The Silent Killer – Leishmaniasis in dogs

March 26, 2013 in Newsletters

Leishmaniasis (commonly known as ‘Sandfly’) is a very common disease locally. It is a parasitic infection which is transmitted from
one dog to another through the bite of an infected sandfly. The sandfly is a small (1-3mm) mosquito that is very difficult to see and hear.

There are 2 forms of this disease and symptoms may take up to 5 months to develop.
– The cutaneous (skin) form exhibits symptoms such as loss of hair, flaky skin and non-healing ulcers.
– The visceral (organs) form is the more dangerous form as this causes major damage to the internal organs, especially the kidneys; if left untreated it can quickly cause kidney failure.
This disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test at your veterinarian, and I would recommend testing regularly.

The sandfly normally bites the dog in the warmer months (March onwards) and is particularly active during the time around sunrise and sunset. Therefore,you should avoid taking your dog out for walks at these times of day and should not keep the dog outside.

There are a number of products, available from any veterinary pharmacy,to help prevent the sandfly from biting the dog. Such products include collars, drops and sprays. Also, a new vaccine against this disease has recently become available. Although not 100% effective and relatively costly,in conjunction with the products mentioned above, it can help to prevent what is otherwise an extremely common and fatal disease.

Myths about ‘Sandfly’:

1. A dog kept outside on a roof is immune to this disease as the sandfly cannot fly so high:
FALSE.Though it is true that the sandfly is not a strong flyer, it can be swept up by the wind or manage to fly higher up in favourable weather conditions and may therefore infect a dog kept on a roof.

2. Certain breeds are immune to the disease:
FALSE.Some breeds, especially native breeds such as the Pharaoh hound, are naturally more resistant to the disease. However, they can still contract the disease in certain circumstances.

3. Dogs can catch the disease from each other:
FALSE.The disease is not directly transmissible between dogs. A healthy dog is only infected if bitten by an infected sandfly.

4. Sandflies live in sand and are therefore only found on the beach/close to water:
FALSE.Sandflies can be found everywhere and any dog is at risk; whether it lives in the city or in the country. This is because the sandfly does not need to be near water sources and socan be found in dry inland areas.

Dr Victoria Bondin DVM