Leishmaniosis in dogs and cats

Hany Elsheikha
June 2016

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.

Leishmaniosis in dogs and cats
Leishmaniosis in dogs and cats

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