What is Leishmaniasis in Dogs?

what is leishmaniasis in dogs?

If you’re thinking about traveling with your furry best friend to hotter climes, then now is the time to sit up and listen. Leishmaniasis is one of those diseases that’s as nasty as it sounds.

Most common in warmer, tropical countries, Leishmaniasis is something you wouldn’t want your dog to get if you can help it. Read on to find out how dogs (and humans) can pick it up and what the potential treatments for it are.

What Is Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by a parasite, specifically a single-celled protozoan. When this parasite gets into the bloodstream of dogs it can cause very serious illness. 

Sand flies and other insects carry the parasite and then transmit it to dogs. They do this by biting the skin. The parasite can also infiltrate cats and humans in the same way. Pregnant or nursing dogs can pass the parasite on to their puppies.

Leishmaniasis can incubate for a long time, with infected dogs showing no symptoms for months if not years. Transmission is most common in the Mediterranean, South and Central America, the Middle East, and southern Mexico.

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What Are the Symptoms of Leishmaniasis?

The early signs of canine Leishmaniasis can include skin lesions and tiredness. How the symptoms develop will depend on what kind of Leishmaniasis the dog has. It could be visceral or cutaneous.

The majority of dogs develop the visceral type of the disease meaning that the parasite leads to infections of the internal organs. The cutaneous type affects a dog’s skin. Many dogs with Leishmaniasis will display both types of symptoms.

The most common signs of visceral Leishmaniasis include:

  • Diarrhea, tarry stools, loss of appetite, severe weight loss, or anorexia
  • Disinterest in exercise
  • Vomiting, fever, nosebleeds, and alterations to the eye

The most common symptoms of cutaneous Leishmaniasis include:

  • Loss of hair, skin ulcers, and nodules on the skin’s surface
  • Scaly skin or thickened skin on the paw pad and chapped skin on the muzzle
  • Long or brittle nails

What Are the Stages of Leishmaniasis in Dogs?

There are 4 classified stages of Leishmaniasis:

Stage 1: mild illness with little or no change in blood work.

Stage 2: moderate illness with antibodies seen in the blood along with heightened protein levels and mild anemia, skin changes, weight loss, and bleeding from the nose.

Stage 3: severe disease with Stage 2 symptoms plus kidney disease, eye issues, enlarged lymph nodes, and spleen.

Stage 4: extremely severe disease with the above symptoms as well as breathing problems and blood work consistent with kidney failure.

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How Do Vets Diagnose Leishmaniasis in Dogs?

Your vet will want to look at your dog’s medical and travel history. They’ll be keen to know if your dog has been to an area with endemic Leishmaniasis. They’ll also be looking for clinical signs of the disease.

They’ll typically carry out blood and urine tests along with tissue biopsies. It can sometimes be possible to find the organism on aspirates of lymph nodes or smears made from skin lesions.

A blood test will normally get sent to a lab for analysis. This will have the best chance of detecting leishmaniasis but even it may not be 100 percent definitive. Blood tests may show the presence of antibodies but that will depend on how long the dog has had the infection.

What Is the Treatment for Leishmaniasis in Dogs?

There are medicines that can treat dog Leishmaniasis. Any course of medication could last anywhere between 6 and 12 months. Although the treatment will address the symptoms, it will not get rid of the parasites.

Many treatments get used in combination. Some vets may use sodium stibogluconate but it is hard to come by. Other potential medication includes meglumine antimonite but this is not available in North America. Your vet may recommend marbofloxacin and allopurinol either with or without domperidone.

Supportive treatments include special therapeutic diets and intravenous fluids, as well as antibiotics, should the skin lesions become infected. It may be possible to remove some skin lesions surgically.

Unfortunately, your dog may get symptoms again in the future even after treatment. In some cases, the disease may be too advanced for any treatment to work effectively. Having your dog put to sleep may be the most humane option.

If you think your dog may have picked up the parasite that leads to Leishmaniasis, talk to a vet as soon as you can. Early treatment is the most effective way to stop the symptoms from progressing.

You will also be able to take measures to prevent your dog from getting bites from insects that could then go on to infect other dogs or animals. It is only the insects themselves that pass on the parasites to other animals, including humans. There is no risk per se therefore in touching an infected dog.

How to Prevent Leishmaniasis in Dogs

If you are traveling to or live in an area where there’s a Leishmaniasis presence, you can lower the risk of getting it by using an insecticide that will repel sand flies and other insects. There are plenty of topical sprays or lotions available.

Brazil and the European Union have approved vaccines that can prevent Leishmaniasis in dogs.

What’s the Prognosis for Leishmaniasis in Dogs?

Vets tend to be very cautious about making a prognosis for a pet diagnosed with Leishmaniasis. Much will depend on how far the disease has progressed. Many dogs will die as a result of kidney failure brought on by the disease.

A vet may recommend that very sick dogs do not get any treatment at all and that putting them to sleep is the kinder option. Your vet will offer you specific treatment recommendations based on your pet’s condition.

Key Facts About Leishmaniasis

  • Leishmaniasis is most common in countries with hot or tropical climates
  • The EU and Brazil have approved Leishmaniasis vaccines
  • Humans can get Leishmaniasis but not directly from dogs
  • Treatment is most effective when Leishmaniasis gets caught early

Seek the Advice of a Vet

If you’ve just come back from overseas or are thinking about going to an area where Leishmaniasis is present, talk to a vet. They’ll be able to give you tips about what symptoms to look for and how you can reduce the chances of your pet picking up the parasite.

We have a team of veterinary experts on hand with whom you can discuss any concerns you may have about parasites in dogs. Get in touch today and book a slot without leaving the comfort of your own home.

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