Canine leishmaniasis, first identified in Europe in 1903, is a severe and often fatal disease in dogs that is caused by leishmania parasites transmitted by the bite of an infected Phlebotomine sand fly. The sand fly is carrying the leishmania parasite in its stomach after sucking the blood of a dog with pre-existing leishmaniasis. As soon as the fly bites again the parasite is transmitted to the new host. And so the cycle continues.
The name sand fly is misleading: sand flies are not found on the beach. They are most abundant in gardens, parklands and woodland. Around the Mediterranean, leishmaniasis is generally transmitted from April to October, with peaks of activity occurring at the beginning and end of the season. Dogs are more likely to be bitten from sunset to sunrise, and it is therefore advisable to keep them inside as much as possible during this time.
Currently there is no vaccine available to prevent dogs becoming infected with leishmaniasis, and once infected a dog will never be fully cured. Early stage diagnosis means that the disease can be controlled, although the drugs required are quite expensive. Later stage diagnosis is much more difficult to treat and will almost always be fatal.Dogs infected with leishmaniasis may well present some or all of the following symptoms:
Loss of hair, particularly around the eyes and on the muzzle, often spreading to other parts of the body
Dry skin with evidence of dandruff
Weeping skin sores or ulcers on the head and legs
Weight loss, which can be very severe, even if their appetite remains unaffected
Eventual kidney failure
In order to offer your dog protection against leishmaniasis, it is recommended that they wear a Deltamethrin-impregnated collar, brand name ‘Scalibor’. These collars can be bought from veterinary surgeries and have been proven to be 90% effective in killing sand flies that feed on dogs, as well as discouraging them to feed at all. The chemicals are slowly released into the lipids of the dog's skin and are effective for several months, meaning that one collar will last the whole season.
For more information or advice regarding leishmaniasis, please speak to your vet.