Canine Leishmaniosis

Leishmaniosis is a disease endemic to Mediterranean countries and unfortunately we see a lot of it here in Mallorca. The Balearic islands are a definite hotspot for canine Leishmania!

Leishmania infantum is a parasite that affects dogs, humans and, very occasionally, cats. In Europe, humans are very rarely infected. It is transmitted from dog to dog by the “sandfly”, a small Phlebotome mosquito.

The fly bites an infected dog and the parasite changes form within the insect. After only a few days the mosquito can then infect another dog.
When the infected mosquito bites the next dog the parasite gets inoculated and the animal is infected. The dog’s immune system starts to attack the parasite and it is this immune reaction which determines whether or not that particular dog will develop the disease.
There are certain individuals that can eliminate the parasite and not develop symptoms but a large number of infected dogs will eventually become ill and can die without treatment.

Symptoms vary widely. The most common and “typical” are weight loss, skin abnormalities such as hair loss, dandruff, open wounds or ulcers that don’t heal…muscle wastage specially around the face, lethargy, eating less, enlarged lymph nodes (glands) and overgrown nails.
Also seen are:
Eye lesions
Nose bleeds
Kidney failure
When dogs suffer from severe kidney damage, the prognosis is much less favourable.

Some patients show typical symptoms of leishmania but other times, the signs can be atypical and misleading which makes it challenging for vets to diagnose. We generally make a diagnosis from a blood sample- running an antibody titre and serum proteinogram to check for an active immune response. We can also take samples from the lymph glands and bone marrow to search for the parasite in the cells  using a microscope. False negative results can occur at certain stages of infection and sometimes more sophisticated (and expensive!) testing is necessary.

Once diagnosed we check to see if any internal organs are affected, especially the kidneys and, if all is well, we start with the treatment.
Treatment is often difficult. The medications involved are expensive and can have side-effects and it’s not uncommon to have frequent relapses. There is no cure- we can only resolve the symptoms but thanks to modern medical advances, dogs with Leishmania can often live for many years with an excellent quality of life We have seen dogs living for over 10 years after they were first diagnosed, so it is definitely worth treating them.

We recommend regular 6-monthly monitoring of dogs with Leishmania to see firstly if the initial treatment has been effective and in the future to detect any recurrence of the disease early enough so they can be treated again if needed.
The prognosis depends on which areas of the body are affected, the worst case scenario is when the kidneys are damaged, but otherwise they tend to do very well.

Of course the best cure is prevention and there are two important parts to this:

1- Stop the Mosquito Biting your Dog:
Protect your dog against mosquito bites with vet-certified repellant collars or topical pipettes. Not all brands are effective, so you must have a vet recommend the correct product. Other measures can also help to varying degrees, such as citronella sprays, repellant plug-ins, mosquito nets if they sleep outside, avoiding being out at the times of the day in the spring-summer-autum that phebotome mosquitos are most active (dusk and dawn), etc…..

2- Help the Dog’s Immune System to Respond Correctly:
After many years of investigation and trials there is finally a vaccine against Leishmania. We recommend a blood test first to make sure your dog does not have Leishmania in its system already. If that is the case, the vaccine serves no purpose, but if the test is negative, we then give a single injection.  After that it is just a yearly booster. The vaccine can be over 92% effective depending on the dog, but because it is not 100% it is essential to use mosquito repellents to obtain as close as possible to 100% protection for your dog.If you haven´t vaccinated your dog yet it is best to start in late Winter/ early Spring before the mosquitos start to appear.

3. Leisguard

There is also an oral medication that is similar in efficacy to the vaccine. It is a liquid given once daily for a month for 2 or 3 months of the year. We would recommend this especially for visiting dogs from overseas, small dogs or dogs where vaccination is not practical or risky.

If you have any questions about the disease, treatment or prevention programs give us a ring on 971 695 108 for an appointment and we will be happy to help and advise on the best prevention for your specific pet and circumstances.
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