Spanish dogs and Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is a controllable disease that affects some Mediterranean dogs, it is transmitted by the Sandfly Mosquito.

Some dogs which are bitten could get this condition that will then lie dormant in them for their life. As we do not have the Sandfly Mosquito in the UK it is not possible for a dog to transmit the disease to other dogs or people. Most of the dogs that test positive are treated and live long and happy lives with no symptoms at all once they have moved to the UK, once they have been treated first to ensure the blood count is very low.

For a dog to catch Leishmaniasis it has to be bitten a Sandfly that has recently bitten an infected dog. THE SANDFLY TRANSMITS THE DISEASE NOT THE DOG.  The Sandfly has to bite and take the blood of an infected dog and then fly onwards to bite another dog. When the Sandfly bites another dog, it can then transmit infected blood from the previous dog.

We work with rescuers in Spain, who have over 20 years experience of helping dogs, working hand in hand with vets to gain an understanding of Leishmaniasis. They have learnt that the one significant contributing factor which stands out above all others is STRESS. A dog who has been living under the stress of abandonment, cruelty, parasitic infestation, near starvation, giving birth every 6 months in the street etc. will most certainly test positive. But once that same dog is in a safe and secure environment, free from stress and treated for parasites, the drop in the leish count can be dramatic. They also site examples where dogs have become negative. So in many cases, remove the stress, take the dog out of “Sandfly” country – problem solved!

There is also confusion between the Leishmaniosis which exists in the Mediterranean and the Leishmaniosis spread by the mosquito in the African Continent, where it is known to spread to humans.

Some English Vets do not have very much knowledge of the condition which can lead to them giving over cautious advice.

Some Spanish dogs arrive in the UK with Leishmaniosis medication which is not necessary, some rescues believe medication should be issued as a precaution.

If you would like more information on this issue please ask us

Common symptoms of Leishmaniasis in dogs are:

  • Skin problems: very often centralised around the muzzle, ears and eyes. The typical ring around their eyes, like glasses; lesions which will result in crusts on or around their ears, very often bleeding.
  • Nail problems: long and fast growing nails, very often incredibly hard, sometimes deformed
  • Lesions: the pads on their feet can be affected with lesions, causing bleeding
  • Other skin problems: loss of fur all over their body, usually starting with small patches of lesions.
  • Weight loss: affected dogs will very likely lose their appetite. If Leishmaniasis is already in an advanced state, it will mean that the internal organs (kidneys, liver) are affected and failing. Chronic diarrhoea is also very common.
  • General: affected dogs may have swollen joints, and/or swelling of their legs, have a fever and they may be less active and even very very calm.

Whilst leishmaniasis is not curable, it is controllable in most cases. All the dogs that come from PAWS are tested and if positive then the count is reduced until near negative before they come to the UK .

Many dogs receiving treatment will live happily until they are old, just by being treated with allopurinol (Human Gout tablets that can be purchased over the counter at the chemist), Prevention in the form of a annual test for leishmaniasis.

A one off testing is recommended if the dog is living in an area where the Sandfly is not indigenous; to ensure that there is no latent disease.

Dogs with negative counts do not need Allopurinol.

There is a very good group on Facebook who have a lot of experience and are happy to answer questions

All dogs coming to the UK from Spain are prepared under the strict rules of the Pet  Passport Scheme.


You may also find this article on Babesiosis useful