Leishmaniosis, one of the most common diseases in dogs

Canine leishmaniasis is a serious disease, mainly affecting dogs, and is caused by a parasite that is transmitted through a bite from a mosquito. Since for the moment there is no cure, prevention is vital to fight against it.


4 May 2017


Leishmaniasis affects our pets, especially dogs and to a lesser degree cats, and can be fatal. The Mediterranean is a high-risk area because, due to heat and humidity, the mosquito that transmits it finds this a very hospitable habitat in which to survive. As soon as the hot weather hits, the rate of infection goes up. In Spain, there are two periods of maximum risk where there are more females transmitting the disease, which are in June and September-October.

Although the mosquito, called a phlebotomine, lives habitually in the countryside, it is such a small insect that it can often be found inside houses both in rural and urban areas, especially in hot weather when we open doors and windows. That is why it is important that, at least once a year, we visit the vet to have our pet thoroughly checked out, and to confirm that he/she has not contracted the disease.


Although it is not easy to detect, one of the commonest symptoms you may notice is the loss of hair around the eyes, ears and nose. Small wounds may appear on the animal's skin, especially on the head, and it may develop conjunctivitis. Abnormal growth of the dog’s nails is another of the symptoms of leishmaniosis. Although the dog can look fine, it may still have contracted the disease, since the incubation period of leishmaniosis is very variable and can be extended for several months.

In order to get a reliable diagnosis, a blood test must be performed, which can be requested at your veterinary clinic. Leishmaniosis has no cure and is a chronic disease, although the animal suffering from it can have a reasonable quality of life if treated and properly monitored by the veterinarian. Drugs exist that can be administered orally or by injection, and are directed at reducing the symptoms of the disease, but do not prevent a subsequent relapse. The treatment is expensive, but if it is administered properly following the specialist’s directions, the dog can live with it for years.

The first step: prevention

Currently there exists a vaccine that prevents the development of the disease. Unlike the first vaccine that came on the market a few years ago, this new vaccine has no significant side effects. It can be administered from when the dog is six months old and it is necessary to vaccinate it again each year. Its effectiveness is high, at about 70%, although the protection is not total. In addition, there are products such as collars, pipettes or sprays to prevent mosquito bites.

The only way for leishmaniasis to be transmitted is through the bite of the phlebotomius, so living with a dog that has developed the disease does not pose any risk to the health of its owners.

Leishmaniosis in cats

Although leishmaniasis mainly affects dogs, cats may also contract it. Those cats with low defences are the most likely to develop the disease. In general, the immune system of a healthy cat is able to control the infection caused by the parasite. Cats with leishmaniasis may have lesions on the skin, mucous membranes or eyes, or have ulcers and scabs. Other less common symptoms are lack of appetite, lack of energy or apathy. As with dogs, internally, leishmaniasis can affect the liver and kidneys. A common lesion in felines that present this pathology are nodules that are formed under the skin. They usually appear on the eyelids or the ears and are not painful, although they can also appear on any other part of the body of the cat, like the pads of the feet.

The means of prevention, detection and treatment of leishmaniasis in cats is identical to that of dogs. We can protect our cats from disease with pipettes, collars or sprays. A vaccine for cats does not yet exist.