If you refuse to take your dog to the beach because you fear she will be bitten by sandflies, you're not alone. But the beach is not where you'll find them. Sandflies are blood-sucking insects and carriers of leishmania, for which there is no cure in dogs.
Leishmaniasis develops in a dog after sandflies transmit leishmania parasites through their saliva while they feed. The parasites remain on the skin and can incubate for a few months to several years. Once the disease develops, it can affect dogs cutaneously by causing skin ailments or internally by causing organ and tissue damage. Most cases include both forms. Leishmaniasis lesions on a dog's skin can transmit the disease to other dogs and to humans as well.
Cutaneous leishmaniasis can cause excessive scaling, loss of skin color and chapping of the muzzle and footpads. Nodules or ulcers may develop on the skin's surface. Affected dogs may lose patches of fur and develop brittle or unusually long nails. Internal, or visceral, leishmaniasis mostly affects the kidneys, liver, spleen and joints. Symptoms include severe loss of weight and appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and nosebleeds. Dogs with enlarged spleens might experience joint or nerve pain, inflamed joints or muscles, lymph node ailments and fever.
No medicine can destroy leishmaniasis in dogs. In mild cases, dogs are put on high-protein diets to help increase renal efficiency, and symptoms such as chapping are treated separately. Unless he's very sick, your dog will be treated on an outpatient basis and monitored over time. If a dog is chronically infected or has become emaciated by the disease, the only treatment is euthanasia. Long-term drug treatment that may work in human cases of leishmaniasis do almost no good in dogs; they can, in fact, create treatment-resistant microorganisms in canines.
Most cases of canine leishmaniasis are contracted in Mediterranean countries. In the United States, sandflies tend to live in the Northeast, though they have shown up in Rocky Mountain areas as well. Keeping your dog inside will greatly lessen the risk of exposure, though sandflies are tiny enough to get through most screens and mosquito nets. If you live in or visit these areas, anti-sandfly collars, such as those by Frontline have proven effective deterrents. Sandflies are most active March through November, climaxing in August.
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