Leishmaniasis in Dogs: What it is, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Leishmaniosis en Perros: Qué es, Causas, Síntomas y Tratamiento

Leishmaniasis is a mosquito-borne disease that affects dogs and humans in different parts of the world. It is a complex condition that can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and can have serious consequences for your dog's health. In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know about leishmaniasis in dogs, from how the disease is transmitted to how to prevent and treat it. We'll also discuss common symptoms, treatment options, and preventative measures you can take to help protect your dog from this dangerous disease. If you are concerned about your pet's health and want to learn more about leishmaniasis, keep reading!

What is Leishmaniosis and how is it transmitted?

Canine leishmaniasis (or leishmaniosis) is a complex parasitic disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. It is caused by Leishmania, a microscopic parasite that is transmitted to dogs by the bite of a small insect (the sandfly or “sand fly”) often incorrectly called a “mosquito”. This disease can affect humans and animals, including dogs, and is especially common in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. 

When the mosquito bites an infected dog, the parasite is transmitted through the mosquito's saliva and enters the dog's bloodstream, where it multiplies and can cause disease.

It is important to note that leishmaniasis is not transmitted directly from dog to dog, nor from dog to human. The mosquito is the sole vector of the disease, which means that prevention of the mosquito bite is the key to preventing leishmaniasis.

Types of Canine Leishmaniasis

Cutaneous leishmaniasis

Cutaneous leishmaniasis in dogs is a form of leishmaniasis that primarily affects the skin and mucous membranes of dogs. It is caused by different species of Leishmania, which are transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Visceral leishmaniasis

Visceral leishmaniasis in dogs is a serious disease caused by the Leishmania infantum species, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. This disease can affect various internal organs, such as the spleen, liver, and kidneys, and can be fatal if not treated properly.

Symptoms of Leishmaniosis in dogs.

The symptoms of leishmaniasis in dogs can vary depending on the form of the disease (cutaneous or visceral), the severity of the infection, and the response of the dog's immune system. Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with leishmaniasis in dogs:

  • Weight loss and appetite
  • weakness and lethargy
  • intermittent fever
  • Anemia
  • Flaking and hair loss around the eyes, ears, and nose. Not to be confused with hair loss in dogs
  • Skin lesions, such as nodules, ulcers, and scaling (in the case of cutaneous leishmaniasis)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Enlarged spleen and liver
  • Difficulty walking or running
  • Bleeding from the nose, gums, or skin
  • Conjunctivitis and uveitis (inflammation of the eye)
  • Kidney and liver problems

Be careful, not all dogs infected with Leishmania present symptoms of the disease and not every symptom means that it is a sign that they suffer from it, many times they are symptoms of stress in dogs or they may even have been infected with the famous distemper in dogs and the symptoms are confused with this disease. For this reason, it is essential to carry out diagnostic tests and early treatment to find out if they suffer from it and, if so, to prevent the transmission of the disease and protect the health of dogs and people.

How is canine leishmaniasis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of canine leishmaniasis is based on a combination of clinical signs, serological tests, and laboratory tests. Here we share some of the most common tests used for the diagnosis of canine leishmaniasis:

Serological tests

These tests detect the presence of antibodies against Leishmania in the dog's blood. Serological tests are helpful in diagnosing the infection, but they do not always indicate whether or not the dog is sick. It is important to note that dogs can have positive antibodies to Leishmania without being sick, since they can be asymptomatic carriers.


This test involves taking samples of the dog's skin lesions, lymph nodes, or bone marrow for examination under a microscope. Cytology can detect the presence of amastigotes (intracellular form of Leishmania) in the dog's tissues.


This test involves removing a tissue sample from the dog for examination under a microscope to detect the presence of Leishmania amastigotes.

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)

This test detects the genetic material of Leishmania in samples of the dog's blood, bone marrow or other tissues. PCR is a very sensitive and specific test, but it can be expensive and require specialized equipment.

It is important to note that no diagnostic test is completely accurate on its own, so several tests are often used in combination to increase diagnostic accuracy. Furthermore, the diagnosis of leishmaniasis in dogs can be difficult due to the variety of symptoms and the possibility of dogs being asymptomatic carriers. For this reason, regular diagnostic testing is recommended for dogs living in leishmaniasis-endemic areas.

Treatment for Leishmaniasis in dogs

Treatment of leishmaniasis in dogs focuses on reducing the parasite load and repairing skin damage if ulcers occur. The drugs of first choice to treat Leishmania are meglumine antimonate, allopurinol, amphotericin B, or a combination of both; In case of resistance to treatment, miltefosine can be administered. These drugs are expensive to use and must be administered carefully as they are highly toxic. Once the patient is stabilized, he should be monitored every time he becomes depressed as there is a strong risk of relapse.

Measures to prevent Leishmaniosis.

Here are some measures you can take to prevent leishmaniasis in dogs:

Avoid high risk areas

Leishmaniasis is more common in areas where there is a high density of mosquitoes, such as humid and warm areas. Avoiding high-risk areas during times of peak mosquito activity (dawn and dusk) can reduce dogs' exposure to insects.

Mosquito repellents

Using dog-specific mosquito repellents can be effective in reducing the number of mosquito bites and therefore the risk of infection. Repellents should be applied according to the manufacturer's instructions and with caution on dogs with sensitive skin.


It is of special interest for dogs living in endemic areas. They do not prevent infection but they do reduce the risk of disease progression and the likelihood of developing clinical signs. They should only be applied to dogs that have previously tested negative for a serological blood test.

Periodic tests

Regular testing for leishmaniasis in dogs can help detect the disease in its early stages and initiate treatment early, which may improve the prognosis.

Proper hygiene

Maintaining good hygiene in dogs, such as bathing them and keeping their skin and coat clean and free of external parasites, can help reduce the risk of infection.

It is important to remember that no preventive measure is 100% effective, but combining several of them can significantly reduce the chances of infection. Also, if you suspect any symptoms, we recommend taking your dog to the vet for proper evaluation and early treatment if necessary.

What can I do if my dog ​​has Leishmaniasis? recommendations

If you suspect that your dog may be infected with leishmaniasis, it is crucial that you see a veterinarian immediately for proper evaluation and diagnosis. If the infection is confirmed, your vet will recommend a specific treatment and provide you with detailed instructions on how to care for your dog during the treatment process. Leishmaniasis is a serious disease that requires specialized veterinary care. Following these recommendations, along with proper treatment, can help control symptoms and improve your dog's quality of life.

And since at Waggy's we know that visiting the vet can be frustrating for your dog and our pets are often aggressive animals , so their behavior is difficult to tame, we have a variety of products with CBD for dogs that will help calm that stress . and anxiety in dogs during the consultation, so that it can be attended by the vet without major complications.

Leishmaniosis in humans, can I infect my dog?

Leishmaniasis is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Although transmission from dogs to humans is rare, it is important to take preventative measures to reduce the risk of infection in humans.

Leishmaniasis is a zoonotic disease, that is to say that it can be transmitted from animals to humans, for this reason there is a belief that the dog can transmit this disease to humans, which is a mistake since Leishmania is transmitted only through the bite of an infected female sandfly. However, to be able to present the disease, the affected person must have a compromised or immature immune status, as is the case of children under 2 years of age, the elderly or a population with some type of autoimmune disease.


In conclusion, leishmaniasis is a serious disease in dogs that can affect many body systems and requires specialized veterinary care and preventive measures to reduce the risk of infection. However, dogs infected with leishmaniasis can lead normal, happy lives and live for many years with proper treatment.

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