Canine Leishmaniasis

Important

All of the dogs we help are tested for Leishmaniasis and we alert adopters if they test positive.  However a negative test result, for a dog from a Leish-endemic area, does not mean they won’t subsequently develop the disease since they can incubate it for up to 7 years and frustratingly no test can detect it in the incubation period.  So we recommend that dogs from Leishmaniasis endemic areas of Spain (we will specify which area your dog is from at interview) are given regular Leishmaniasis blood antibody tests

The first test should be 6 weeks after arrival (since the stress of the trip and all the changes can lower their defences and cause it to flare up) and then 6-monthly.  After 3 negative test results you can drop down to annual tests.  If they test positive please contact us so we can support you and your vet with advice from our experienced vets in Spain. 

It is also of fundamental importance that you familiarise yourself with the symptoms of the disease (see below) and if you see symptoms your dog should be tested straightaway (don’t wait for the next interval).

Infrequently dogs from the Atlantic coast area of Spain (where the majority of our dogs are from) and where Leish isn’t currently endemic, will go on to develop the disease since their hunter owners will have taken them hunting to the endemic area further south.  If you adopt a dog from this area please familiarise yourselves with the symptoms and test immediately if you see symptoms.

If you suspect your dog may have Leishmaniasis please alert us straightaway so that we can support you. 

General information

There are two separate disesases, Human Leishmaniasis and Canine Leishmaniasis.  Canine Leishmaniasis is mostly found in the Mediterranean area.  Similar to Malaria it is spread by an insect vector.  The vector for Canine Leishmaniasis is a sandfly which only lives in warm, dry climates.  The sandfly bites a dog infected with Leishmaniasis and then spreads it to other dogs when it bites them.  In extremely rare cases Canine Leishmaniasis can be spread to immuno-suppressed humans via the sandfly vector.  The sandfly isn’t present in the UK so the disease can not be spread there.

Most of the dogs we rescue are from the Atlantic coast of Spain, which has a very different climate to the rest of Spain, it is much wetter and cooler.  Leishmaniasis isn’t endemic to this part of Spain since the sandfly vector isn’t found here currently (this may change with global warming). 

Leishmaniasis is a very serious disease for dogs if left untreated but if caught early and the correct treatment is given experience shows they go into remission and have a normal quality of life and life expectancy.

Leishmaniasis Tests

We test all dogs for Leishmaniasis before they travel to the UK.  The test we use is a Leishmaniasis blood antibody test.

If dogs do have a positive result the test shows an antibody reading which gives an indication of how advanced the disease is.  If they test positive we also do full blood tests to determine if their internal organs are affected and give them treatment to control the disease.  Once the disease is controlled they can travel to the UK.  When in the UK they initially need  6-monthly Leishmaniasis antibody tests to ensure that the disease has not become active again.  After a period of time, if the disease is controlled, the test interval can drop down to annually. 

Sometimes they test low positive to Leishmaniasis.  This means that they have been exposed to the disease but don’t have the active version (and don’t have any symptoms).  If tests show their internal organs are fine they don’t need treatment but they need regular tests to keep an eye on their antibody levels.

A negative result indicates that they don’t have antibodies for Leishmaniasis at this time.  However it is possible for a dog to test negative but to be in the incubation period for the disease for up to 7 years.  For this reason it is really important for adopters of our dogs to be familiar with Leishmaniasis symptoms and for dogs from endemic areas to do regular tests.

Canine Leishmaniasis Symptoms

These can include

  • Weight loss
  • Running a temperature
  • Abnormal nails (unusually thick or brittle)
  • Anaemia
  • Arthritis
  • Renal failure
  • Apathy, weakness
  • Progressive muscular atrophy
  • Cutaneous ulcers or other wounds which don’t heal up
  • Wounds which don’t heal
  • Dry skin
  • Dandruff
  • Hair loss
  • Hair loss round the eyes
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Swollen linfatic glands, liver, spleen
  • Limps
  • Lesions in the eyes

Suspected Leish-positive dogs and warning about UK vets

Of course these symptoms don’t necessarily indicate Leish, they can be caused by other things but if in doubt it’s best to do a Leishmaniasis antibody blood test to rule it out. 

We also strongly recommend that you make contact with us so that we can support you.  UK vets understandably have limited or no experience and knowledge of Leishmaniasis since it isn’t endemic in the UK.  Very sadly this has caused some very serious problems including

  • vets persuading adopters to euthanize dogs which would have recovered with treatment
  • doing expensive and unnecessary tests incurring unnecessarily high bills for adopters
  • scaring adopters by telling them that Canine Leishmaniasisis can be spread to other dogs and to humans without mentioning the need for the sandfly vector and without mentioning that it is only immuno-suppressed humans* who are susceptible to contracting the disease.

*even immuno-suppressed humans are very unlikely to catch it.  In Leish-endemic areas there are millions of immuno-suppressed humans who must be bitten by sandflies carrying the disease but there are very very few reported cases of infected humans.

How SeBPRA supports adopters

We provide full support for dogs with Canine Leishmaniasis.  We work with vets in Spain very experienced in treating dogs with Leishmaniasis to support both adopters and their vets.

If adopters have any concerns at all that their dogs may have Leish we provide full support.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or suspect your dog may have Leish.

Penelope Perkins, 20.12.20