Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by protozoa of the Leishmania genus. There are close to 30 species of Leishmania, with Leishmania infantum being the most significant in Spain.
For a dog to catch leishmaniasis it must be bitten by a mosquito (in our country, a female Phlehotomus perniciosus), which has previously fed off the blood of an infected dog.
Leishmaniasis is a zoonosis, that is, an illness that can be passed to humans. However, in Spain due to the Leishmania species that is present and the very good general health of the population, it’s impossible for the illness to develop, even though each year a few cases are found. We should take special care with immunocompromised individuals such as those with AIDS or who are receiving chemotherapy.
Spain is a country with a very high prevalence of Leishmania, especially in the Mediterranean region.
The limps caused by leishmaniasis are characterized by being intermittent and changing joints. Any time we see a limp we should check with our vet. It’s vital to inform them if you’ve noticed any decay, weight loss, “dandruff” or any other sign that may seem unimportant a priori, or that seem to have nothing to do with the case.
There are currently some rapid tests that, with just one drop of blood, can tell us in 10 minutes if the dog is seropositive or not for Leishmania. It’s available in most veterinary clinics.
Treatment for these types of limps will always go through treating the underlying disease. There are currently several treatments available. Going with one or the other will depend on the extent to which the dog is affected, the ease of administration and the owner’s financial situation. It may be considered necessary to administer anti-inflammatories to reduce joint pain.
Leishmaniasis is a chronic disease and completely getting rid of the parasite is considered impossible, although in most cases the improvement is remarkable and many dogs live until old age with the disease.
The prognosis is difficult to guess, since it’s a disease that, even with medical treatment, depends a lot on the immune system of each particular animal.
It’s very important to protect our dog from this disease. No method has proven to be 100% effective, for this reason we should always use more than one. It is usually attacked in two ways:
IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is valid for Spain. In other regions in the world, leishmaniasis can be caused by other species of the parasite and even the mosquito that passes it may be different. For this reason, in many countries the disease has a very high prevalence in humans and is very serious. It’s also possible that the prevention methods are very different. Each country in particular legislates the proper steps to take. Please, consult a vet in your region.
Laura Perez - Ortocanis Veterinary