Leishmaniasis in Dogs

Leishmaniasis in dogs, also known as Dumdum fever, is a very serious and infectious. It is difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat and the outcome is rarely good.

The Causes of Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is the result of a being bitten by an infected sand fly known as Phlebotomus. It can also be transmitted from mother to offspring, or through direct contact with infected secretions or blood. It's also thought that it can be transmitted by infected ticks. Breeds such as Foxhounds and Neapolitan Mastiffs are more common sufferers from this disease, but it's possible that any dog could become infected.

What Leishmaniasis Is

In dogs, there are two different kinds of this disease: one that infects the organs and one that infects the skin. It is possible—and likely—that the infection will wind up in both areas, but this is not always the case.

  • Skin infection. If the infection is in your dog's skin, it can cause swollen joints and skin legions. In worse cases, it can go as far as to affect your dog's vision.
  • Organ Infection. A majority of dogs that become infected with this disease will develop an infection in the organs. The parasite works its way into areas such as lymph nodes and kidneys where it will proceed to destroy, making it a very serious concern.

Symptoms of Leishmaniasis

What is concerning about this disease is that it can be very slow moving. It can take up to years for any symptoms to display themselves and then they can be shown in such small ways that diagnosing the problem is difficult, as veterinarians may diagnose it as something more common.

Things to look out for:

  • Skin legions

  • Signs of pain when moving around

  • Fatigue

  • Refusal to eat and serious weight loss

  • Loss of color in your dog's muzzle or footpads

  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting

  • Bleeding from the nose

  • An unusual amount of thirst

  • Listlessness

  • Deformed or brittle nails

It is also important to keep in mind sometimes dogs have no symptoms or very few. For reasons not yet figured out, some dogs seem to be naturally resistant to all signs of having the disease.

How to Diagnose Leishmaniasis

There are a multitude of tests that must be administered to determine whether or not your dog has this disease. These include urine and blood testing, tissue biopsies and medical and travel history. Diagnosing this disease is further complicated by the fact that certain circumstances—such as testing without enough sensitivity or the Lepto vaccine—can create false positives.

Treatment for Leishmaniasis

Unfortunately, treatment for this disease is not often useful. Though there are injections and oral medications that can be given, the parasite in dogs seems to often be immune to these options and most of these medications have serious side-effects.

How to Prevent Leishmaniasis

There is only one vaccine known to date for the disease, but it is only for the L. donovani strain. Because there are so many strains of this disease, creating vaccines are difficult. There are, however, things that you can do in order to minimize the likeliness that your dog catches this disease:

  • Have your dog wear a deltamethrin collar if you live in an area where sand flies reside.

  • Keep your dog indoors during the late and early hours, when sand flies are most active.

  • Give your dog a balanced diet and plenty of exercise so he will develop a strong immune system to be able to better attempt to fight the disease.