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Leishmaniosis in dogs and cats

02 June 2016
9 mins read
Volume 7 · Issue 5


Leishmania are vector-borne protozoan parasites within the group known as the Kinetoplastids. Infection with these parasites can result in a range of clinical diseases dependent upon the infecting species. Leishmania infantum is the main species causing leishmaniosis in dogs and cats, as well as visceral and cutaneous forms of leishmaniosis in humans. Dogs are the main reservoir, but cats and other potential vertebrate reservoirs have been also reported. Sandflies are the main vector, but non-vectorial transmission (e.g. venereal, transplacental) is possible. Despite the lack of a gold-standard diagnostic test diagnosis of leishmaniosis is achieved mainly based on clinical signs, skin histopathology, serological detection of specific immune responses against Leishmania and molecular detection of the parasite DNA in tissues by using polymerase chain reaction. Correct and early diagnosis is essential for timely institution of treatment and for minimising the transmission of Leishmania from infected animals to vectors. Meglumine antimoniate and allopurinol are the most widely used anti-leishmanial drugs. Vaccination is also available, but only for dogs. The advent of effective insecticide-based preparations, impregnated collars or topical (‘spot-on’) formulations, and insights into the appropriate management of leishmaniosis lends a hopeful outlook for the future. This article discusses biology, epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of leishmaniosis in dogs and cats, and explains the importance of connecting clinical and research communities in a ‘One Health’ approach for effective surveillance and control of this disease.

Leishmania spp, intracellular protozoan parasites, are the causative agents of a spectrum of clinical diseases in humans and animals, collectively called ‘leishmaniosis’. Leishmania are endemic in more than 98 countries, mainly in the Mediterranean region, Africa, Southern Asia, and Latin America, affecting more than 1 million people per year and causing significant public health risks. Canine leishmaniosis (CanL) is caused by Leishmania infantum; the only Leishmania spp. reported in both Old (Africa, Asia, Europe) and New (the Americas) Worlds and can cause fatal disease in humans and dogs. In cats five Leishmania spp. have been identified. These include Leishmania amazonensis, Leishmania braziliensis, Leishmania mexicana, and Leishmania venezuelensis in the New World, and L. infantum in both the New and Old Worlds.

The prevalence of CanL in endemic regions (Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain) and its expansion towards new, non-endemic locations has increased in recent years, presumably because of the increased mobility of dogs, tourism (domestic and international) and climatic changes. Likewise, the past few years has witnessed the emergence of an increasing number of Leishmania infections in cats from endemic areas in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. Also, four cases have been diagnosed in Switzerland in cats that had travelled to or been imported from Spain. The prevalence of leishmaniosis is predicted to continue to grow, creating more opportunities for the establishment of new endemic Leishmania foci in central and northern Europe (Pennisi, 2015).

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