Information about canine leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis is a tropical disease found in many countries across Europe, it is transmitted to dogs after being bitten by an infected sandfly. Although Leishmaniasis cannot be cured, it can be managed with cheap medication and most dogs will live a full and happy life with Leish. The disease often goes into remission when a dog is placed in a stable home environment and, with reduced stress and good nutrition, many rescued dogs will be asymptomatic for the rest of their lives. Leishmaniasis cannot be transferred from one dog to another or to humans.
What is leishmaniasis (leishmania)?
Leishmaniasis is a tropical disease transmitted to dogs by a tiny sandfly. The sandfly is active between dusk and dawn and is common in all Mediterranean countries. When an infected sandfly bites a dog, the dog is in danger of contracting the disease, unless it is protected by an insect repellent collar or specific topical protection. Homeless dogs, of course, do not have the luxury of these preventative measures so are at risk of developing the disease.
What happens if a dog is diagnosed with leishmaniasis?
Leishmaniasis cannot currently be cured, but it can be successfully treated, sometimes to the degree that the disease becomes totally dormant. A dog with leishmaniasis, if treated early, should live a happy and healthy life for many years.
The usual treatment is with Allopurinol tablets. These are cheap and readily available in the UK (the same medication is also used to treat gout in humans). The dose for leish dogs is 10mg per 1 kilo per bodyweight for maintenance treatment.
Another cheap and effective treatment option is Domperidone, which is also readily available in the UK. Dose is 5mg per 10 kilos for maintenance treatment.
However, if blood results confirm the dog has reached remission, this treatment can be reduced and stopped. Dose is 5mg per 10 kilos.
Many dogs go into remission when they are in a loving home, due to the reduction in stress and better nutrition and care they receive. An owned dog, who is well fed and nourished, is of course likely to respond to treatment better than a stray dog who lives on scraps scavenged from the streets.
Vets in Mediterannean countries routinely treat dogs for leishmaniasis, it is commonly caught by dogs, especially those who have never lived in a home or had any relationship with humans.
The sooner the condition is diagnosed, the better prognosis for the dogs.
If your vet suggests a change in medication for your leishmaniasis-positive dog, please contact us before confirming.
What other precautions should be taken in dogs who have leishmaniasis?
The dog should be fed a good quality, nutritious food. It is generally suggested that blood tests be performed yearly, or upon any sign of symptoms, to check the level of leish antibodies in the blood and determine whether a course of treatment is needed.
However, many dogs do not require yearly monitoring. The regularity can be decided on an individual basis, depending on your dog's symptoms and medical history.
While taking Allopurinol, it is important to give dogs (especially males) a low-purine diet (click link for information). This is because Allopurinol can, in very rare cases, cause some bladder problems. The risk of this happening is greatly reduced if the dog is not ingesting purines in their food, so the diet should be followed for the duration of the treatment. Keep note of your dog's urine output and general health and report to your vet if you have any concerns. If problems arise, a different medication can be used instead.
General haematology and biochemistry blood tests should also be done annually to ensure the dog’s kidneys and other organs are all functioning well. This can be done routinely by your vet and we will provide blood forms if needed. Please notify us of the result if abnormal.
Can leishmaniasis be transmitted to other dogs or humans?
There is NO danger of leishmaniasis being transmitted to other dogs in the UK and there is no danger of the disease being transmitted to humans either. The sandfly that transmits the disease does not exist in the UK and canine leishmaniasis can not be transferred between dogs either.
Canine leishmaniasis is not the same strain as the disease that affects humans in some countries.
Are dogs all tested for Leishmaniasis?
Yes, ALL dogs we bring into the UK are blood-tested for leishmaniasis before they leave their home country. Our dogs are also tested for a tick disease called erlichia which, if necessary, can be cured with a course of antibiotics.
However there is always a slight possibility that a dog who tests negative prior to leaving Greece may, a few months later (or even a year or two later) start showing symptoms of the disease. It is therefore wise to blood-test the dogs at least once a year for a couple of years after adoption.
Your vet will need to send the blood sample to a laboratory in Bristol. The test should be done sooner, of course, if any symptoms arise.
What are the symptoms of leishmaniasis?
Sometimes there are no symptoms and the dog seems perfectly fit.
However, common symptoms are:
- Anaemia and very pale gums.
- Lethargy and lack of energy to run and exercise normally.
- Hair loss and skin lesions- particularly around face, eyes and ears.
- Dandruff and crusty, scabby skin, especially on tips of ears.
- Long, flaky claws and crusty paw pads.
- Lameness, may be intermittent.
- Weight loss, or vomiting and diarrhea
- Loss of appetite or excessive drinking
- Fever and nose bleeds.
Most UK vets have little or no experience with leishmaniasis and will welcome our input. Therefore, it is imperative that you contact us before you take your adopted dog to a vet.
If you have any questions or concerns about this issue, either before or after you adopt one of our dogs, please contact us immediately. We all want your dog to enjoy a long and happy life and we are here to help and support you.
If you have a dog with leishmaniasis but have not adopted through us, or have further questions about leishmaniasis in general, the Facebook Group 'Living with Leish' is also a useful and supportive resource for owners of dogs with leishmania.