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Canine Leishmania (Leishmaniasis) LSH

What is canine leishmanial (LSH)?

Canine leishmaniasis (LSH) is a disease transmitted by Sandfly Mosquitoes (sandflies). The mosquito carries the Leishmania parasite in the blood of an infected dog it has bitten and transmits it to another.

What are the symptoms of canine leishmania?

Symptoms can start to appear from any time between one month to several years from first being infected. There are 2 types of Leishmaniasis seen in dogs. A visceral reaction affects the abdominal organs; kidney, spleen and liver. The symptoms of which are:-

  • Severe weight loss
  • Diarrhoea (diarrhea)
  • Vomiting
  • Nose bleeds
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive urination and thirst
  • Painful joints

A cutaneous reaction affects the skin and the following symptoms can be seen:-

  • Scaly skin and chapping around eyes, ears and muzzle, together with hair loss
  • Lesions on foot pads causing bleeding
  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Ulcers and hair loss on head and legs, leaving sore patches
  • Long or brittle nails

What are the causes of canine leishmania?

The disease is transmitted by sand flies, which are found in parts of mainland Europe (particularly the hotter Mediterranean countries), warmer regions of the world such as South America and southern Mexico. Cases have also been reported in Central America. Leishmania is rarely seen in the UK as Sandflies are not found here. The disease is only found in dogs, which have lived or travelled to affected countries where they have been bitten by a sandfly that has previously bitten an infected dog.

What are the risk factors of canine leishmania?

A dog’s reaction to infection very much depend on his immune system. He may effectively fight off and clear the infection, develop signs of the disease or harbour the disease and not show signs for months or years. Once diagnosed with an active infection there is no cure.  Careful monitoring of the disease and medication can control the symptoms to help maintain a good quality of life.  If an active infection is left untreated, it can spread throughout the body leading to liver or kidney failure, which can be fatal.


Your vet will want to hear some background history and about any possible exposure to sandflies.  The vet will want to rule out any other causes of your pet’s symptoms and will undertake a thorough physical examination, together with blood tests and urinalysis. Samples for laboratory analysis are likely to be taken from the skin, spleen, lymph gland and/or bone marrow.

What treatment can be given?

Leishmaniasis is not curable but is controllable if caught early and before any serious damage has occurred to the liver or kidney. Once receiving treatment, in the form of medication, many dogs will live long, happy and healthy lives.

How to prevent canine leishmania

Vaccination prior to infection and reducing an animal’s exposure to sandflies will help prevent the disease. If your dog is travelling abroad to an area where sandflies are prevalent, get them vaccinated prior to travelling. If your pet lives in an area where infection is common, from six months old, they can be given an initial course of injections followed by an annual booster.

A one off test is recommended prior to vaccination or if your pet has previously travelled to or lived in an area where sandflies are found.

Sandflies are most active during sunset to sunrise in the summer months, so avoid gardens, parklands and woodland during this period and preferably keep dogs inside while sandflies are most active outside.  In South America transmission occurs throughout the year, but peaks in the warmest months. It is also a good precaution to fit your dog with a mosquito repellent collar.