Vets are seeing an increasing number of cases of a serious vector-borne disease in dogs caused by infection with the protozoa Leishmania infantum.

A Phlebotomus species sandfly, a vector of leishmaniasis. Image: CDC/Frank Hadley Collins, director, center for global health and infectious diseases, University of Notre Dame.
A Phlebotomus species sandfly, a vector of leishmaniasis. Image: CDC/Frank Hadley Collins, director, center for global health and infectious diseases, University of Notre Dame.

While not endemic in the UK, more cases are being reported as owners increasingly travel with their dogs to, or adopt dogs from, countries where transmitting sandflies live, including Greece, Italy, Spain and southern France.

The issue is intensified by the fact no compulsory diagnostic test prior to dogs entering the UK exists for the disease.

A delay between infection and the manifestation of symptoms also means many owners are unaware their dog is unwell until they are back in the country.

More frequent cases

Paolo Silvestrini, a lecturer in small animal internal medicine at the University of Liverpool, said: “UK vets need to know about and learn to recognise this disease.

“Canine leishmaniasis is still not well known here in the UK. Vets would not have seen these cases 15 years ago, but they are becoming more frequent now as it becomes easier for pets to travel across Europe and the UK.”

Dr Silvestrini is lead author of the paper “Clinical leishmaniasis in dogs living in the UK”. Researchers retrospectively studied the medical records of dogs diagnosed with the condition at seven referral centres across the UK and found the prevalence was between 0.007% and 0.04%, with more cases in southern England.

It concluded, while rare, leishmaniasis should be considered in the UK if dogs have clinical signs and a history of travel from, or to, endemic countries.

Lectures

Another problem is the topic is not taught enough by vet schools, Dr Silvestrini said.

“I think [the schools] should be giving at least one or two lectures on these emerging infectious diseases that are becoming more frequent,” he said.

Dr Silvestrini lectures third-year University of Liverpool veterinary students and prepares CPD for postgraduates and graduates to ensure future vets are familiar with the disease.

  • Read the full story in the 7 November issue of Veterinary Times.
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