Leishmaniosis: learn to spot the warning signs

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If you and your dog regularly travel to Mediterranean countries, your pet could be at risk of contracting Leishmaniosis.

Leishmaniosis, also known as Leishmaniasis,is a disease that is common in the Mediterranean, including Spain, Portugal, southern France, Italy and Greece. With the popularity of pet passports, and the ease with which dogs can now travel around Europe, you need to be aware of the effects of Leishmaniosis in dogs, and what the symptoms look like.

Dog playing on the beach

Travelling with your dog can be great. You won’t have to pay for a kennel, you don’t have to worry about them feeling left out, and they’ll make all your holiday snaps look way better. The downside is that you may expose them to parasites and diseases that you wouldn’t normally have to worry about at home. Leishmaniosis is one of those: it’s common in hot climates because the parasite that causes the disease – Leishmania infantum – is spread by sandflies. Female sandflies operate in the same way as mosquitoes: they bite multiple times, drink the blood from infected dogs and transmit the parasite to their next host. Because there are two types of Leishmaniosis – ‘visceral’ and ‘cutaneous’ – different parts of your dog’s body can be affected. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

Skin problems

Crusty lesions, itchy broken skin and baldness are typical symptoms of cutaneous Leishmaniosis. These are most likely to occur around a dog’s muzzle, ears and eyes, and on its knees and elbows. An infected dog’s coat will generally be in poor condition, and the broken areas of skin may also bleed.

Nail and paw damage

Another distinctive sign of cutaneous Leishmaniosis are long, brittle nails that grow faster than normal and, if left unchecked, may become deformed in shape. The paw pads can also develop uncomfortable lesions.

Weight loss and poor appetite

Visceral Leishmaniosis affects the internal organs, including the liver, kidneys and bone marrow. The symptoms of organ damage include weight loss, a severe loss of appetite and chronic diarrhoea. If left untreated, Leishmaniosis can be fatal because it can result in liver or kidney failure.

Swollen joints

An infected dog can also have swollen joints or legs, which may be accompanied by a fever and a noticeable lack of energy.The tricky aspect of Leishmaniosis is that the disease can sit dormant in a dog’s body for several months or even years, without any obvious symptoms. Some dogs are also more immune to the disease than others, and there is no way to predict how your dog will cope if infected.

Prevention tactics

There are different options for prevention available, one of which is vaccination for Leishmaniosis before you travel to a Mediterranean country. This involves injections well in advance of travel; speak to your vet for details. It is also recommended to also reduce the risk of sandfly bites by using a dog-friendly insect repellent. Sandflies are most active between sunset and sunrise so avoid evening walks – particularly in wooded areas, parks and gardens – and never let your dog sleep outdoors on holiday.

If your dog becomes infected with Leishmaniosis, he can make a full recovery if the disease is caught and treated at an early stage. Accurate diagnosis of Leishmaniosis can be very difficult but if you suspect that your dog could have been bitten by a sandfly, or is showing some of the potential symptoms of Leishmaniosis, always consult your vet.

Plan ahead, and there’s no reason why you can’t take the whole family on your next holiday.

Did you know…

Leishmaniosis is spread by female sandflies (males don’t bite). The females lay their eggs on rocks around running water. The larvae hatch and spit out silk to attach themselves to the rocks.

Find out more about travelling with your pet here.

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Date of review March 2022

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