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Leishmaniosis (Visceral Leishmaniasis) in Dogs

By Otto M. Radostits, CM, DVM, MSc, DACVIM (Deceased), Professor Emeritus, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan ; David A. Ashford, DVM, MPH, DSc, Assistant Area Director, International Services, APHIS, USDA ; Craig E. Greene, DVM, MS, Professor, Department of Small Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Eugene D. Janzen, DVM, MVS, Professor, Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary ; Bert E. Stromberg, PhD, Professor, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota ; Max J. Appel, DMV, PhD, Professor Emeritus ; Stephen C. Barr, BVSc, MVS, PhD, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University ; J. P. Dubey, MVSc, PhD, Microbiologist, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA ; Paul Ettestad, DVM, MS, State Public Health Veterinarian, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health ; Kenneth R. Harkin, DVM, DACVIM, Associate Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Delores E. Hill, PhD, Parasitologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture ; Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Small Animal Consultant ; Jodie Low Choy, BVSc, BVMS, IVAS Cert, Menzies School of Health Research; University Avenue Veterinary Hospital, Northern Territory, Australia ; Barton W. Rohrbach, VMD, MPH, DACVPM, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Medicine, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University of Tennessee ; J. Glenn Songer, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, University of Arizona ; Joseph Taboada, DVM, DACVIM, Professor and Associate Dean, Office of Student and Academic Affairs, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University ; Charles O. Thoen, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University ; John F. Timoney, MVB, PhD, Dsc, MRCVS, Keeneland Chair of Infectious Diseases, Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky ; Ian Tizard, BVMS, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Immunology; Director, Richard M. Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

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Leishmaniosis is a chronic, severe disease of humans, dogs, and certain rodents caused by single-celled protozoa of the genus Leishmania. Visceral leishmaniosis is characterized by skin lesions, disease of the lymph nodes, weight loss, anemia, lameness, and kidney failure. Occasionally, there may be bleeding from the nose or eye lesions.

Infection in dogs is prevalent in Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia, and the Mediterranean region. The disease is found in Foxhounds in North America. Isolated cases are diagnosed around the world in animals that have visited areas where the disease is well established.

A dog with leishmaniasis will often have bald patches and shedding with dry skin.

Leishmaniosis can be transmitted from dogs to people. Humans most frequently catch this disease when they are bitten by a sand fly or other insect that has previously bitten an infected animal or human. While there are only a very few human or animal cases in the US each year, worldwide there are about 1.5 million cases of cutaneous leishmaniosis and 500,000 cases of visceral leishmaniosis a year. Most human cases of visceral leishmaniosis are reported in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan, and Brazil.

The incubation period is quite variable, ranging from 3 months to several years. The signs vary but may include skin lesions, weight loss, poor appetite, local or generalized disease of the lymph nodes, eye lesions, kidney failure, nosebleed, lameness, and anemia. Occasionally, some dogs have chronic diarrhea or liver failure. The most common skin lesions are areas of baldness with severe dry skin shedding, usually beginning on the head and extending to the rest of the body. Other animals develop chronic ulceration, located particularly on the head and limbs. The signs invariably progress slowly.

The most reliable diagnostic test for canine leishmaniasis is direct observation of the parasite in bone marrow or lymph node smears. If your veterinarian suspects leishmaniosis, samples of bone marrow or fluid from the lymph nodes will be taken to confirm the diagnosis.

Drug treatment is available for dogs with visceral leishmaniosis and may last up to 6 months. Relapses after treatment are common. In areas where the disease is common, rapid treatment of infected dogs, control of stray and homeless dogs, and control of sand flies are recommended. At present, there is no effective vaccine.

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