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Leishmaniasis in dogs: causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

Leishmaniasis is an extremely serious parasitic disease. At present, there is no treatment that can cure the dog affected by this pathology which can lead to the death of the animal. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can alleviate the symptoms of leishmaniasis and there are various prevention solutions. Let's take a look at this disease, whose incubation period can last several years.

Leishmaniasis: the phlebotome involved


Leishmaniasis is transmitted to the dog by a biting insect of the order Diptera: the sandfly (Phlebotominae), of which there are many species. Totally absent in the Nordic countries, the sandfly is moderately present in North Africa, in our Mediterranean regions, and is abundant in Asia.

This microscopic insect rests on the skin of the animal and feeds on its blood. Only some species of sandflies are vectors of leishmaniasis when they are themselves infected. In our latitudes, the dog is the main victim of this insect. But humans can also be affected by leishmaniasis since the agent is transmitted from animals to humans. Leishmaniasis is therefore a zoonosis.

Leishmaniasis: symptoms


Leishmaniasis in dogs develops differently from one canid to another. Some dogs may be carriers of this pathology but not show any particular symptoms, others may show more or less important signs.

The evolution of leishmaniasis is unpredictable, as well as the appearance of the first signs between two months and several years after contamination. This makes the diagnosis of the disease particularly difficult.

Symptoms of leishmaniasis are generally :
  • Skin damage: more or less important lesions appear over time. They may leave simple scabs or on the contrary become infected and ulcerated.
  • An increase in the volume of the lymph nodes.
  • Damage to certain organs such as the liver and the spleen, whose volume increases, or irreversible damage to the kidneys.
  • Intense thirst and consequently an increase in the volume of urine. This can also be a sign that the dog's kidneys are affected.
  • A general weakening of the dog when he is anaemic, which results in a decrease in the number of red blood cells,
  • A long-term slimming of the animal.
More rarely, the dog has a high fever and the structure of its eyes may be affected.

Leishmaniasis: treatments


There is currently no absolutely effective treatment that can cure a dog with leishmaniasis. However, a treatment protocol can be set up by the veterinarian to alleviate the symptoms of the disease, but the cases of recurrence are numerous. This treatment, which combines medication and injections, is long. It must be followed for several months, and in some cases for the entire life of the animal. And if the dog finds it difficult to tolerate it, the protocol must be stopped.

In any case, whether the dog tolerates the treatment or not, the dog suffering from leishmaniasis has to be followed very regularly by his veterinarian. Different laboratory tests and other check-ups have to be done regularly to monitor the evolution of this pathology. It is sometimes necessary to submit the sick dog to biopsies, i.e. to take samples from the lymph nodes, skin or bone marrow.

Of course, the diagnosis of leishmaniasis in dogs should be made as early as possible.

Leishmaniasis: what prevention?


In order to protect his dog against leishmaniasis, the owner should ask the veterinarian about the different preventive solutions. This is all the more important if he has to travel with his animal to the areas of the world most exposed to the risk of leishmaniasis, i.e. where the phlebotome responsible for this pathology is the most present.

Here is how to limit the risks of leishmaniasis in dogs.
  • In affected areas, it is common sense to avoid taking your dog out at nightfall, when the biting insects are particularly virulent.
  • Protect the dog basket with a good quality mosquito net or install mosquito nets on windows and bay windows.
  • Use an external antiparasitic and mosquito repellent: a specific collar can be purchased in a pharmacy after asking the veterinarian if there are no contraindications. Useful, these products do not however offer 100% effectiveness. They can nevertheless complement other preventive measures.
  • Vaccinate your dog over 6 months of age by following precisely the indications of the veterinarian in order not to miss any injection.
Dog leishmaniasis is a fatal disease. The animal contaminated by the sandfly can be sick for many years, during which time it will have to be treated and monitored by the veterinarian.

It is a difficult pathology for the dog of course, but also for the owner who feels helpless in front of his sick little companion. Moreover, the treatment of leishmaniasis being long and expensive, it can be a financial problem for the owner if he has not taken care to insure his dog with an animal health insurance company. However, it is very important for the dog to benefit from the best treatments, because the animal insurance company reimburses the veterinary expenses.