The Adventures of Django and Arya


Don’t be fooled by the name, as sandflies are mostly found in woodland areas, forests and gardens, rather than sandy shores. After sunset during the warm, summer season in many countries, sandflies are particularly active. The female sandfly (Phlebotomine perniciosus) is the natural vector of Leishmania parasites, rendering them a deadly danger to dogs in southern European countries such as Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Humans, cats, horses and other mammals can also develop Leishmaniasis, but dogs are significantly more susceptible to the disease, and the consequences are more significant. In some cases, Leishmaniasis is fatal. However, the good news is that you can protect your dog from contracting a Leishmania parasite by using an anti-sandfly collar such as the Scalibor Dog Protection Band. In addition, Leisguard Syrup can also be given to your dog during specific months of the year, or you might opt for the annual Leishmaniasis Vaccination. A Seresto Cat Collar is usually recommended for cat Leishmaniasis prevention. In order to prevent your cat or dog from developing Leishmaniasis, your vet will advise the specific pet travel safety strategy to adopt for your destination. However, there is currently no medication or treatment to prevent your cat or dog from being infected a Leishmania parasite, therefore a multi-method approach should be used for maximum effect.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Which Countries have Sandflies with Leishmania?

Leishmaniasis was originally a disease only found near the Mediterranean, but recent research has found that it’s reached parts of North West Italy. Incidents of Leishmaniasis have also began appearing in the USA and Canada, with cases in 22 US states and two Canadian provinces.

In fact, in the USA, Leishmaniasis disease is endemic in foxhound dog breeds, and there have been various kennel outbreaks. At the moment, the reason for sandflies attraction to foxhounds is unclear.

While sandflies aren’t present in the United Kingdom (UK), there’s been recent instances of Canine Leishmaniasis in the UK after dogs have holidayed with their owner around the Mediterranean.

Asian countries have performed studies in recent years relating to sandflies carrying Leishmania parasites. For instance, in Thailand, 3340 wild female sandflies were captured, and none were found to be infected with Leishmania.

Unfortunately, humans can also develop Leishmaniasis from sandflies infected with the infection, particularly in tropical climates such as India, Nepal, Brazil and Sudan. There are approximately 700,000 to 1 million new human Leishmaniasis cases annually (World Health Organisation (WHO), March 2020). Human Leishmaniasis is present in over 100 countries.

Which Species of Sandfly carry Leishmania?

Over 90 species of female sandflies carry Leishmania, with over 20 variants of the parasite. The WHO has attributed growing numbers of Leishmania infected sandflies to man-made environmental issues, such as deforestation and irrigation systems.

In addition, different sandfly species have significant habitual, and inherent, differences that effect their efficacy in being Leishmania vectors. This includes:

  • varying feeding and breeding habits
  • how far they can travel

There are five types of Leishmania Parasite:

  • Leishmania infantum
    Southern Europe & Middle East
  • Leishmania donovani
    Southern Europe & Middle East
  • Leishmania chagasi
    Central & South America
  • Leishmania braziliensis
    Central & South America
  • Leishmania mexicana
    Central & South America

Sandfly Leishmania Disease Transmission to Cats & Dogs

Canine Leishmaniasis is the result when a Leishmania parasite is transferred to a dog through a bite from an infected female sandfly. Only the female Phlebotomine feeds on mammals, and does so in order to produce eggs. 

If untreated, Canine Leishmaniasis can result in the death of an infected dog within 12 months, usually due to kidney failure.

Cats can also develop Leishmaniasis if they’re a blood meal for an infected sandfly. However, the severity of Feline Leishmaniasis tends to be less significant than in their canine counterparts.

Sandfly Bites Infected Host

When a female sandfly bites a host with Leishmaniasis infection, the sandfly ingests macrophages infected with Leishmania amastigotes. Inside the sandfly, these Leishmania amastigotes are transformed inside macrophages, and become Leishmania promastigotes. Therefore, the sandfly acts as an intermediary host for Leishmania parasites, so that they can be passed on to mammals. Leishmaniasis disease can only be developed by mammals.

