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 Alan Gandy

Leish and dogs in Spain

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When we moved to the peninsula from Lanzarote back in 2012 we’d never heard of  Leish (Canine Leishmaniasis to call it its proper name). It is found in dogs in tropical and sub-tropical areas.  But I do have to say I feel there is a certain paranoia attached to the disease.

A perfect example of such paranoia was a visitor to our house who, within seconds of walking into our place, diagnosed (or should I say declared without foundation as they weren’t actually a vet, far from it) one of our dogs as infected with the disease. Needless to say, the answer was a curt ‘no he isn’t’.


Lets get something clear about this article from the outset, this information is based on my own knowledge and reading and I make no claims to being an animal health expert. We will however include some further reading at the end of the article from people who ARE experts that will describe the problem far better than me or any armchair veterinarian (i.e. fellow pet owner) the causes, symptoms and treatment.

What exactly is Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by the Leishmania parasite which typically lives in infected sand flies.

Different species of the parasite cause each of the three forms of the disease (Cutaneous: skin. Visceral: internal. Mucocutaneous: nose, ear and throat) and it can affect humans too, but the following addresses Canine Leishmaniasis.

Who should be aware of Leishmaniasis?

It’s a problem worth knowing about for any dog owner living in or travelling to mainland Spain. But don’t panic; whilst the disease is incurable it is possible in most cases to control it. Most dogs can live normal and happy lives with the right treatment, although it can be fatal for some. According to one source I read “Infection does not invariably lead to illness. In fact, most infected dogs remain asymptomatic and may never develop clinical manifestations. In endemic regions, the prevalence of disease is often less than 10% and only about 1 in 5 infected dogs are considered likely to develop clinical disease.”

What causes Leishmaniasis?

Leish is caused by sand fly bites, and can transfer between animals through those sand flies moving on to other dogs and cross-contaminating them.

What are some of the symptoms of Leishmaniasis?

  • Skin problems: very often centralised around the muzzle, ears and eyes. The typical ring around their eyes, like glasses; lesions which will result in crusts on or around their ears, very often bleeding.
  • Nail problems: long and fast growing nails, very often incredibly hard, sometimes deformed
  • Lesions: the pads on their feet can be affected with lesions, sometimes bleeding
  • Other skin problems: loss of fur all over their body, usually starting with small patches of lesions.
  • Weight loss: affected dogs will very likely lose their appetite. If Leishmaniasis is already in an advanced state, it would mean that the internal organs (kidneys, liver) are affected and failing. Chronic diarrhoea is also very common.
  • General: affected dogs may have swollen joints, and/or swelling of their legs, have a fever and they may be less active and even unusually very very calm.

As with any human ailments… If in any doubt consult your vet and ask for a blood test and take their recommendations on future control and treatment.

Sources and further reading

  1. Companion Animal Parasite Council
  2. Vetstream
  3. leishmaniasis.info
  4. Wikipedia

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