Leishmaniasis – A Quick Guide

What is Leishmaniasis (Leish/CanL)?

Leish is a disease caused by a parasite, called Leishmania infantum. It can lie dormant in dogs for up to 7 years. A negative test result can mean CanL was undetected rather than not there at all.

How is it spread?

The parasite is only transmitted by the bite of the Sand-fly*. An infected dog is bitten, the Sand-fly ingests the parasite, incubates it and eventually passes it onto the next dog it bites.
Sand-flies are found in southern Europe, typically Spain, but also Africa and the Middle East. They are not found in the UK.
* There is some evidence of the parasite being passed to pups from their mother’s milk or in utero and also during mating.

What does it look like in dogs?

There are many obvious and not so obvious signs of an active infection. The symptoms vary from dog to dog, and not all dogs have external physical signs. Some but by no means all of the classic signs and indicators are:

  • Skin lesions, especially on the ear tips
  • Bald patches, very noticeable around the eyes
  • Upset stomach and diarrhoea (both recurring)
  • Sore nose, nose bleeds
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Overgrown nails and paw pads (hyperkeratosis), including nail chewing
  • Low blood Albumin coupled with high Gamma Globulin proteins
  • Stiff Joints
  • Kidney Disease/Damage
  • Eye problems (swelling of the membranes, increased redness)

How do I know my dog has Leish?

If you or your vet suspects Leish/CanL, the IFAT or ELISA test for Leishmaniosis will indicate if your dog has come into contact with the parasite. (Do not use the PCR test and there is no need for biopsies of lymph nodes etc.)
A further and more comprehensive set of tests will indicate whether the infection is active.

What is the treatment?

Depending on the severity of the infection and what stage your dog is at, treatment is either by an oral medication called Milteforan (given in “food bombs”), or daily injections of Glucantime. These medicines kill off most of the parasites. Allopurinol tablets are also given for several month, this medication interrupts the way the parasite multiplies in the dog. Your dog will need to eat a low Purine diet whilst taking Allopurinol to help avoid forming bladder crystals (specifically Xanthine crystals).

Can the infection spread to me or my other dogs?

No, dog to dog transfer can’t happen in the UK as we don’t have Sand-flies (transmission by dog bites is considered impossible as the parasite is not transmissible in saliva). Humans can be infected by CanL, but this type of Leish rarely affects humans, and you’d need to be bitten by an infected Sand-fly anyway.
Please note there is a human form of Leishmaniasis, it is not the same as the dog infection, and is typically found in Africa, not Europe and absolutely not in the UK.

How long will my dog live?

Most dogs with a positive infection of Leish, live long and healthy lives, in fact they rarely die as a result of the infection. Caught and treated promptly, without permanent kidney damage, the outlook is generally positive. As the parasite cannot be 100% destroyed, further flare ups can happen. This disease is by no means a death sentence. Your vet may never have come across a case, but it is an everyday condition in countries such as Spain.
Annual retesting of your dog is essential, to monitor if the parasite has become active again.
Helpful Sources of Information: For your Vet – www.leishvet.org For you – Facebook group: Living With Leish

Annual Testing List:
IFAT or ELISA for Leishmaniasis (the serology test)
Wellbeing Screen covering baseline Haematology & biochemistry
SPE (serum protein electrophoresis) including Fractions and Graph

UK testing labs Axiom and Idexx are familiar with above terminology and requests.

If your dog has Leish confirmed, don’t panic, join the Facebook group and get a lot of support and advice from the admins. Some are vets in Spain, where Leish is an everyday disease. They will look at all your dogs’ test results and advise accordingly. As yet, UK trained vets receive no training on the disease. Point them to www.leishvet.org.