the farmer has to use the right acaricide at the right dilution rate.

Also important to note is that the tick that transmits red water is different from the one that transmits East Coast Fever.

In this scenario and from farmer history, the she had been away for 2 weeks and while away, the farm staff did not stick to the spraying protocols leading to high tick burdens on the animals thus transmitting the infection.


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Red water is a serious disease that if not treated leads to death of affected animals. Whenever a farmer comes across this infection, they should call a registered licensed vet who will help treat the animal to recovery.

[Dr Moses Olum works as a researcher at Kenya Agricultural and Research and Livestock Organisation (KARLO) [email protected]]

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