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Leishmaniasis in dogs: symptoms, treatment and prevention

Leishmaniasis is one of the typical Mediterranean diseases that dogs can become infected with. In contrast to Lyme disease, the risk of infection is still very high mainly in southern Europe. However, there are now also isolated cases of leishmaniasis in dogs in England.

If the disease is not diagnosed and treated, it usually ends in death for affected dogs. You should therefore know which symptoms to look out for, how to prevent infection and how leishmaniasis can be treated in your dog.

What is leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease caused by unicellular blood parasites (leishmaniasis). If your dog becomes infected with leishmaniasis, the protozoa nest in the macrophages (scavenger cells) of his organism.

There they multiply, destroy the cell walls and penetrate further into the body of the quadruped, where they can attack cells in the spleen, the lymph nodes, the liver and the bone marrow.

Of the three different forms of leishmaniasis in Europe, visceral leishmaniasis is the most common. It mainly affects organs such as the liver and the spleen.

Leishmaniasis life cycle diagram

How is a dog infected with leishmaniasis?

Butterfly flies and sand flies are responsible for the transmission of leishmaniasis to dogs. If an infected mosquito bites your dog, the pathogens can penetrate its organism during bloodsucking.

At present, sand flies are mainly found in the warm areas around the Mediterranean Sea, so the risk of infection with leishmaniasis is particularly high there. However, as temperatures have been rising for years, sand flies are increasingly spreading in Germany as well. Even if the number of cases is still very low, it is quite possible that your dog gets infected with leishmaniasis here.

Leishmaniasis in dogs: these symptoms occur

After an incubation period of two months up to several years, your dog may experience the first non-specific symptoms of an infection with leishmaniasis. It is not possible to draw any conclusions about a specific disease at this time.

The first signs of leishmaniasis in dogs may include the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Lassitude
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

If you do not take action at this time, the infection with leishmaniasis may subsequently manifest itself with further symptoms:

  • Hair loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Blood in stool 
  • Scaly rashes on body and face
  • Nosebleeds
  • A strong growth of the claws
  • A conspicuously pain-sensitive abdomen

If your dog's leishmaniasis is not treated, there is a good chance that he will not survive the disease and succumb to kidney failure.

By the way, dogs living in the risk areas often do not show any symptoms of leishmaniasis because their body has formed antibodies to protect them.

Diagnosis of leishmaniasis in dogs

If you are afraid that your dog has become infected with leishmaniasis, you should not lose any time and immediately consult a veterinarian. After an external examination of the animal and a conversation with you in which he asks you whether you have travelled with your dog to Southern Europe, the veterinarian checks whether further tests are necessary.

To diagnose leishmaniasis in your dog, the vet will take a tissue sample from the bone marrow or lymph nodes of the four-legged friend. Alternatively, he can also carry out a blood test.

Leishmaniasis in dogs: treatment and chances of recovery

A complete cure of the leishmaniasis in your dog is unfortunately not possible, because the leishmania are firmly embedded in his cells. The treatment of the disease is therefore about reducing the symptoms as much as possible. If your dog was diagnosed and treated for leishmaniasis at an early stage, permanent damage can usually be prevented.

At least abroad there are a number of medicines available for leishmaniasis treatment. However, as these are not approved in Germany, your veterinarian must resort to alternatives. These include, for example, preparations such as miltefosin or allopurinol, which are administered individually or together to the diseased animal.

Attention when treating with Allopurinol

If your dog is treated for leishmaniasis with Allopurinol, it is important that you use a low-purine dog food to feed the four-legged friend. This is because taking the medication prevents the breakdown of purine in his body. As a result, the risk of cystitis and the formation of urinary stones increases.

For this reason, we recommend feeding dogs suffering from leishmaniasis our cold-pressed dry food Naturgut-Schmaus and our delicious wet food Landgut-Menu. Both varieties contain hypoallergenic insect protein from the larvae of black soldier flies and are therefore characterised by their very low purine content.

In addition please make sure that your dog drinks plenty of fresh water to further reduce the risk of the formation of urinary stones and urinary crystals, such as xanthine crystals.

In addition, a dietary supplement with Bellfor Immune can help strengthen your dog's immune system and help him survive the leishmaniasis infection.

Natural help against diarrhoea in leishmaniasis

Dogs suffering from leishmaniasis often suffer from severe diarrhoea. In order to counteract these complaints and support the digestion of the four-legged friend, we recommend a dietary supplement with Gastro Relax.

Bellfor Gastro Relax is a completely natural preparation specially developed to relieve diarrhoea in dogs. As part of the treatment of leishmaniasis, it can therefore be a useful supplement to the measures taken by the veterinarian. 

Ways to protect your dog from leishmaniasis

Due to the fact that leishmaniasis in your dog cannot be completely cured and may even be fatal, you should do your utmost to prevent infection.

In this context, we strongly advise you not to take your dog with you when travelling south. The risk of leishmaniasis is still many times lower in Germany.

If this is not possible, you should at least follow the following rules:

  • No overnight stay outdoors (sandflies are nocturnal)
  • Keep windows closed during the night or attach a mosquito net.
  • Use an insect repellent with repellent action

We recommend that you use Bellfor ZEComplete as an insect repellent. The preparation of insect fat and various vegetable oils is characterized by a particularly high content of lauric acid. Lauric acid has a deterrent effect on mosquitoes, which significantly reduces the risk of sand mosquito bites and thus an infection with leishmaniasis.

As Bellfor ZEComplete are a purely natural product, their use in the form of spray or tasty biscuits is completely harmless for your dog.

Leishmaniasis in dogs: everything you need at a glance

Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease that can affect dogs, especially in the warm regions of southern Europe. The disease can be life-threatening and cannot be completely cured.

As a dog owner, you should therefore attach particular importance to prevention. To prevent your dog from being bitten by sand flies, the main carriers of leishmaniasis, we recommend the use of Bellfor ZEComplete as a natural alternative to chemical insect repellents.

If your dog suffers from leishmaniasis, our Leishmaniasis Set can help to strengthen the immune system and thus support the effect of the medication. If the treatment is started early, the symptoms of leishmaniasis in your dog are very likely to be well under control.

Leishmaniose set

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