What is leishmaniasis in dogs?

Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease caused by parasites found in the blood or tissue (Leishmania infantum). These pathogens are found in the saliva of the sand fly, a subspecies of the butterfly mosquito, and are transmitted to the dog when it is bitten by the sand fly.

Is leishmaniasis contagious?

No. The sandfly transmits the pathogen with its bite, completely independent of whether it has previously bitten a leishmaniasis positive dog. Leishmaniasis is therefore not transmitted from already infected dogs via the mosquito to other dogs or humans, but is only initially triggered by the saliva of the sandfly.

What does the finding "Leishmaniasis positive" mean?

With the antibody detection, it is determined that the dog came into contact with the pathogen.

However, this finding initially only means that the dog came into contact with the pathogen. The dog does not have to be ill with leishmaniasis and the disease may never break out.

A “positive” dog can be symptom-free and remain so if its immune defenses have the pathogen well under control.

In a healthy environment, leishmaniasis can usually be well controlled, and most dogs in Germany rarely experience an outbreak of the disease.

Can a dog tested negative for leishmaniasis also carry the pathogen?

Yes. Because of the long time delay between the bite of the sand fly and the detection of leishmaniasis antibodies, even a dog that was initially tested negative for leishmaniasis can already have the pathogen in its body. The pathogen is typically detected in the blood, but can also be found in the spinal cord or lymph nodes. Therefore, detection via blood draw is not 100% certain. Symptoms may not appear until weeks, months, or years after the sting. Often, pet owners do not see a connection between the dog’s symptoms and the possibility of a leishmaniasis infection because of the extended time window.

A follow-up test for all Mediterranean diseases (Mediterranean check) is therefore absolutely necessary 6 months after adoption. We also recommend having the leishmaniasis titer checked with the annual blood check. If the symptoms mentioned below occur, it is necessary to clarify whether the dog is possibly infected after all, even if the last test was „negative”.

How does a positive result affect the dog's quality of life?

As long as the dog does not display any symptoms, it can live well and without restrictions with leishmaniasis; it also does not have a lower life expectancy.

A timely therapy when symptoms appear can slow down the course of the disease and effectively contain the symptoms.

What does the infectious disease mean for a dog living in Spain?

The dogs in our Spanish shelters are unfortunately particularly at risk; the disease breaks out more often there than for dogs in Germany, due to the housing conditions. The stress, the heat, and inadequate care facilities mean that even a dog with a low titer can suddenly show symptoms of the disease; treatment options are often limited.

It is therefore vital for leishmaniasis positive dogs to get into a healthy environment as soon as possible.

What do I have to consider when keeping a leishmaniasis positive dog?

3 things are especially important:

  1. Regular control of the blood values (at least twice per year). The blood tests should be done at the end of January/February and beginning of September/October, because the Leishmania are mainly active in a dog’s body during this time.
  2. The dog needs a calm, loving environment, because stress has been proven to favor the exacerbation of leishmania in the body.
  3. Individual foods may promote leishmaniasis, so attention must be paid to the ingredients of ready-to-eat foods and snacks in particular when feeding. Meat by-products and skin should be completely eliminated from the menu of a positive dog.
How to recognize the outbreak of the disease?

Unfortunately, leishmaniasis does not always manifest itself through a typical symptom pattern. Initially, the symptoms can be inconspicuous and of little concern; symptoms can occur individually or in different combinations.

Owners of leishmaniasis positive dogs must therefore pay very careful attention to changes in their dog and have the veterinarian determine at an early stage whether leishmaniasis is possibly active.

What are the typical symptoms?

An outbreak of the disease is often initially manifested by skin and coat changes (which can be confused with mange or mite infestation). This may involve hair loss on the head, around the eyes, on the ears and hind legs; the skin may become scaly and show purulent, oozing sores. Poor wound healing (despite drug treatment) is typical of the clinical picture.

Internal Organs:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody feces
  • Vomiting
  • Nosebleeds
  • Kidney failure (possible alkaline odor, or foamy urine)
  • Joint pain
  • Inflammation of the muscles
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Skin and coat:

  • Dandruff
  • Change in skin color
  • Unexplained sores on muzzle and paws
  • Brittle coat/hair loss
  • Ulcers on the skin
  • Fast growing and brittle nails

Not every one of these symptoms is evidence of leishmaniasis; but especially when several symptoms occur together, the dog owner should be attentive.

What to do if my dog shows symptoms?

The animal should be presented to an experienced  veterinarian immediately, even if the symptoms are unclear. Many veterinarians in Germany have little contact with leishmaniasis, but comprehensive knowledge about this disease is extremely important. Incorrect treatment can have fatal consequences for a dog suffering from leishmaniasis.

Typically, an antibody test and protein electrophoresis are done for clarification. A blood count to check organ levels is also necessary, as often the liver and kidneys may be damaged during an outbreak of the disease.

If the disease is detected early enough and treated properly, the dog can live well and long with it. Depending on the stage of the disease, there are different forms of therapy.  If the leishmaniasis remains undetected and untreated, the animal can usually no longer be helped.

We advise all our adopters extensively on the analysis and evaluation of the blood count, as well as on the required medication.

What are the costs?

As a responsible dog owner, you should have the blood values of your dog checked once a year. In case of a leishmaniasis positive dog, at least one additional blood test per year is required, with costs around 120€.

Feeding a leishmaniasis positive dog is not necessarily more expensive, but care should be taken to keep the proportion of meat by-products in the prepared food as low as possible.

In the event of an outbreak of the disease, there are costs for treatment and medication depending on the severity of the disease. In the case of low-purine feeding, meat by-products must be completely avoided.

Is vaccination against leishmaniasis recommended?

The two vaccines currently available may only be given to dogs older than six months that have tested negative for leishmaniasis. For basic immunization, dogs must be vaccinated 3 times, at 3 week intervals. Vaccination protection begins 4 weeks after the 3rd vaccination, and must be refreshed at yearly intervals. The vaccination usually provides some protection against disease, but does not prevent infection with Leishmania.

Important to know: Vaccination only makes sense if it can be completely ruled out that the dog might already carry the pathogen in its body. In the case of dogs from foreign animal shelters, it is not guaranteed that the dog is already infected, due to the delayed detectability described above, or despite a “negative” blood test.

How should I feed my leishmaniasis positive dog?

Especially during the administration of the drug allopurinol, the dog should be fed with as little purine as possible. Fresh food with muscle meat (without other meat by-products), vegetables and carbohydrates is ideal.

  • Marbled muscle meat from beef
  • Poultry breast without skin
  • Lamb meat from the leg
  • Potatoes, pasta, rice
  • Yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Boiled eggs
  • Fresh fruit (apple, red berries, apricots)
  • Cooked vegetables (carrots, fennel, white cabbage)
Does leishmaniasis only occur in dogs from southern Europe?

Leishmaniasis is called one of the “Mediterranean diseases” because the carriers/hosts naturally occur there. Nevertheless, in recent years there are more and more cases of leishmaniasis in dogs that have never left Germany. Due to climate warming, the habitat of the sandfly is expanding to the north. Veterinarians already recommend protection during the warm season.

A dog living in Germany can also become infected during a vacation stay in Southern Europe. Dog owners should protect their animals appropriately with preparations before vacation trips to the Mediterranean region. Conventional mosquito nets are usually of no use, as the sandflies are smaller than the meshes of the nets. Since the mosquitoes become active at dusk, dogs should stay indoors during this time if possible.

Loading Indicator