Leishmaniasis: All You Should Know – Part I

Introduction to the Series

Important Note: I’ve done my best to keep this post informative and accurate. Be aware that I am neither a doctor, a veterinarian, nor a biologist, and that my knowledge of biology and medicine is limited to what I learnt in high school and what I may have picked up along the way since then. Before trying anything on your dog or if in doubt, check with your vet. If you spot any mistakes, please let me know by leaving a comment or contacting me through any social networks.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may know that one of my dogs, Syd, was diagnosed with Leishmaniasis (or Leishmaniosis) at four years of age. Although she survived the disease, it certainly made the remainder of her life much more complicated.

Since there have been several advances on the topic since then, I decided to do some research and write  comprehensively about it. I considered writing just one post, but it would be very long, and I think it’s better to digest the information in stages. These are the points that I will be covering (the list will be expanded as posts are published):

Feel free to jump to the post that interests you the most.

What is Leishmaniasis or Leishmaniosis?

Leishmaniasis or Leishmaniosis is a disease caused by a protozoa parasite from the Leishmania species. The parasites are transmitted through the bite of more than 90 different sandfly species (World Health Organization (WHO) 2018).

It comes in three different forms (World Health Organization (WHO) 2018):

  • Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL, also known as kala-azar): This is the most serious form of the disease, as it can be fatal if left untreated. Its symptoms are fever, weight loss, anaemia and enlargement of the liver and spleen. Its mainly located in Brazil, East Africa and in South-East Asia.
  • Cutaneous Leishmaniasis (CL): This is the most common form of the disease. It causes skin lesions on exposed parts of the body and can result in disability. Most cases (95%) occur in the Americas, the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis: This form affects the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat, and can result in their destruction. Most cases are located in Bolivia, Peru, Ethiopia and Brazil.

Both visceral and cutaneous leishmaniasis can affect dogs (Pet MD n.d.). Note that developing one form of leishmaniasis or the other depends on parasite metastasis. It is known that some parasites remain at the skin level while others may eventually attack the organs (McCall, Zhang, and Matlashewski 2013). Hence, cutaneous leishmaniasis may result in visceral leishmaniasis.

Some breeds and particular dogs are more prone or more resistant to the parasite. In particular, German Shepherds, Boxer, Rottweiler and Cocker Spaniel are more susceptible to the disease; whereas breeds such as the Ibizan Hound are more resistant to it (Ribeiro et al. 2018).

This is Syd. She was diagnosed with Leishmaniasis at 4, and she lived with the disease until she was 10. So there is hope!

Endemic areas

The areas where leishmaniasis is considered to be endemic are southern Europe, the Middle East, South America and Central Asia (Brianti et al. 2016). Despite this, experts have pointed out that it is expanding and cases have been detected in areas such as the USA. In many instances, it is believed that the disease has been imported from Europe, so you should be careful if your dog ever travels to southern Europe, in particular Spain, Italy and southern France (Petersen and Barr 2009).

If you live in an endemic area, I would recommend you make sure to implement some preventive measures, which I will talk about in a later post. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Graphic Source: Wikipedia. Author: Lokal_Profil. Licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license. No changes have been made.


Brianti, Emanuele, Ettore Napoli, Gabriella Gaglio, Luigi Falsone, Salvatore Giannetto, Fabrizio Solari Basano, Roberto Nazzari, et al. 2016. “Field Evaluation of Two Different Treatment Approaches and Their Ability to Control Fleas and Prevent Canine Leishmaniosis in a Highly Endemic Area.” Edited by Gad Baneth. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 10 (9): e0004987. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0004987.

McCall, Laura-Isobel, Wen-Wei Zhang, and Greg Matlashewski. 2013. “Determinants for the Development of Visceral Leishmaniasis Disease.” Edited by Chetan E. Chitnis. PLoS Pathogens 9 (1): e1003053. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003053.

Pet MD. n.d. “Parasite Infection (Leishmaniasis) in Dogs.” Pet MD (blog). Accessed September 4, 2018. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_dg_leishmaniasis?page=show.

Petersen, Christine A., and Stephen C. Barr. 2009. “Canine Leishmaniasis in North America: Emerging or Newly Recognized?” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 39 (6): 1065–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvsm.2009.06.008.

Ribeiro, Raul Rio, Marilene Suzan Marques Michalick, Manoel Eduardo da Silva, Cristiano Cheim Peixoto dos Santos, Frédéric Jean Georges Frézard, and Sydnei Magno da Silva. 2018. “Canine Leishmaniasis: An Overview of the Current Status and Strategies for Control.” BioMed Research International 2018: 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/3296893.

World Health Organization (WHO). 2018. “Leishmaniasis.” WHO | World Health Organization (blog). March 14, 2018. http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/leishmaniasis.

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