VICTOR TEIXEIRA – LMDI
“Leishmaniasis (Leishmaniose in English) – Parasitic disease caused by the Leishmania parasite. This parasite typically lives in infected sand flies. You can contract leishmaniasis from a bite of an infected sand fly.” – www.healthline.com
This issue has been an education for me personally. From not even knowing what the disease was, to discovering that our dogs might suffer from the disease without even showing symptoms, I have been impressed by the fact that even vets may not be too familiar with this condition. That’s because certain climates simply aren’t that inviting to the parasite so it ends up not spreading like it would in others.
Fernanda Peixoto learned all about Leishmaniose the hard way, when a dog she rescued was diagnosed with the disease.
Welcome to our August DogBlog!
Fernanda Peixoto – Leishmaniasis
I didn’t adopt Pagu. Pagu adopted me. On the 5th of December 2016, as soon as I left home to walk my one year old mongrel girl Cuba, this other mongrel tan girl was sitting in front of my garage. In that small town where I lived in Southeastern Brazilian countryside, there were loads of stray dogs. However, that little girl caught my attention: she didn’t act like a stray dog. She looked at me as if she’d been looking for a home. As I approached her, she stood up on her back legs and leaned on my arms wagging her tail, smiling and lowering the ears. She was definitely in need of some cuddles, so I couldn’t resist it: after being followed by her for the entirety of our half-hour walk, I invited her home and she’s been my sweet little Pagu since then.
Back then I didn’t know what Leishmaniasis was. All I knew was that my town was endemic, so I dressed her with a Seresto collar and vaccinated her for leishmania along with all other regular vaccines, just as I had previously done with her sister Cuba. It wasn’t enough though. When we moved to the UK in 2019 – where there isn’t a vector to transmit leishmania – we stopped repeating the vaccine and she started showing leishmaniasis symptoms in December 2020.
I found out that my dog was infected in the worst way: when she was already ill. However, you don’t need to get to this point to be aware of this disease and protect your dog against it. In Brazil, August is leishmaniasis awareness month, so please take a little time to get some information about it even if you don’t live there because leishmania is present in various parts of the world.
Leishmania is a parasite transmitted by the female sand fly that fortunately doesn’t survive cold and windy countries like the UK. However, if you live in or plan to travel to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Southern France or any other Mediterranean/Southern Europe country, as well as to African, Middle Eastern, Southwest Asian and South American countries with your dogs, be aware that there is a risk of them catching leishmania.
The best way to protect your pet against this disease is equipping them with repellent collars that avoid fly bites. If you’re going to stay in those countries for long periods, it is also recommended that you vaccinate them against the disease. Whilst the collar avoids the insect bite with more than 90% efficacy, the vaccine boosts the immune system avoiding disease manifestation in about 60% of infected dogs. Hence, the combination of both protection methods is highly recommended. And if you live in an endemic country and your dog is positive, you must dress them with a repellent collar to avoid transmission to other dogs and even to humans, as it is a zoonotic disease.
It is estimated that 60% of the dogs infected with the leishmania parasite never develop symptoms and do live a long healthy life without their owners even knowing about it. The disease isn’t curable, but is perfectly controllable. So if your dog has been diagnosed, don’t panic: the treatments available will enable them to live a long, happy and healthy life as long as you keep the treatment long term according to Leishvet protocols.
Symptoms may vary from dog to dog. The best known are the following: skin lesions and/or peeling, excessive hair loss, excessive nail growth, eye inflammation, nose bleeding, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, blood in faeces and/or urine, skull deformation, joint pain, neuralgia and urinary incontinence.
If your dog ever shows one of these symptoms, take them to the vets and have them tested for leishmania. The disease may lead to death if the parasite attacks the kidneys, so early diagnosis and treatment are extremely important.
A safe diagnosis requires at least a serology test and bloodwork (hematology and biochemistry) alongside with clinical examination. Depending on these tests results, you might need complementary tests.
In Europe, two drugs are known to be efficient in killing most of the parasites in a dog’s body: Milteforan and Glucantime. The choice between one or another will depend on each clinical case and must be done under veterinary advice. Beyond a short course of those drugs (from 28 to 56 days), long term treatment is required with other medicines in order to keep the parasite count low enough to control the disease.
If you’re considering adopting a dog from an endemic country, I strongly recommend that you pick a reliable kennel that will test them for leishmania before even sending the dog over to you. In case the dog is positive, please consider all facts listed above to take an informed decision on whether to adopt them or not.
Finally, if you’re buying your dog in a non-endemic country, ask the breeder if either of the litter’s parents has ever been to an endemic country before. This is because leishmania may be transmitted from male to female dogs during sex and from the mom to the litter.
For scientific information about leishmaniasis and updated protocols for diagnosis and treatment, the best source is the Leishvet’s website. So if your vet isn’t familiar with the disease, please refer them to https://www.leishvet.org/.
Reliable information and support for dog owners will be found on a facebook group called Living with Leish (https://www.facebook.com/groups/447077055372021/).
Pagu is now well and back to her sweet normal self. However, had I had all the information I gathered after her getting ill, I’d have insisted on a vaccination scheme in the UK even knowing the vector doesn’t exist here. Maybe this way we’d have avoided suffering together. So don’t you wait to get informed and take measures to prevent your dog from getting infected. Information is the key for prevention.
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