Have you ever heard of such a strange condition? What is leishmaniasis in dogs, and where does such an alien-sounding disorder come from? If you are wondering what are the causes of this mysterious disease, or if you are just looking for more information, you have come to the right place!
Your dog has stopped eating, apart from occasional nibbling. Your furry friend seems to have lost interest in almost every type of activity he once enjoyed, such as mid-day walks or playtime with the kids. He is losing more and more weight every day. What could possibly happen on Earth?
You start to notice small red spots of blood oozing from your dog's nose! There is definitely a problem that you absolutely cannot ignore any longer. You should have gone to the vet a few days ago! It's too late to bother with a date now. Bringing your companion back to the car, you rush off.
What is leishmaniasis in dogs?
Leishmaniasis in dogs is a disease caused by a parasite, carried by a tiny biting sandfly, which can cause skin infection or organ infection in dogs, cats or some rodents. Almost all dogs that contract the disease have the visceral (organ) form. About ⅓ of dogs will suffer from an enlarged spleen, progressing to kidney failure.
Kidney failure on its own is fatal if not treated quickly, but many of the symptoms listed here can be life threatening too!
There are over 23 species of parasites that cause leishmaniasis, and most of them are zoonotic (meaning they can infect humans as well as animals). Horses, cats and other animals can also suffer from this disorder, and it can be fatal for all of the above (including humans)!
Symptoms of leishmaniasis in dogs
The symptoms listed below are associated with the visceral (organ) form of the disease, as it is most common in dogs. If treated quickly, the symptoms listed below need not be life threatening.
Lack of food and nutrition, along with dehydration from excessive vomiting and diarrhea, can lead to weakness (refusal to exercise and less interest in gambling) and slower neurological responses.
- Anorexia (lack of appetite)
- Intolerance to exercise
- Severe weight loss
- Muscle pain
- Joint inflammation
- Swelling of the testicles
- Nose bleed
- Bloody stools (aka melena)
The most common form of organ that has an impact is the spleen, liver or / and bone marrow of a patient (including human). Some humans infected with the dermal (skin) version will not show any symptoms, while others may develop lumps, lumps, and even ulcers.
Cutaneous form (skin)
The skin and tissue on the muzzle and the bottom of the pads can thicken and harden, making movement painful. This is often referred to as “hyperkeratosis,” caused by excess keratin production, and almost looks like tiny razors on the soles of the feet.
Darker lumps or nodules may form on the dog's skin, and the animal's coat may appear brittle and dull. Fortunately (for dog owners) the cutaneous form is more common in cats.
Symptoms of leishmaniasis in humans
Now that you know that humans can get the disease just like dogs and other animals, what are the symptoms?
Humans can sometimes carry the parasite for a long time without showing signs of illness, and symptoms depend on one or the other of the two forms of the disease.
Painless skin ulcers are the most obvious sign of this form in humans. These symptoms may appear after only a few weeks, but may not appear for years after being bitten by the sandfly carrying the parasite.
Visceral / organic leishmaniasis
Symptoms usually don't appear for months after contracting the disease, with 2 to 6 months being the most common. The symptoms in humans are terribly close to the symptoms shown in dogs, the difference being the host (human).
- Weight loss
- Persistent fever
- Enlarged spleen
- Enlarged liver
- Poor production of blood cells
- Excessive bleeding
- Other infections
- Swollen lymph nodes
What are the causes of leishmaniasis?
A protozoan parasite, carried by a tiny biting sandfly, can cause leishmaniasis. It is mainly found in rural areas of the world, but can be a problem anywhere. This sandfly can transmit this parasite to humans, but we cannot get it from our pets (dog / cat).
A parasite is an organism that lives in or inside another. The parasite feeds on the host and its survival usually depends on the survival of the host. A protozoan is a single-celled organism, which means that this parasite is extremely small.
Mothers can also pass the parasite to their offspring, and there are rare reports of dog-to-dog transmission among pets, sick animals or fighting dogs, etc.
Immune responses multiply at the time of infection and then appear to be the most important factor in determining whether persistent infection will develop from subclinical disease to clinical disease (Peterson, Christine. DVM).
Merck veterinary manual
These little biting sandflies are very difficult to see because they are so small (¼ mosquito). They will not make noise (unlike many insects as well). Their bites may even be painless, so you might not notice them.
These tiny biting sandflies are most active between dusk and sunset, and least during the hottest hours of the day. They can still bite if disturbed, as if a person brushed against something that was holding the insect.
