I am planning to go to Spain with my 10-month old collie cross next year, and have been researching how to protect her from diseases we don’t normally get in the UK. I have heard a lot about dogs getting leishmaniasis in warmer climates. Can you tell me more about this, and how I can best protect her?
Paul Manktelow advises…
Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by the leishmania parasite, which is carried by sand flies and mostly found in the Mediterranean area. It mainly affects dogs, although it does have the potential to affect humans. When dogs are bitten by infected sand flies, the parasite can easily spread through the body; however, it can take months or even years for dogs to show any symptoms.
There are two forms of leishmaniasis in dogs. The first affects the organs, such as the liver and kidneys, resulting in severe weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, nosebleeds, and a shifting lameness when the joints are also affected. The second affects the skin, causing symmetrical hair loss around the face and joints, scaly and blackened skin that becomes very itchy, and slow-healing skin ulcers and nodules.
It is a severe disease, and, even with treatment, does not always lead to a successful outcome, especially if dogs are further along the disease process and have resulting kidney or liver failure, or extreme weight loss. It also cannot be cured, only managed, so infected dogs will always carry low levels of the parasite, and can relapse even after treatment.
There are several ways to help to prevent leishmaniasis if you are planning to take your dog abroad. There is a vaccination available that is recommended for dogs travelling to ‘at risk’ areas. This does not prevent infection; however, it does reduce the risk of developing any severe clinical symptoms, such as organ failure. The initial course requires three separate injections, so it’s worth planning well in advance of when you want to travel.
It is also advised that when in affected areas, you should avoid woodlands at dusk and dawn, and keep dogs inside at night, especially between 7pm and 7am when sand flies are most active. Certain flea collars and spot-on treatments are also effective in killing sand flies and reducing the risk of dogs getting bitten, so ask your vet about these.
If you suspect any symptoms, particularly if you and your dog have been abroad, it is important to contact your vet as soon as possible. He or she will usually need to run several tests to diagnose leishmaniasis and rule out other causes. Medication is required for several weeks or months to manage the disease, and regular check-ups are required for at least the first year after diagnosis to monitor for any sign of relapse.