Leishmania: The chance of a dog catching Leishmania inSpain is extremely high, many veterinary surgeons put it as high as 30 to 35 percent. In reality, the figure is much higher because there are many stray dogs with the disease and the figure given applies only to dogs registered with a veterinary surgeon. It is an incurable disease and one that has been widely publicised here inSpain yet many people hear of it for the first time when they arrive inSpain from other parts ofEurope. However, there are still many dog owners who are not aware of this disease. Dr. David Hart, Lecturer in Parasitology at King’s College London calls it- "One of the most underrated diseases in the world".

Leishmania was discovered in 1900 by Scottish bacteriologist, Sir William Boog Leishman, while serving as a colonel with the British Army in India. This disease is classed as a tropical disease. Cats cannot contract it.

Over the years the disease has spread to other countries, sometimes under other names, the Sandfly disease being the most common. This name is misleading because the disease has nothing to do with sand or flies.  I never let my dog go on the beach because of the sandflies is an often heard remark. The beach has nothing to do with it. Your dog is equally at risk in town, country, woodland or wherever. Mediterranean disease is another name, even though it is found as far north as Lyon inFrance.

Leishmania is an immuno suppressive disease, which means that it breaks down the natural ability of the body to fight off diseases.  In this way it is vaguely similar to AIDS in humans.  There are two types of Leishmania: Cutaneous and Visceral.  Cutaneous affects the skin and Visceral attacks the internal organs. The best person to advise you about which kind your dog has is your vet. Each case is different, and so is the form the treatment will take.

Newcomers toSpain are surprised when they learn about Leishmania. They have rarely heard about it (if at all) in their own country. Visitors from Northern Europe who bring their dog with them for a holiday often comment that they wish they had not - and rightly so if, in their ignorance of the disease, they subjected their dogs to the possibility of contracting it.

Any dog can catch Leishmania but there is evidence to indicate that shorthaired dogs are more susceptible as obviously the offending mosquito can more easily penetrate the skin. Bear in mind two very important facts: there is no cure . However there are treatments which can afford an affected dog long periods of remission, often reminiscent of a cure. A dog with Leishmania in a mild degree can live to a very ripe old age.


What are the symptoms?  Watch out for prolonged nail growth, ulceration of the ear tips, thick dandruff, bald patches on the skin, sunglasses effect around the eyes, getting thin although eating well (in this latter case, check firstly for worms), whiteness of the cornea of the eyes. These are all warning signs that your dog could have Leishmania.  The only way to make absolutely sure is to visit your vet who will analyse a blood sample and you will have the results within a day or so. It is indeed a relief when the results prove negative. We all want to care for our dogs to the best of our ability and care means preventing your dog from getting this ultimately fatal disease and it can certainly be prevented.


You can do a lot to ensure that your dog does not get Leishmania.The disease is carried by a certain type of mosquito, so small that it is virtually invisible to the human eye.  The creature flies at dusk and at night whenever the temperature is over 20 degrees Celsius. In the south ofSpain, especially, this can occur in the middle of winter. There is a belief that the mosquitoes are very low flying and therefore dogs in a high building are safer. This is true only to a very limited degree. A strong wind can carry mosquitoes to great heights.


To maximise protection for your dog you should never let him sleep out at night. Of course, it would like to sleep out on your terrace or balcony on those hot summer nights, but you are its guardian and you make any decisions in its best interests. Your dog should be indoors as soon as darkness falls and temperatures are 20 degrees Celsius or higher. The room in which it sleeps should also be protected. Open windows, if a necessity during summer nights should be covered with mosquito netting, which you can buy cheaply at any hardware store.  If stretched on a wooden frame it does not obscure your views and has the added bonus that it also keeps wasps and other nasty insects out.


There is a very special insect repellent collar called Scalibor that is highly recommended by all vets, which will protect your dog from bites from this mosquito and also from fleas and ticks and, unlike the tick and flea collar, lasts for 6 months as opposed to 3 months.  There is also a lotion called X Spot which comes in ampulets and as an alternative to the Scalibur collar should be applied to the back of the neck and rump of your dog. This will take either one or two ampulets, depending on the size of your dog. An extra protection is to use those small mosquito gadgets sold in many shops that use tables or liquid and plug into electricity points.  This all sounds very extreme but, with something as serious as this, it is necessary to take extreme measures.


There are also those of us who have so many dogs that it would be impossible for them all to be indoors after dusk but X Spot and Scalibor collars will protect your dogs from bites if they live outside in the open.


For other important information about dogs diseases in  Spain visit these web sites: