Spanish dog? What is Leishmaniasis?

What is Leishmaniasis
Written by Hayley

For anyone who is planning to adopt, it’s important to what Leishmaniasis is. It’s an emerging disease that can affect and cause significant pain to your new companion.

In 2012, amendments in the Pets Travel Scheme relaxed animal quarantine laws and pet travel requirements in the UK. This opening of the borders has resulted in more and more dogs been rescued and re-homed from other countries than the U.K.

What is Leishmaniasis and where does it come from?

Leishmaniasis in dogs (also canine leishmaniasis) is a serious infection caused protozoa parasites known as Leishmania.

The disease is primarily transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected female sandfly. In Europe, the female sandflies that spread leishmania parasites are found in southern/ Mediterranean countries.

Dogs affected by leishmaniasis in the U.K. are usually found to have acquired the infection from another country, notably Spain.

The disease’s prevalence in southern Europe has increased five-fold in the past 10 years, with about 2.5 million dogs infected. Studies also show that approximately 50 to 80 percent of dogs in the Leishmania endemic regions get infected.

Recent evidence suggests that transmission can also happen through bite wounds from other infected dogs. In April 2019, a dog from Herefordshire was reported to be first U.K. dog to die form leishmaniasis, having never visited an endemic area. The dog contracted the disease from another infected dog that was adopted from Spain.

Types of the Leishmaniasis infection

Leishmaniasis in dogs usually comes into two forms; visceral and cutaneous, and the two types of infection affect different areas of the dog’s body.

Cutaneous, affects the dog’s skin and is the most common form of Leishmaniasis in dogs. Visceral, also known as ‘black fever’ affects the abdominal organs and is a more severe form of the disease.

Symptoms of Leishmaniasis

The amount of time it takes for leishmaniosis symptoms to appear in dogs varies greatly. They may show in as little as 3 weeks or take up to seven years.

Dogs with stronger immune systems can even get through the infection without showing any symptoms but once their immune system fails, their condition deteriorates fast.

The most easily identifiable symptom for leishmaniosis is skin lesions, which affect 90% of all dogs infected with the disease.

Symptoms that may appear in dogs with cutaneous leishmaniasis include:

  • Inflamed, thick, scaly skin
  • Lumps, bumps, and ulcers on the ears, paws, and muzzle
  • Hair loss
  • Discoloured skin
  • Rough, muzzle or foot pad
  • Rough hair coat
  • Abnormally long and brittle nails

Dogs with Visceral Leishmaniasis may show the following Symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Nose bleed
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Fever
  • Exercise intolerance, stiffness
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in the joints and limping
  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Pale gums
  • Blood in stool

Can humans get Leishmaniasis?

Although dogs are the most common receptors of Leishmania parasite human too can contract the disease. The Leishmania parasites residing in the dog’s skin lesions can be transmitted to humans by the female sandflies.

Each year approximately 700,000 new cases for Human Leishmaniasis are reported with 20,000-30,000 deaths. Children and people with low immunities are more susceptible to the disease.

Fortunately, the disease does not naturally occur in the U.K. since the female sandflies that transmit Leishmania parasites are not found in the country. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most affected countries in the European region are Spain and Italy.

Statistics from Public Health England (PHE) show that reported cases of Leishmaniasis have increased from less than 20 to more than 50 in less than 10 years. U.K residents infected with human leishmaniasis contracted the disease while overseas. Recent studies show that 77% of all U.K. leishmaniasis cases reported were from Mediterranean countries, especially Spain, which accounts for 43%.

Prevention for Leishmaniasis

Dogs born or bred in leishmaniasis-endemic regions such as Italy should be screened for the disease.

There is also a leishmaniasis vaccine available in the U.K that has been proven to significantly reduce the chances of dogs contracting the disease.

Dog owners traveling with their dogs are advised to have their pets vaccinated. The vaccine works by improving the dogs’ immune system with the help of proteins to be able to fight off the challenges caused by Leishmania parasite.

Though the reasons are yet to be clearly identified dog breeds found to be more susceptible to developing leishmaniasis are Foxhounds and Neapolitan Mastiffs so pet owners of these breeds are advised to take extra care.


Treatment for canine leishmaniasis only minimizes the symptoms and is focused on keeping the infection under control. Various combinations of drugs are used to treat different strains of the disease.

The most common combinations include; meglumine antimonite & allopurinol, and miltefosine & allopurinol. Both combinations are taken for 28 days. Another drug that’s commonly used is Amphotericin B, which is injected for several weeks 2-3 times a week.

In general, the drugs are aimed at strengthening the dog’s immunity to be able to fight the infection and lengthening its life.

The disease causes a lot of pain and eventually death and it is paramount to have your dog treated as soon as possible. Treatment also significantly reduces any risk of transmission to other dogs and greatly improves the quality of your dog.


There is a better chance of controlling the disease if the illness is caught in the early stages, and most dogs will recover within a few months. If your dog is severely affected it may take longer for them to recover.

During the treatment period, your pet will need to be closely monitored by your vet. Be patient as the correct treatment for leishmaniasis in dogs takes time, and keep track of your dog’s medicine to make sure he/she is on the right path to recovery.

About the author


Dog lover and animal enthusiast who would own an entire Noah's Ark if money and space wasn't an issue. Gamer girl on the side and loves a bit of Roller Derby.

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