Having spent many years living in Malta and owning five dogs during that time, Leishmania was every dog owner’s worst fear. To keep my own dogs safe, I spoke to numerous vets and did thorough research into the prevention of this often deadly disease and that is what I am going to share with you here.
Leishmaniasis is carried by sandflies infected by Leishmania. Leishmaniasis is found all over the world but is most prolific in areas such as America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, and parts of Europe.
If you live in or are traveling to an area that has sandflies and has known cases of Leishmania, it is important to know how you can protect your dog from this fatal disease.
As you may have guessed from the areas most affected, it is primarily a disease of the tropics and sub-tropical areas but with changes to the climate, it could become more of a problem in others areas of the world as well. And with many dogs being imported and rescued from other countries, risks could also increase in what are currently non-problem areas.
What is a sandfly?
You would be forgiven for thinking that sandflies live in or around beaches and sand and this is a common misconception but an important one to dispel. Sandfly is actually so-called because of its color. It has no preference at all for sandy areas. In fact, sandflies are most active in wooded areas, gardens, and the like.
Symptoms of Leishmaniasis In Dogs
Dogs may remain symptom-free for months or even years or they may have tell-tale lesions, skin thickening, and bleeding from the nose. Symptoms of the disease taking hold include lethargy, weight loss, pain, and weakness. If left untreated, most dogs will die within a year, generally of kidney failure.
Can Leishmaniasis in Dogs Be Cured?
Treatment for a dog who has contracted Leishmaniasis and whose body has succumbed to the disease is lengthy, costly, and often not successful, even if the dog is fit, young, and healthy. The prognosis is not good. Of course, an older or poorly dog is more likely to succumb to the disease, but no dog is safe.
Even a fit, young, or otherwise healthy dog who may remain symptom-free for years may eventually succumb in older age. In fact, no dog is ever really cured of the disease. Even after treatment, they remain infected and may relapse.
Treatment of the symptoms would then need to start again. If monitored well, the infection can be controlled by treating relapses but never cured. Prevention is therefore much better than cure.
Testing for Leishmania
Most vets in at-risk countries offer an annual Leishmaniasis blood test. This test is best done in the spring or early summer to catch the occurrence of the disease if it was contracted in the summer months when sandflies are most prevalent.
Annual testing is very important as the disease can lay dormant for a very long time. If your dog has any hope of survival, early detection is essential.
Leishmaniasis vaccination for dogs
There is now an annual vaccination for Leishmaniasis but it prevents symptoms rather than infection. It is in its infancy comparatively, so discuss the risks and advantages with your vet. Watch your dog carefully in the days following any new treatment or vaccination and be sure to report any adverse reactions should they occur.
How To Avoid Sandfly
The best way to protect your dog against Leishmania is to keep them away from sandflies. Easier said than done. You can’t easily see them but they do have certain habits that help with avoidance.
Sandflies are more active from the time of an hour before sunset through to an hour after sunrise, so if possible avoid walking your dog or having them outside during those hours.
Sandflies prefer ground level as they don’t fly very well. As they are such poor fliers, fans can also help to keep them away but don’t solely rely on this.
As mentioned, prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to this nasty disease. As well as the avoidance advice above, there are some serums and collars you can purchase to help protect your dog.
Preventative repellent collars like Scalibor and Canishield are very effective against sandflies and will last for 5 months. Take care as the packet says the collar can be worn for 6 months. However, if you read the information leaflet you will see that sandfly protection is only five of those six months.
May to October is the time of year that has the highest risk when all the sandflies are out and about. Bear that in mind when choosing your repellent collar schedule to make sure your dog is getting the maximum protection from their collar when it matters.
For example, you could do:
- February to June wearing a protective collar (5 months)
- July to November wearing a new protective collar (5 months)
- December and January no collar (2 months)
I like this regime because it means that the dog is fully protected from March to November when the risks are highest and each collar is only being worn for 5 months so the dog is fully covered. With this schedule, your dog also gets a 2-month break from the chemicals present in these collars during December and January when the disease risks are lowest.
As an extra precaution, in addition to a collar, I really recommend adding Leisguard to your dog’s meals as well. It is very well tolerated by most dogs (always read the label though) and it offers additional protection.
When administering Leisguard, follow the schedule as per the bottle’s instructions i.e. every four months for twenty-eight days. It is easy to administer as it can easily be added to your dog’s food. Dosage is based on your dog’s weight.
All these things can be difficult to keep track of so add them to your diary so you get a reminder.
I hope this has helped you to understand the ways you can keep your dog as safe as possible from Leishmaniasis.
Disclaimer: Any medical care and product usage advice is given in this article is the view of the writer and is not intended to be medical advice. If in doubt, please consult a vet.