Leishmaniasis in dogs
What is Leishmaniasis?
Leishmaniasis is a parasite transmitted by a sand fly. Dogs that are infected can also transmit the parasite back to the sand fly as well as to other dogs, via fighting or in-house contact. The parasite is deposited by the sand fly through a bite, from where the parasite can replicate.
Where is leishmaniasis found?
It is predominantly found in parts of the Mediterranean, particularly Spain. Dogs in these areas are at a high risk of contracting the parasite and transmitting it to other dogs.
What are the symptoms of Leishmaniasis?
Whilst the symptoms can remain dormant for several years they will typically present between 3 to 18 months. But as with other diseases, some carriers can remain asymptomatic once bitten and do not present any of the typical symptoms or none at all.
There are a range of symptoms that can present, which can include:
- Skin lesions,
- Eye abnormalities and nose bleeds (epistaxis).
- Swollen lymph nodes
- These are often accompanied by a general lethargy, a lack of interest in exercise and weight loss.
- The kidneys can also be affected and long term renal failure is a possibility.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosing leishmaniasis in dogs can be challenging as the symptoms can be similar to other diseases. A veterinarian will typically perform a blood test to check for the presence of the parasite. If the test comes back positive, additional tests may be performed to determine the severity of the disease.
Can it be treated?
Whilst Leishmaniasis can be treated, it can never be eradicated from the animal. The treatments are designed to minimise the symptoms rather than provide a cure. However, early treatment can vastly improve the quality of life for the dog. The main treatments are Meglumine antimoniate, which works to prevent the multiplication of the parasite, and Allopurinol which alters the RNA of the parasite. Be aware that treated dogs can still carry the infection and may relapse.
Can it be prevented?
There are specific insect repellents and topical applications that can offer significant protection to at-risk dogs, especially if travelling to infected zones. Some vaccines are also effective against the parasite. If you are a frequent traveller to any infected areas it is recommended that you get your dog checked annually for any symptoms.
Preventative measures include:
- Using insect repellent on dogs when they are outside
- Keeping dogs indoors during peak sandfly activity times
- Removing any standing water around the home, as sandflies breed in stagnant water
- Providing dogs with flea and tick prevention medication
- Regularly taking dogs to the veterinarian for check-ups and blood tests
In conclusion, leishmaniasis in dogs is a serious disease that can have long-term health effects on our furry friends. Pet owners should take steps to prevent their dogs from contracting the disease and should seek veterinary care immediately if they suspect their dog has leishmaniasis. With proper management and care, dogs with leishmaniasis can live happy and healthy lives.
Can a change in diet help?
The side effects of Allopurinol can lead to a higher incidence of bladder stones, due to the drug inhibiting the production of an enzyme that breaks down purines. To this end a lower purine dog food is advisable for treating leishmaniasis.