What is Leishmaniasis?

This is a disease caused by a protozoan (single celled) parasite found in dogs and certain rodents in many part of the world. It is important because it also affects man but there is not direct transmission from dog to man, or vice versa. It is transmitted by a small sand fly (Phlebotomus spp)

Does Leishmaniasis occur in Britain?

Up to now cases have only occurred in imported dogs when the condition is usually discovered during Quarantine. The incubation period is from 3-7 months. With the introduction of the Pets Travel Scheme (PETS) British dogs with no inbuilt resistance are now visiting southern France and Mediterranean areas where Leishmaniasis is rife. Despite taking every precaution these dogs can get bitten while on holiday and subsequently develop the disease.

What can I do to reduce the risk?

If you are planning to take your dog to an area where Leishmaniasis is widespread, do consult us and we will do our best to help. Sandflies look like very tiny mosquitos and obviously sensible precautions must prevail. Do not allow your dog to lie out in humid, flea ridden areas and try to keep your pet with you all the time. Even so you are unlikely to notice the odd opportunist sandfly and that will be the one carrying the Leishmannia parasite.

Fly repellents and some ectoparasite sprays will reduce the risk and we will be pleased to advise.

Is it only dogs that are affected?

No, it does occur in cats and this is rare but foxes can also act as vectors.

What are the signs of the disease?

There are two types of Leishmaniasis; the cutaneous form is relatively uncommon in dogs and results in suppurating skin lesions, typically on the extremities, ear, nose etc. This is the usual form seen in cats.

Dogs normally suffer from the visceral form, the first signs of which are usually vague – weight loss, exercise intolerance and a lack of appetite. Non itchy sores on the skin may occur and also hair loss and scaling of the skin. Enlargement of the spleen, lymph nodes and liver can occur which can result in serious illness and death.

Can my dog give it to my cat and other pets when we return home?

No, transmission is not direct from one animal to another but has to be via the sandfly.

Are there any sandflies in Britain?

Not of the type that carry Leishmania at present but with the advent of warmer summers, who knows?

Are there any other risks?

Leishmaniasis is a serious disease of humans (zoonosis), in other words it affects humans in many parts of the world but not in Britain. In 1992 it was known or suspected to occur in 97 countries. In man both visceral and cutaneous forms occur.

If my dog is off colour and showing these vague signs, can the condition be easily diagnosed?

The condition can be diagnosed from blood samples. The problem is that in Britain we are unused to seeing the disease and therefore it may take some time for a positive diagnosis.

Is treatment effective?

Treatment is less effective in dogs than in man. The organism is never completely eliminated so recurrence of signs is normal. Relapses are common, requiring another round of therapy.

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