Infected Sandfly Bites Mammal

When a female sandfly carrying the Leishmania parasite bites a mammal, they transfer Leishmania promastigotes to the host. Inside the host, whether that be a cat, dog or other mammal, the Leishmania promastigotes are transformed inside macrophages, into Leishmania amastigotes. These amastigotes then divide and multiply in the cells and tissue of the host. At this stage, the mammal host develops Leishmaniasis disease.

leishmaniasis treatment prevention cure medicine dogs cats pets sandflies countries leishmania parasite
Sandfly Leishmania Life Cycle in Cats & Dogs

Symptoms of Leishmaniasis in Cats & Dogs?

If your cat or dog develops Leishmaniasis after being bitten by an infected sandfly, there are some outward symptoms that may appear. These include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nose bleeds
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Severe symptoms of Leishmaniasis disease manifest in the cutaneous (skin) and visceral (internal) organs. In dogs, this may result in:

Cutaneous Symptoms

  • Alopecia
  • Leishmaniasis skin lesions
  • Ulcerative or exfoliative dermatitis

Visceral Symptoms

  • Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
  • Kidney failure resulting in increased urination and drinking
  • Ocular signs
  • Progressive loss of weight with decreased appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Organ Failure
  • Mild Heart Attack

It’s important to be aware that Leishmaniasis is a serious zoonotic disease that can be fatal when left un-treated. The only effective prevention of Canine or Feline Leishmaniasis is to avoid sandflies, but this isn’t always possible when you travel with your cat or dog. However, sandfly protection collars, such as the Scalibor Dog Protection Band and Seresto Cat Collar have been scientifically proven to repel sandflies.

In addition, for dog Leishmaniasis protection when you travel to a country with a Leishmaniasis presence, either Leisguard Syrup or the Leishmaniasis Vaccine are recommended.

Consequences of Leishmaniasis in Pets

In both cats and dogs, one of the most serious consequences is kidney failure, which can result in death. However, if Leishmaniasis is treated quickly, this is usually avoided.

While dogs tend to develop Leishmaniasis if bitten by an infected sandfly, cats, on the other hand, are less likely to develop active Leishmaniasis. As with mosquitoes and Heartworm, cats just aren’t accommodating hosts for Leishmania parasites.

If your cat or dog does cultivate Leishmaniasis disease, the sooner they’re diagnosed and treated, the better. Early diagnosis of Leishmaniasis in pets tends to have a brighter prognosis.

Not all cats and dogs infected by a Leishmania parasite develop active Leishmaniasis infection, and the reasons for this aren’t known.

How Long does Leishmaniasis last in Cats & Dogs

Active Leishmaniasis disease is considered a lifelong condition, and repeated treatments may be required throughout the life of your cat or dog.

Can Dogs with Leishmaniasis Pass it to Other Pets & Humans?

Very rarely, a healthy dog can be infected if they are in close contact with a dog with open skin Leishmaniasis lesions. This is also the case for children under 2 years, and adults with a compromised immune system. It is unusual for the disease to be transmitted to the puppies of an infected female.

However, if a sandfly bites an infected dog, that sandfly becomes infected with Leishmania. Then, it may take a blood meal from a human or other pet in the household, so there’s a possibility that the Leishmania parasite will be transmitted. Therefore, a sandfly repellent collar must be used on all dogs with an active Leishmania infection. But, of course, you should use one to prevent Leishmaniasis infection in your dog in the first place!

Leishmaniasis Prevention Treatments & Medicine for Dogs

Thankfully, there are effective Leishmaniasis treatments available to protect your dog. The combination of Leishmaniasis preventative measures and treatments that you’ll deploy for your dog depend on your pet travel destination of choice, together with the time of year.

