Leishmaniasis in dogs is a zoonotic disease that is found worldwide, is considered an endemic, and for several years it was thought to be extremely rare in the United States.
But there have now been reported cases of this deadly disease in over 21 states.
A zoonotic disease is an infectious disease that can be transmitted or shared between animals and humans. However, with this disease you cannot catch it from your dog.
This disease was also thought to be found primarily in foxhounds, but that also seems to be changing.
Leishmaniasis in dogs is much more difficult to treat than it is in humans and no one really seems to understand why.
It can be treated, but the success rate is extremely low and if your dog becomes infected, chances of survival will be very slim.
Most dogs will die from kidney failure and severely affected dogs may not respond to any form of treatment.
For years this disease has been found primarily in Central and South America, as well as Africa, India, and the Mediterranean regions.
Dogs that have been infected in the United States have traveled to those areas.
That now seems to be changing as there have been several reported cases of dogs becoming infected that have never traveled.
This disease also called Dumdum fever and is a parasite infection that is transmitted by a small, blood sucking biting sand fly referred to as Phlebotomus.
However, what is becoming alarming is that this sand fly is not known to exist anywhere in the United States.
This infectious disease can be transmitted by other vectors such as ticks, and the growing concern is that it now may be carried by ticks.
Leishmaniasis in dogs can cause two different types of infections; a skin infection or an organ infection.
Over 95 percent of all infected dogs will develop organ infections with this disease, which makes it so deadly to your pet.
Most dogs as a result will develop swollen lymph nodes and enlarged spleens, and as it progresses, it will spread to the kidneys.
However, a vast majority of dogs will also develop skin infections. These skin infections will develop into lesions and can cause the limbs and the joints of your dog to become swollen.
It can also affect their eyes.
But there are other factors that are very troubling with this disease.
There have been reported cases where the time span between the actual infections by this parasite and the actual appearance of any symptoms has taken as long as seven years to surface.
Even if your dog does survive this horrible infection, because the disease is so serious in people and even though it can not be transmitted from dogs to humans, euthanasia is often recommended.
Leishmaniasis in dogs is a very slow and progressive disease as it may take several years for symptoms to develop.
Because the signs of this disease are so minor and nonspecific in this long developmental progression, and because it has been so rare in this country, testing for it is still relatively new.
The symptoms will depend on the severity of the infection, and then the type of infection that your dog develops.
With organ infections, your pet will show signs of fatigue and start to develop a resistance to any type of exercise.
This will then be followed by anorexia and severe weight loss as your dog is literally wasting away.
Some dogs may also show signs of lameness and swollen joints and may start to develop a stiff gait or walking impairment as the limbs are hurting them.
With skin infections, lesions will start to develop around the head and the muzzle area.
However, as difficult as this disease is to identify, there is perhaps one set of symptoms that can alert you that something is wrong.
The reason is simple; it is very unusual. This infection may also affect your pet’s footpads.
If your dog starts to lose the color or pigmentation in the footpads or the muzzle, they most likely have this infection as this is very uncommon.
Diagnosing this disease can also be very difficult simply because it has been so rare that it was not something that a lot of veterinarians looked for.
But that is starting to change as it grows and spreads.
The first form of testing will involve both medical and travel history. This will be followed by blood testing, urine testing, and tissue biopsies.
Serologic testing will also be done to detect circulating antibodies in your pet’s bloodstream.
This disease is considered so serious that if your dog does test positive it must immediately reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Treatments for Leishmaniasis in dogs have proved to be much less effective than treatment for humans and it has become troubling to the medical community.
Skin infections are always difficult to treat, but this one is extremely difficult and often ineffective.
There is a specialized drug called sodium stibogluconate which has to be obtained from the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are alternative treatments but most of them have been discontinued because of the failure rate.
There is also a growing concern that this disease may, or already has, developed a drug resistant strain of this parasite in the United States.
There is evidence that some dog’s immune systems either resistant this disease or are strong enough to actually fight it off, and as a result, become immune.
But in the vast majority of cases it is fatal.
Building your dogs immune system as strong as it can possibly be with the correct diet and the proper supplements is the best hope for prevention in this once unique threat to dogs.