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Canine Leishmaniasis, Castro-Castalia Bullmastiffs
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Leishmaniasis canina, temida y peligrosa, Castro-Castalia Bullmastiffs

Roger y Camada Q de Castro-Castalia

Canine Leishmaniasis, is caused by a protozoa of the Leishmania genre discovered in year 1900 by Scottish  Bacteriologist Sir William Boog Leishman (1865-1926), who served in the British Army as a doctor. The disease presents itself with a wide variety of symptoms, depending on which part of the body systems it affects.

The only mean of transmission of the disease is through the bite of an infected Phlebotomus female, commonly known as sand-fly. The disease can affect human beings as well as many other mammals, including domestic animals such as dogs (and cats, and many others). Therefore it is considered a zoonosis.

The Human Leishmaniasis (HL) has been thought to be a low risk disease for far too many years, until an Expert Committee of the World Health Organization, in 1982, declared it to be of high risk not only for the human population but also for the domestic dog and several other domestic and non-domestic species. WHO came to say, after a thorough study of the present circumstances in the early 80’s, that although some 12 million human beings were already infected, it was estimated that another 1-2 million more should become infected every year. This meant that at least 350 million people were at risk of suffering the disease, in the coming years, mainly in third world countries although it was already then thought that people from advanced societies are also at risk. And in fact in the past years more and more persons are diagnosed with HL not just in poor countries but also in many of the U.E. countries such as Portugal, Spain, France, Italy or Greece.

The disease itself is not new (in fact it has been known for years under many different names such as Kala-Azar or Black fever, for instance) and although many of us may  have never heard of it, it has been known for centuries, not just in the Old World but also in the New World and in fact many clay objects from ancient cultures in Peru and Ecuador, dated 1st century  a.C. depict human faces with deformations caused by the mucocutaneous form of the human Leishmaniasis.

In a vast majority of cases, the human form of Leishmaniasis can be cured, if early diagnosed and correctly treated. That is not the case with Canine Leishmaniasis (CL).

The dog’s immune system is not prepared to cope with the infection and although the disease can be controlled for a long period of time, if there is an early diagnose and liver and kidneys are not seriously affected at that time, CL is usually fatal, sooner or later.

There are two different types of CL, depending on whether the Leishmania protozoa affect only the skin (cutaneous form of the disease, CLc) or intern organs such as the kidneys or the liver (visceral form of the disease, CLv). CLc has usually a better prognosis and although it will not be cured it can easily be kept under control, without seriously affecting the dg’s quality f life. Yet CLv, unless early detected, will not be so easily treated and controlled and will have a major impact on the affected dog’s health.

It is important to know that an early diagnose is necessary not just to treat the dog, but to ensure that the dog does not become a risk to other animals and people. I have said before that the only means of transmission of the Leishmaniasis is through the bite of a Phlebotomus, acting as the sole disease carrier. Direct infection by the contact with saliva, fresh blood, faeces and urine, and/or whatever body mucus is not possible, but it must be brought up to the responsible owner’s attention that any person or animal who is infected and is not undergoing a treatment and is bitten by a sand-fly will of course infect that mosquito and therefore be crucial for the spreading of the disease to third parties, whether people or other animals. That is why early detection and treatment becomes crucial in order to control the spread of both HUMAN and CANINE LEISHMANIASIS.

Novartis Veterinary Laboratories in Switzerland have been long studying and testing different types of vaccines and treatments to prevent and/or cure CANINE LEISHMANIASIS contagion, but it is still too early to know whether it will be successful and to what extent and when will if be finally available in the market. In the meantime and while a vaccine or a definitive treatment is found, the most important is to keep dogs away from the sand-fly bites.

Sand-fly females are known to be the only means of transmission of the disease to men and dog (and the other mammals); they need to suck blood in order to shed their eggs and have night habitudes, which means that they will only be active from sunset hours ‘til dawn, in climates and seasons where the temperatures are above 18º C during the day. They will not fly around during rain showers, neither when it is too windy, in which case they will rest in their habitats and wait for better weather opportunities.

Their habitats are usually found in rock and wall cracks, dead tree holes, near organic garbage and detritus of the sort, under piles of putrid grass and leaves, in brick piles and always on the shade and better-be partly humid environments, well protected from gusty or even mild winds.

Phlebotomine sand-flies are found all over the world (except Australia and New Zealand) from parallel 50ºN to parallel 40ºS, which means the Eastern and Southern parts of the U.S.(several cases have been reported in Florida and California not too long ago), all of Central and most of Southern America, southern part of Europe (including all of Spain and Portugal, most of France, all of Italy and Greece, and all the other Mediterranean basin countries) and  all the African continent, Middle and South East, India, remote areas of former USSR and China.

