Canine leishmaniasis is an infectious disease caused by a parasite called Leishmania infantum, which is transmitted by the bite of small flying insects (phlebotomines).
These insects have a worldwide distribution and can be found in several regions of southern Europe, including Portugal, Spain, Italy and southern France.
Dogs with access to the outdoors, short-haired and generally, animals aged 2 years or older, are at greater risk of being infected. However, cats and other animals can also get leishmaniasis.
As this is a disease transmitted by small flying insects, the arrival of warmer temperatures marks the beginning of the period of greatest activity for sandflies (generally from April to September), and therefore there is a greater risk of infection.
The most common clinical signs of leishmaniasis include excessive nail growth, hair loss (usually around the mouth, nose, eyes, and ears), skin lesions, and weight and muscle loss.
Leishmaniasis can have a variable progression, depending on the health status and response of the animals' immune system – meaning that after infection, clinical signs can appear in a range of 1 month to 2 or more years. In some cases, infected animals may not even show any signs of the disease.
The parasites affect internal organs such as the bone marrow, lymph nodes, liver and spleen, and blood disorders, kidney and joint damage are quite common.
So far there is no cure for leishmaniasis, and the treatment that allows the control of the disease is prolonged and requires great commitment on the part of the owners.
The best way to fight the disease is through prevention – preventing insect bites (by using repellents and deworming) and by boosting the immune system through vaccination.