What is Leishmaniasis?
Leishmaniasis is an infection caused by the parasite Leishmania infantum. It is transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly. It is one of the most common diseases in dogs in Greece and can be fatal if left untreated. The main organ systems affected are the skin, kidneys, spleen, liver, eyes, and joints.
Some dogs can have the Leishmania parasite for extended periods of time and may not exhibit any signs or symptoms of disease (asymptomatic). While the disease progresses symptoms start to develop. The list of symptoms associated with Leishmania infections in dogs is long. The most frequently reported complaints include:
◾ Loss of appetite and weight loss
◾ Exercise intolerance
◾ Skin lesions
◾ Nose bleeds
◾ Excessive urination and thirst
◾ Lesions around the eyes
When diagnosis is made in the early stages of the disease treatment is possible. The aim of this is to treat all clinical signs of the disease and to reduce the number of parasites in the animal's system. Complete elimination of all parasites is rare. Treatment protocols vary and their success largely depends on early diagnosis of the disease and the condition of the dog's vital organs. In advanced disease, treatment is difficult and the prognosis is guarded.
Blood screening of all dogs should be done twice a year. This allows for possible infection to be caught and treated early on. The use of preventative collars or ‘spot-on’ applications that repel the sand fly is strongly recommended. Sand flies are most active between dusk and dawn; if possible time outdoors should be limited during these hours.
A new vaccine has been available for the past few years, which reduces the risk of clinical disease by altering the way the immune system responds to the parasite. The vaccine does not prevent your dog from being bitten by sand flies so preventative collars or ‘spot-on’ applications should also be used.