LEISHMANIASIS IN DOGS
Leishmaniasis is a chronic disease caused by protozoan parasites from the Leishmania species. This incurable disease can, unfortunately, have serious and even fatal consequences, especially if not treated immediately. The disease is zoonotic, which means it can be contracted by humans as well as dogs, although it is very rare in humans. You cannot become infected with Leishmaniasis from your dog.
Leishmaniasis in dogs is common in the Mediterranean, South and Central America, and southern Mexico. The disease is not endemic in the UK, so affected animals reported in Britain have almost always travelled overseas. So, what is Leishmaniasis? How is it caught? Can it be cured? Is it preventable? See all our answers below.
What is Leishmaniasis in Dogs?
Leishmaniasis in dogs is a very serious disease, caused by a parasite which is transmitted by an insect: the sandfly. If this insect is infested with the Leishmania parasite, it will transmit the disease to its host by a simple bite during its blood meal. Once infected with Leishmaniasis, a dog can transmit the disease to other dogs, either through physical contact or via the placenta or lactation, in the case of a pregnant bitch.
Sandflies are nocturnal insects which usually bite dogs on the legs, muzzle, and ears. If a dog is bitten by an infected sandfly, the Leishmania parasites will then spread through the dog's blood cells to different organs in the body and begin to attack the immune system. Some dogs can be carriers of the disease without showing any symptoms. Weaker dogs are more affected, most notably puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with other illnesses.
Sandflies look a bit like mosquitoes and are found, in particular, in Mediterranean countries, such as France, Spain, and Italy, as well as South and Central America, and southern Mexico. In the South of France, around 80-90% of dogs can be infected with Leishmaniasis. Sandflies are generally active between April and October, depending on the weather. They thrive in the sunshine and are starting to appear more and more often around March, with the earlier arrival of warm weather. They are more commonly found in rural, wooded areas than in the city.
The Symptoms of Leishmaniasis in Dogs
The disease usually appears several months or even years after the parasite infestation. However, you can detect the disease earlier through veterinary screening. These are some of the clinical signs of Leishmaniasis in dogs:
Hair loss - especially around the muzzle and eyes
Skin problems (inflammation, sores, ulcers, dermatitis, etc.)
Swollen lymph nodes and enlarged liver or spleen
Bleeding from the nose
Excessive claw growth - especially in the later stages of the disease
Often, you'll be able to detect Leishmaniasis in dogs with your own eyes, due to the onset of one or more of these symptoms. If you start to notice any of these clinical signs in your dog, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Leishmaniasis in dogs is incurable. However, some dogs can be carriers of the disease without ever showing symptoms, and others will be able to manage their symptoms with the help of prescribed treatment. Sadly, most dogs with reported Leishmaniasis eventually die from kidney failure.
Treating Leishmaniasis in Dogs
Sometimes a simple blood or urine test is enough to diagnose the disease. However, in other cases, it may be necessary for your vet to perform a lymph node or bone marrow biopsy. Depending on the stage of the disease, your vet will offer you several options to help save your dog or alleviate their pain. Treatment is usually long term and expensive, and there is always the chance that your furry friend will not respond well to it. As such, you should prepare yourself for a serious and perhaps painful discussion with your vet.
All these factors need to be taken into account and considered carefully. Regardless of the course of treatment you choose, the Leishmania parasites will never be completely eradicated from your dog’s body. If your vet thinks your dog is likely to be okay, they will give you detailed instructions on how to administer the prescribed course of treatment. If, on the contrary, the disease is already too advanced, you may have to consider the option of euthanising your pooch. We know this is not nice to hear but, if your vet offers you this solution, it is only because it's the best option for your dog. As the disease is incurable, you may only prolong your dog's suffering if you refuse euthanasia.
If you are offered a course of treatment, this will usually involve injections at your vet's office, in addition to oral medication in the form of tablets. These should help to significantly reduce the symptoms of dog leishmaniasis and give your pooch the chance to live a normal life. Please note, however, that it's not uncommon for your furry friend to relapse. So, make sure to take your dog for regular veterinary check-ups.
Preventing Leishmaniasis in Dogs
There are a few different ways that you can prevent your dog from contracting Leishmaniasis:
But above all: good habits
A few simple steps could save your dog's life. Sandflies, the insects that transmit Leishmaniasis, are nocturnal animals that mainly bite after dark, so be sure to bring your dog inside if you live or are staying in an at-risk area. You can also use insect repellent products that work on sandflies.
→ Please note: Even if you don't live in a high-risk country, be aware of where you take your dog on holiday. You may need to adopt certain habits while travelling to protect your pooch.
In addition to this, make sure to protect your dog from internal parasites. Regular deworming treatments are necessary for keeping your dog in good health. Always consult your vet before proceeding with deworming treatments for your dog - not all treatments protect against the same worms, and some products can be harmful to your pets. Dogs are always at risk of infecting each other and some zoonotic diseases can also be transmitted to humans.
Alternatively, consider having your dog vaccinated against Leishmaniasis. Your pooch must be at least 6 months old before being vaccinated and 2 booster shots will be necessary as well. However, the vaccine is not 100% effective. It can decrease the risk of infection as well as the symptoms, but it will not completely stop the parasites if an infestation does occur.
PUBLISHED 31.12.2020 - HECTOR KITCHEN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By the Hector Kitchen medical and scientific team
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