  • Leishmaniasis Prevention

    A Scalibor Dog Protection Band is the first port of call to prevent sandfly bites. The Scalibor Dog Collar repels sandflies, with the effects lasting up to 6 months. In addition, these all-round dog collars also protect your dog from mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Leishmaniasis Protection

    Here in Portugal, we give our 3 dogs a daily dose of Leisguard Syrup during the months of June and October. The measurement of Leishmaniasis medicine depends on the weight of your dog, with a daily dose of 1ml for every 10kg of body weight. You can drop the liquid directly on your dog’s tongue, or mix it with their food each day.

    The active ingredient in this Leishmaniasis dog treatment is Domperidone, which reduces the risk of your dog developing an active infection and clinical disease. 

    Leisguard Syrup is an effective Leishmaniasis prevention treatment, as it works to reduce the risk of your pet developing an active infection or clinical disease. In addition, if a dog does develop Leishmaniasis, the Leisguard Syrup controls the clinical progression.

    A Leishmaniasis Vaccine is also an effective treatment, when used with a sandfly protection collar. While the Leishmaniasis Vaccine doesn’t protect your dog from catching Leishmaniasis, it teaches their immune system to combat the parasite.

In some countries, such as Portugal and Spain, or other Mediterranean locations where there is a known Leishmaniasis threat, your vet will advise you to give your dog Leisguard Syrup or the Leishmaniasis Vaccine to protect them from disease transmission by sandflies. Always check with your vet the most appropriate treatments for the country you are visiting.

Whether you prefer to administer the Leisguard Syrup or choose the Leishmaniasis Vaccination, a sandfly collar is the first line of defence to protect your dog from catching Leishmaniasis.

Leishmaniasis Prevention, Treatments & Medicine for Cats

To date, there’s been few active Leishmaniasis cases in cats, as they’re bodies deal with the Leishmania parasite more effectively than dogs. As such, there’s less demand for Leishmania prevention products for cats. However, the Seresto Cat Collar has been found to be effective in deterring sandflies from using a cat as their next meal. Scientists found that the combination of 10% imidacloprid and 4.5% flumethrin in the Seresto Cat Collar are effective in repelling sandflies.

At the moment, an additional treatment for cats, like Leisguard Syrup or the Leishmaniasis Vaccine for dogs, is not available. This is due to the low Leishmaniasis disease rate found in cats, therefore a prevention collar is deemed to provide enough additional protection.

As with the Scalibor Dog Protection Band, the Seresto Cat Collar also protects against fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.

Active Leishmaniasis Disease Treatments for Cats & Dogs

Founded in Italy at a World Leishmania Forum in 2005, LeishVet sets criteria for treating dogs that have tested positive for Leishmaniasis. As a non-profit scientific organisation, LeishVet has published guidelines for:

Canine Leishmaniasis Treatment

In order to determine the appropriate treatment for your dog, LeishVet divides Leishmaniasis into 4 groups. A different approach is recommended depending on the stage identified by your veterinarian:

  • Stage 1 – Mild Disease
    Observation and monitoring by licensed veterinarian
    allopurinol plus meglumine antimoniate or miltefosine for a short time
  • Stage 2 – Moderate Disease
    Allopurinol plus meglumine antimoniate or miltefosine
  • Stage 3 – Severe Disease
    Allopurinol plus meglumine antimoniate or miltefosine
  • Stage 4 – Very Severe Disease
    Individual treatment as advised by veterinarian, in line with

The length of treatment for dogs at each stage is in line with the severity of Leishmaniasis. As the most serious consequence of Canine Leishmaniasis is kidney failure, which can be fatal, duration of treatment is deciphered by your veterinarian by the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS)

Feline Leishmaniasis Treatment

At present, there aren’t any published studies for Feline Leishmaniasis treatments. However, LeashVet provides guideline for cat Leishmaniasis treatment, using the same medicines as for dogs.

When travelling in Europe, you can also check this map for any known phlebotomine species in the area.

If you notice any symptoms in your dog, please seek veterinary advice immediately. The sooner Leishmaniasis is identified and treated, the better.

Remember to look at other ways to keep your pet safe on vacation, and leave a review for your chosen destination!

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