What is Canine Leishmaniasis (Leish)? What should I consider if I want to adopt a dog with Leish?

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As an owner of two dogs with Leish (this is me and Barney and ex-APROP dog with Leish) and a volunteer at APROP I want to share with you some of the knowledge and resources I have found. There can be quite a bit of misconception about this disease and as we have have quite a few residents at APROP with Leish, I think it’s important we educate ourselves about this disease and how it can effect our dogs.

So what IS Leish? Its a vector-borne disease caused by a parasite and it is transmitted by female sandflies. This means that the dog needs to be bitten and infected by the sand fly to contract the Leish parasite. The disease cannot be transferred from dog to dog, or from dog to human either (a question that many people have) … the sand fly is the only vector. This means, that if you are considering adopting a dog with Leish and you live in the UK for example (where the sand fly is not present) then your dog can never pass on the disease to any other dog. Its important to know that the disease is not curable, but it is treatable and if correctly monitored and treated, dogs can have a good quality of life.

How do I know if my dog has Leish? If a dog has active Leish there will be visible signs. Normally, these are skin lesions, typically around the tips of the ears, around the mouth, on the feet and tail. This list is not exhaustive! The fail-safe way to know if your dog has Leish is to have a blood test done. There are specific tests for Leish, which will show if your dog has it and how severe it is.

Ok, so my dog has Leish, what now? Well that very much depends on the test results. Your vet will advise on the precise course of treatment. Typically if the Leish levels are low, then taking Allopurinol (a human gout medication) twice a day should be all that is necessary. If the levels are higher and there are visible signs on the dog (skin lesions for example) that the Leish is active, then a course of Glucantime or Milterforan will be prescribed. You will need blood tests every 6 months to monitor the Leish activity levels and medications can be altered based on these results.

What else do I need to know? You can vaccinate your dog against Leish. However, if they do have it and its caught early and treated properly, most dogs with Leish can live a full and happy life, it is not a death sentence. It’s important to keep your dog with Leish healthy, it’s own immune system is an awesome tool to fight the disease from within, so great quality food, a safe environment and lots of love and exercise will go a long way to making it strong.

Getting yourself a vet who is knowledgeable about Leish is very important, there is also support for Vets who do not know so much about the disease (for example many in the UK) www.leishvet.org They are a group of highly experienced vets from endemic countries and their website is written by vets and for vets. Lastly there is a Leish support group on Facebook with nearly 6000 members, called Living with Leish, where administrators provide free advice from diagnosis, to sourcing of drugs and treatment methods.

I hope this has been interesting to read, please do leave me any comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

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Ruth Martin

I have been volunteering at APROP since April 2018. You will normally find me there on Tuesday mornings, helping to care for, clean and feed the dogs. In 2019 I adopted Barney, a Podenco from APROP. In fact I have taken a distinct liking to the Podencos and some call me the Pod-Mother! I am also part of the adoptions team the fundraising team and I help by fostering dogs too. Helping animals brings me much joy and happiness into my life.

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Linda Craig
19 days ago

Very informative thank you

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