It is important to keep in mind that, unlike many other mosquitoes, the sand-flies have a very silent flight, and are so small that they cannot be easily seen by the naked eye; in fact their wingspan is of less than 2mm. Their bite is not always painful and will not necessarily leave a red itchy mark on the skin, except on very sensitive persons and animals.

In Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece some 30% to 40% of the total dog population is currently affected and unfortunately not all of them are undergoing the necessary treatment, although dog owners are becoming more and more aware of the risks the disease poses to their pets and every year more and more people take their dogs for regular check-ups, which are very simple and fast as it is only required to do a simple blood test to find out whether the dog is or not affected and decide what treatment to use, according to the type of CL, if diagnosed.

Therefore it is quite clear that it of the utmost importance to avoid our domestic dogs from getting in contact with sand-flies; therefore dogs should be kept in a safe environment (inside the house) from sunset until dawn during the periods in which the mosquitoes are active (from early Spring onto mid Fall generally, although depending of the area of residence it could be during the whole year long if the temperatures hold warm enough!). They should also wear a specific mosquitoes-repellent collar called  SCALIBOR® Protector Band, the best known mean of protection.

It takes 1-2 weeks before maximum concentrations in the skin are reached; the SCALIBOR® Protector Band,  should therefore be applied at least 2 weeks prior to the anticipated period of exposure to ensure optimal protection. If required, infestations during these 2 weeks can be prevented by applying SCALIBOR® Shampoo once, at the beginning of the 2 week period.

Both the collar and the shampoo have an anti-feeding effect that prevents the bites of sand flies for 6 months, and thus protects dogs against Leishmaniasis for a period of 6 months. The SCALIBOR® Protector Band also prevents infestations with ticks for 6 months, and infestations with fleas for 4 months. The band is formulated according to a patented technology that enables slow release of the active ingredient directly to the skin for a sustained period of time.

I must outline that I have been using this SCALIBOR® Protector Band for the past 12 years or so (in fact when I first heard of this product it wasn’t available in Spain so I had to import it from nearby France) and until now none of my Bullmastiffs has ever suffered from this dramatic disease. Yet I must say that I rather change the collar every three months instead of every six and I use it all year long, despite what the weather conditions may be. I feel very comfortable by doing this and it has proved to be very effective to prevent my dogs from suffering this dangerous disease.

Other than making sure that the dog uses the collar regularly, it is also important to regularly spray the house (inside and outside), the garden premises and the dog’s grounds (i.e. kennel or dog-house) with good quality mosquitoes killers (formulated with synthetic pyrethrines) and to plant all sort of aromatic plants (that are known to act as mosquito deterrent, such as laurel, lavender, sage, mint, etc) and trees (eucalyptus and Indian bean trees) in the garden. Last but not least, during the night hours yellow light bulbs should be used that are specific to keep mosquitoes at a distance; I personally suggest that a “deterrent belt” of yellow light bulbs (Osram Insecta 100W) is conceived and placed around the whole of the garden area premises and that the lights are lit all night long from early March to late October, in order to ensure that the sand-flies will nest somewhere else.

Mosquito nets should also be placed in every window and outside-doors, making sure that the weft is smaller than 2mm x 2mm.

Now, with regards to the symptoms I must say that not every dog will react the same way to the Leishmania infection and therefore it cannot be said that the symptoms are equal for every individual; in fact many will have no symptoms at all for a long period of time, even if they are severely affected. This is why it is so important to do regular check-ups, preferably twice a year, in the months of March and October. For this, you need to take the dog to the Vet and have it specifically blood tested. The procedure is simple, fast and cheap.

Like I said, dogs will show a variety of symptoms, of which the most common are:

 1) Enlargement of the peripheral lymphatic nodes
 2) Skin lesions (of all sorts, including wounds that do not heal)
 3) Chronic conjunctivitis
 4) Fast and exaggerated growth of the toenails (onycogriphosis)
 5) Anorexia
 6) Increase of appetite with no weight gain
 7) Unexplained weight loss
 8) Fever and sometimes associated lethargy
 9) Chronic renal failure
10) Nose bleeding episodes (epistaxis)
11) Corneal opacity
12) Locomotion difficulties

(Original text written by Christina of Lima-Netto and Federico Baudin specifically for this web page and protected with Copyright. Not even whole can be reproduced not partially by any way, without Castro-Castalia's express assent in writing)


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