Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by the bite of a sandfly. When the sandfly bites the parasite is passed on to the dog. It attacks the immune system which leaves the dog unable to fight infections and disease’s as well as a healthy one. The maximum risk of infection in our part of Spain is between May – September. At the moment there is no cure for canine leishmaniasis as the parasite continues to live in the bone marrow but there are drugs available to manage the disease. The main drugs used in Spain are Glucantime, Alopurinol and Levamisol.
Glucantime – An injection given into a muscle in the back leg – Kills the parasite
Alopurinol – Tablet – Given to protect the kidneys
Levamisol – Tablet – Antiparasite and increases the dogs defence’s
There are ways to protect your dog although none are 100% effective. A Scalibor collar seems to be the most effective, they are still active when wet and also control tick and fleas. Care should be taken when fitting a new collar as some dogs can have a reaction to them.
Rocky – Black Labrador, Bruno – Leonberger and Khumbu – Siberian Husky
We first noticed something wrong with Rocky when his coat became dull, had scurfy skin and began to loose weight even with a good appetite. A local vet took some blood and put him on a course of tablets. Some months later he was still loosing weight, was loosing hair and began to get lesions. We took him to another vet, an English speaking one, who again took some blood. The results came back as leishmaniasis positive and a count of over 5000. He immediately started treatment. I had to give him 2 injections of Glucantime every other day for 12 days, 6 days of injections. The injection is given in a muscle of the back leg and can become progressively more painful as the course goes on. There is also a nerve that runs down the leg so you have to be quite accurate.
Rocky was hit quite badly by his treatment, imagine your body being ill already and then having to be pumped full of poison to cure you, I guess its similar to treatment for cancer! We were warned that he would feel quite ill whilst the injections were happening. I would cook him chicken, sit in the kennel and hand feed him. Day by day he got a little stronger and when the injections finished he started the tablet medication. He was also put onto a food to help protect his kidneys. He had one of each tablet every day. He was re-blood tested and the count had gone down to 2560. He continued on his daily tablets and we got our cheeky playful Rocky back.
One day Bruno had a nose bleed, it stopped, then a few hours later it started again. We took him to the vet who gave him something to stop the bleeding and took a blood test. His results came back as leishmaniasis positive, with a count of 80 which is low but still positive. The vet asked us to bring our other dog Khumbu a Siberian Husky to be blood tested and he came back as negative. Bruno started a course of the tablets but for a short time only.
Recently we noticed Rocky being a little off colour, nothing much but he just wasn’t himself. He was still wagging his tail and coming on daily walks. He went back to the vet for a blood test, his yearly test was nearly due, and the result showed that his count had gone up. All the dogs were given new Scalibor collars and Rocky started his injections again, it is common for dogs to have relapses. We then took Bruno and Khumbu for their nearly due blood test. Khumbu now had a count of 40 which is an inconclusive count and has to be retested in 6 months time. Bruno’s count had come back as 2560!
Rocky finished his injections but was not responding well at all, we knew he was going to take a knock from these injections but this time something was different, he was behaving as if he was blind. The vet tested his eye sight and found that his pupils were slow to react to different light. It turns out he had had a reaction to the newly fitted Scalibor collar whilst having his injections.
This is where Rockys story takes a sad turn. His collar was removed immediately, his neck was washed and he was given various medications to try and combat the poison. On his last day, he was a happy dog, wagging his tail and walking to the car for his trip to the vet (I honestly thought then that he was going to get over this). That afternoon he deteriorated. He was passing liquid diarrhea with a lot of blood in it. In a matter of 2 hours, unfortunately his kidneys could not rid his body of the toxins and the kindest thing for Rocky was to put him to sleep. He is now out of pain and at peace.
Because all this was happening, Bruno’s treatment was delayed until it was understood what was happening to Rocky. Bruno started his injections yesterday. I have spent a week researching this awful disease and trying to work out what is best for Bruno. The research all pointed to immediate treatment. I nervously gave him his injections, (I had lost my confidence from dealing with Rocky) but he was a good boy, stood still for me and concentrated on his biscuit that he was being fed. Hopefully with Bruno being young and otherwise healthy dog he will be one of the lucky ones and not get anymore clinical signs.
Our vet has been great and was always available for Rocky. We thank him for all that he tried to do for Rocky.
From doing some research and foruming, we have found that black Labrador’s seem to be very susceptible to this disease! Is it coincidence? Bad breeding? Who knows.
On a brighter note there is a vaccine that is in the later stages of its trial, should it prove succesful, then it maybe available in 2/3 years time and could be a revolution for animal and human health in many places in the world.
A good information site about canine leishmaniasis is called Leishmaniasis. I’m not sure how up to date it is but the general information on understanding the disease very useful.
A study has been carried out in the Alpujarras region of Andalucia and this link will take you to the results page.
If anyone has any other sites that maybe of use please let me know what they are. I think there is a lack of information available to the people like us, who came originally from a country that is canine leishmaniasis free.
Another disease that I have been informed about which has very similar signs to Leishmaniasis is Ehrlichiosis and is transmitted by ticks.
As you can see it is a complete minefield out there, I’m no expert, these are just my thoughts and my experience with canine leishmaniasis.