Published: 08 Apr 2019 | Last Updated: 10 Aug 2023 10:40:08

A vet from the RVC has recently been involved in diagnosing the first case of leishmaniosis in a dog from the UK that has not travelled to an endemic area. The team suspect the reason for the spread in this case is dog to dog transmission.

Leishmaniosis is caused by the parasite Leishmania infantum and is endemic in some areas of Europe but not in the UK. In these areas, the infection is carried by female sand-flies and spread through sand-fly bites. Transmission has also been reported via dog bites from an infected dog and infected blood transfusions, although these routes have not previously been reported in the UK.

Dogs with Leishmaniosis display a range of signs that can take months to years to develop after initial infection. Typical signs include:

  • Weight loss
  • Lack of energy or enthusiasm
  • Increased thirst and increased urination
  • Changes to the skin (particularly around the eyes, ears and feet)
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Lameness due to joint pain
  • Sudden nose bleeds
  • Soreness around the eyes

Treatment is available for dogs with leishmaniosis, but infection is difficult to clear and long-term medication is therefore frequently needed. Leishmaniosis can be zoonotic - meaning it can be passed to people in rare situations.

Bone marrow cytology showing macrophages with numerous intracellular organisms consistent with Leishmania species amastigotes (Photo credit Charalampos Attipa)

The team involved in diagnosing this case, which included Myles McKenna of the RVC, have warned owners to be extra vigilant for possible cases of leishmaniasis even without a direct travel history. Both vets and pet owners should be aware of the previously referenced symptoms.

UK vets have published a further report in the Veterinary Record this week, in which they outline a further case of leishmaniosis in a dog suspected of contracting the disease via sand-flies unintentionally brought back in their owners’ luggage following a trip to Spain.

Myles McKenna, Internal Medicine Clinical Training Resident at the RVC, and Author of the case report said: “It is important to take note of this first reported case of likely dog-to-dog transmission of Leishmania infantum in the UK. Historically we had considered this to be a condition affecting dogs with a travel history to areas where Leishmania infantum is endemic. Dog-to-dog transmission in non-endemic areas has previously been reported, for example in the USA, but this case serves as a reminder to UK veterinary surgeons that we must be vigilant for conditions such as Leishmania in non-travelled dogs and that alternative transmission mechanisms do exist.”

Notes to Editors

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About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a constituent College of the University of London.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate, postgraduate and CPD programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
  • It is currently the only veterinary school in the world to hold full accreditation from AVMA, EAEVE, RCVS and AVBC.
  • In 2017, the RVC received a Gold award from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the highest rating a university can receive.
  • A research-led institution, the RVC maintained its position as the top veterinary institution in the Research Excellence Framework (2014), with 79% of its submission being rated as world-class or internationally excellent.
  • The RVC also provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals: the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital in central London, the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (Europe's largest small animal referral centre), the Equine Referral Hospital and the Farm Animal Clinical Centre located at the Hertfordshire campus.

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