Where is leishmaniasis most common?
Sandflies themselves carriers of the parasite responsible for leishmaniasis are most often found in the tropics, subtropics or southern Europe. These sandflies are usually only about ¼ the size of mosquitoes, but can be even smaller.
Parts of asia
- Tropical regions of Africa, North Africa
- southern Europe
- South and Central America
Leishmaniasis has not been found in the Pacific Islands or Australia. This is not common in North America (cases involve travel from tropical areas), particularly in Canada. It has been found in parts of a total of 90 countries.
According to 2015 statistics, over 90% of all visceral cases of leishmaniasis in dogs occurred in the areas listed below:
- South Sudan
Most of the time, leishmaniasis is more common and dangerous in areas where access to health care is generally mediocre or generally mediocre. These are areas that you imagine when you think of “Médecins sans frontières”. Poverty is often very common in these areas and a major contributing factor to disorder.
Malnutrition is common: Famine, Poverty/lack of financial resources, Large groups of people
Many cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis in American civilian travelers have been acquired in common tourist destinations in Latin America, such as Costa Rica. US military personnel have been infected in various countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan (CDC).
Who is most at risk for leishmaniasis?
People of all ages are at risk of contracting the disease if they live or have been in an area of the world where it is present or common. This includes the tropics or subtropics listed in this article.
Those most at risk would be people with severe immunosuppression, such as people with HIV / AIDS (for example). Anyone with a weakened immune system is at higher risk, as long as they have encountered a biting sandfly in the areas listed here.
This may include those who live in these areas, adventure travelers, peace corps volunteers, missionaries, etc.
Some factors that affect dogs:
Virtually all dogs will develop the visceral form of the disease. Ninety percent will also have skin involvement (Llera, Ryan. DVM).
-VGA veterinary hospitals
How to diagnose leishmaniasis
First, a medical history is taken. Has the patient or owner recently traveled to a location known to transport these sandflies, such as the tropics mentioned above? Maybe they live there now. After taking this history, the doctor of human medicine or veterinarian can reduce the conditions for which this area is known.
Blood and urine tests are usually done, sometimes along with tissue biopsies. Cases of pets diagnosed with leishmaniasis in the United States are reported to the CDC because it is not as common in North America. It has not been found in Canada.
How to recognize a problem?
Does your pet suddenly appear unusually weak or inactive? Does he or she no longer seem to want to play, or have a great deal of interest in walks? This unusual level of inactivity can mean there is a problem, and you should see a veterinarian to rule out medical complications.
Have you noticed excessive diarrhea or vomiting lately?
It's like the way the body expels irritants, but it also means there's something inside the body that it doesn't want there. Too much of either can lead to dehydration (especially dangerous in puppies) and is a symptom of several disorders.
Have you noticed blood in your pet's feces or blood coming from the nose?
A bloody nose is unusual for a dog and warrants a trip to the vet. Bloody stools likely mean there is a problem with the digestive tract, also necessitating a trip to the vet.
Does your pet refuse to eat, or even worse, drink?
None of these situations are normal, especially the refusal to drink water. You will need to see your vet soon (within the next 24 hours if possible). Your pet cannot go longer than 2-3 days without water, and this is already a dire situation.
Sometimes dogs will be asymptomatic, showing no symptoms. In these dogs, the parasite remains dormant for up to years in some cases before an event triggers the organism (stress, disease in dogs, e.g.). Once triggered, the parasite attacks the dog's body and causes the visceral or cutaneous form. of the disease.
Sandflies that do not carry the parasite can pick it up on the animal and then continue to spread the disease. For the above reasons, regular vet checkups couldn't be more important!
What is the prognosis for dogs with leishmaniasis?
Since the vast majority of dogs will develop the visceral form and about et of them will develop enlarged organs to organ failure (kidney failure), the outlook is not good. Some sources, such as the VCA hospitals linked above, claim that most dogs (not just ⅓) will die of kidney failure. Even if they are treated on time and survive, there can be several medical complications due to organ damage.
Prompt medical treatment is the key to increasing your pet's chances of survival! Be sure to keep up with your regular vet exams and watch for symptoms!
A special type of medicine is required, available from the CDC, called sodium stibogluconate. It is the most common treatment in North America. Your veterinarian or doctor may also administer intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and special diets.
Antibiotics are meant to treat secondary bacterial infections, while fluids for rehydrating and special diets promote nutrition and health.
Unfortunately, the results for pets diagnosed with the visceral form of leishmaniasis are often not very good. Results may improve if the disease is caught early, but most of the time this is not the case and most dogs will go through kidney failure. Sometimes dogs are too sick to be treated.
Special drug - Sodium stibogluconate
Certain skin lesions removed surgically
The importance of hydration
Dehydration is a side effect of vomiting / diarrhea and can be extremely dangerous for dogs, especially for young puppies or during the summer months! Unlike humans, most dogs are unable to sweat most of their body and sweat when panting. The more dehydrated they are, the more difficult it is to control body temperature.
Vomiting / diarrhea are two symptoms of leishmaniasis in dogs.
If your pet is severely dehydrated, he or she will need fluid therapy from a professional veterinarian. This is usually given as a saline solution (a salt water / electrolyte solution with the same pH as blood) directly into the bloodstream by intravenous infusion.
How to prevent leishmaniasis?
Avoid getting bitten by wearing clothes that cover your skin as much as possible! It's probably the last thing most people on vacation or living in the tropics want to do, but it's good protection against disease nonetheless.
Be sure to use insect repellant on any exposed skin or on the ends of clothing near exposed skin. It won't always be 100% foolproof, especially if you're swimming at the beach, but it's good protection.
Use insecticide in indoor sleeping areas or general indoor areas where you live. Be sure to be careful and safe when using the insecticide.
Try to avoid going outside between dusk and dawn when the flies are most active. This would also apply to any pets you might care for.
Know the symptoms of both forms of the disease (skin / dermal and organ / visceral) and know when to see a doctor if you feel unusual or think any of these symptoms could be a problem for you. Tell your doctor about any trips you may have taken when they ask for your recent history.
Although there are no vaccines for humans (as of 2017), there are vaccines for dogs (and possibly other animals)! Letifend is a vaccine prescribed by a veterinarian against the parasite in dogs, and other options may be available. There may be other clinical trials going on, so be sure to ask your vet about preventative methods!
Using insect prevention (flea and tick control, etc.) can help prevent the sandfly from biting your dog as they contain mild insecticides.
Watch for symptoms of either form of the disease (skin or visceral problems). If your pet refuses to eat, appears very weak, has excessive diarrhea / vomiting, or any of the others listed in this article, contact a veterinarian.
Be sure to take your pet for a vet checkup after travel, or regular checkups if you live in a tropical area.
How common is leishmaniasis?
Global case estimates are provided by the CDC for humans. Regarding the cutaneous form, new cases each year can vary between about 700 and 000 million. The most drastic visceral form is between 1,2 and 100 and above.
Take a look at the section above relating to the regions of the world you will find, below “How to Diagnose Leishmaniasis in Dogs”. Be sure to let your vet know if you've traveled to a tropical part of the world where this may be a problem.
Humans cannot contract the disease from pets.
Questions and answers
What spreads leishmaniasis?
Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite spread by a small biting sandfly. There are over 23 different species of this parasite, and they can affect humans as well as many different animals (not just dogs).
Where should I be concerned about getting leishmaniasis?
The female sandfly carrying this parasite lives in the tropics or subtropics of the world. It includes regions like South and Central America, Southern Europe, Africa, Middle East, hottest regions of Asia, etc.
It is rarely seen in the United States (but possible) and has not been a big deal in northern areas like Canada.
If you've recently traveled to any of these areas with your pet, be sure to meet with a vet for a post-trip checkup!
Is leishmaniasis fatal to humans and animals?
The visceral (organ) form can be fatal to humans and animals. About ⅓ of all dogs who suffer from organ version, and most dogs will suffer from this form, will develop an enlarged spleen. This enlarged spleen can lead to kidney failure, which is fatal.
Who is most at risk?
Outside of poverty or the areas listed above, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems are most at risk. It is the same for animals. This can include anyone with things like HIV, lupus, or any other health problem that suppresses your immune system.
If I was bitten and got the parasite, when would I be sick?
Some people and animals show no signs or the parasite has been dormant for a long time. This can be called a “silent infection”.
Skin sores of the cutaneous form of leishmaniasis usually appear a few weeks to months after the bite of an infected sandfly. Skin wounds normally heal on their own and usually don't need treatment, but it can take years!
People with visceral (organ) leishmaniasis usually show signs of illness a few months to a few years after being bitten by an infected sandfly.