Features » Animals and Pets
Contributor / 2012-04-25 14:05:12
Canine Leishmaniasis is a disease present in the countries of the Mediterranean basin. It is a serious systemic disease of a chronic nature that is caused by parasites of the genus Leishmanis and transmitted by the bite of female mosquitoes of the family phlebotominae (sandflies) that feed on the blood of vertebrate hosts, in this case dogs.
If a host is infected the mosquito will ingest the leishmanis parasite whilst feeding and once in the mosquito the parasite undergoes transformation into an infectious form. This infectious form of the parasite will be injected into a new vertebrate host, another dog, when the mosquito feeds upon them. It must be made clear that this parasite can only be transmitted via the mosquito and not by direct contact with an infected dog, it is a vectored disease.
Sandflies are very small mosquitoes, 2 – 5mm, whose geographic range is very broad but is restricted to areas with an average daytime temperature of 20ºC, they will cease activity when the temperature falls below 18ºC and/or in rainy and windy conditions. The climatic conditions in our area determine that the sandflies are active between the months of March and October and within that time are most active when light levels are low (dawn and dusk). There are currently antiparasitic products available that reduce the likelihood that an animal is bitten by sandflies.
Clinical diagnosis is variable due to the individuality of an animal’s immune systems response to the infection. It is difficult to encounter two animals with the same clinical symptoms but 80% of those infected present with cutaneous problems. Of these, symptoms can include alopecia, scaly skin, ulcers, infection and damage of the nasal and ocular mucosa and infection of the soles of the feet. In more advanced stages of the disease animals can suffer from severe weight loss, muscular atrophy, and anaemia as well as hepatic and renal disorders that can, in some cases, prove fatal. It is therefore difficult to establish a definitive diagnosis based solely on symptomology and a blood test is essential to confirm the presence of any parasitic infection. Annual blood tests are recommended to detect the presence of any infection as the response to treatment of the disease in its initial stages is more effective.
The last few years have seen significant advances in the treatment of Leishmaniasis and veterinary care with medication becoming cheaper and easier to administer. There is now a vaccine against Leishmania but despite this there is no treatment that will cure the disease completely in infected animals. However, dogs that are under medication and have regular blood tests to control the level of the parasite can have an optimum quality of life for years.