Canine Leishmaniasis: What is it, Symptoms, and Treatment



Leishmaniasis in dogs is a disease that should not be taken lightly.

Canine Leishmaniasis is a vector-borne disease transmitted by a small biting sand fly (Phlebotomus), which is the real carrier of the disease. The protozoan parasite lives inside the mosquito. The Leishmania inoculates the insect unknowingly when it bites. This condition has become endemic in 70 countries, due to climate change and the increasing circulation of people. Transmission may occur from animal to sand fly to human.

Not all dog breeds are equally susceptible to this condition. The Boxer, Rottweiler and German Shepherd are more prone to Leishmaniasis occurrence. Others, like the Ibizan Hound (Podenco Ibicenco) are more resistant to it.

Leishmaniasis in Dogs: Symptoms

Canine Leishmaniasis symptoms differ, which makes diagnosis difficult and not immediate.

There are two types of leishmaniasis in dogs: visceral and cutaneous, each affect different parts of the dog’s body. This infection affects the dog’s immune system and may be manifested by:

  • Lack of appetite,
  • Weight loss,
  • Swelling and joint pain,
  • Nose bleeding,
  • Skin conditions (ulcers, nose depigmentation, hair loss, dermatitis),
  • Excessive nail growth (onychogryphosis),
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Renal insufficiency,
  • Liver and spleen enlargement.

Precisely because of the highly variable range of clinical manifestations, sometimes the vet may not immediately identify leishmaniasis and may test your pup for other diseases, before considering this condition.

Furthermore, incubation periods may be long (ranging from one month to even 7 years), so the dog may remain asymptomatic after contracting this disease.  

In any case, Leishmaniasis in dogs is a chronic disease that causes proggressive damage to the dog’s  body and may even lead to death.

Leishmaniasis in Dogs: Prevention

Preventing this disease is essential, since there is no medicine that gets rid of the parasite (relapse is possible). Although this disease is treatable and curable. 

Therefore, it is important to use effective antiparasitics or repellent products: you may find various options in your pet shop, like antiparasitic pipettes that must be applied on a monthly basis. There are also necklaces that last around three months and protect your dog from sand fly bites.

A Leishmania vaccine has been introduced, but the risk has not yet been eliminated. In fact, the percentage of propagation of this disease has not decreased even after this vaccine entered the market. This means we are still far from discovering a really effective medicine.

The best form of preventing Leishmaniasis is still indirect, that is, periodically checking your dog to discard the disease, and by simply blood testing your dog yearly. This serological test lets us know in just 10 minutes if our pet dog has been exposed to the vector.

Early diagnosis allows us to guarantee a better quality of life to our dog, in case of contagion.

Another important way to prevent this disease is keeping your dog inside the house during sunset and through the night. The insect bites that transmit leishmaniasis occur mainly during these hours.

It is not a coincidence that dogs that stay inside (not outdoors) during the night are statistically less prone to contracting this condition.

Leishmaniasis in Dogs: Treatment

Leishmaniasis in dogs is a treatable disease. Treatment improves the dog’s health, but the infection does not go away entirely. This condition is considered a life-long disease, since relapse may occur within a few years. 

This means that the parasite is not completely eradicated from the dog’s body. We alternatively may normalize the symptoms, make the dog feel better, keeping the infection at bay for long periods of time. In this way, your dog may have a good quality of life, especially those whose renal function has not been compromised.

If the symptoms disappear it does not mean the disease has been eradicated. The parasite still lives in some part of the dog’s body. The infection will recur again so proper pharmacological treatment will be required again. It is advisable to do annual veterinary checks on your dog to control the infection, even when there are no symptoms.

If you have more doubts, you may consult a professional near your house, who will provide the best service and answer all your questions.

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