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Canine Leishmaniasis seminar

Speakers Charlotte Walsh, Dr Robert Killick-Kendrick and Ann Finch

The only thing the main bulk of people want to know with regard to the Pets Passport is ‘how much will it cost?’ and ‘how soon can I go abroad with my dog?’

Folk had waited years for quarantine to end so their dogs could become even more part of their life, whether it be the gite in Southern France or the Championship Show in Portugal. Suddenly gene pools could be widened as bitches visit pre-potent European studs or the dogs themselves could come here. The list is endless and conservative estimates say over 130,000 dogs, and their owners, have taken advantage of this scheme which removed the need, and expense, of quarantine.

The ‘want to know’ has another side, ‘the ought to know’, and this is what the Northern Maremma Association Health Seminar dealt with; the risk of what is known as tropical diseases and in particular, and most importantly, Leishmaniasis.

Why would the Northern Maremma Association want to talk about and Lesley Braund arrange a Seminar about such a subject? In September 2005 an imported Maremma became ill and was given antibiotics to treat hair loss around the eyes and then had an operation to remove nodules from around the face.

During a conversation as it was mused what exactly was up with him Charlotte Walsh, who had been to a Leishmaniasis conference, suggested it could be that. Just to humour a blood test was done and the result came back positive. As the disease had been caught relatively early the dog was prescribed allopurinal and will probably be on these for the rest of its life to keep the condition asymptomatic.

Charlotte, so on the ball with the above dog, never gave Leishmaniasis a thought when her own imported Maremma began to hold first one leg up and then the other late in 2005. This was diagnosed as stretched ligaments and the relevant house rest and such followed with the appearance of recovery. However he developed a persistent urinary infection early 2006 that just wouldn’t get better and in March had blood sent to Bristol which showed an extremely high titre level of Leishmaniasis.

He was a classic case of being infected without showing any of the acknowledged signs and symptoms and was euthanised in April as the advancement of the disease had basically caused a total systems failure. The guilt that Charlotte obviously still feels that she missed the disease in her own dog, even though she could not have known, came over as still so raw in the first talk of the day, given by her, entitled ‘The Silent, Secretive Disease’.

Ann Finch from Greyhounds in Need spoke of the work the Charity has done rehoming Greyhounds and Galgos from Spain and quite a proportion of these actually have Leishmaniasis.

This is known as the dogs from Spain are routinely tested before being placed throughout Europe. Ann said that stress, mental and physical, can seem to make the disease ‘break out’ but if it is treated early enough the dogs can go on to live happy and healthy lives whilst bringing a lot of joy to their new owners.

Charlotte and Ann had recounted their experiences of Leishmaniasis; the next speaker, Dr. Robert Killick-Kendrick, filled in the crucial information of what exactly is canine Leishmaniasis? Dr. Killick Kendrick is one of the leading experts in the world and has spent 60 years studying diseases carried by insects. His authority on the subject is acknowledged without doubt and he also sports a very natty line in a personally designed woven sand fly tie!

He began by listing the clinical signs of Leishmaniasis with a rider for all to be aware of: not all dogs show all of them and some show none at all! The commonest first sign is loss of hair particularly around the eyes and on the muzzle and often skin sores develop. In later stages of the disease the claws often overgrow and become twisted. Also the animal looses weight even though it is apparently eating well.

Dr. Killick-Kendrick then went on to explain just exactly what Leishmaniasis is. The disease is caused by a microscopic protozoal parasite and is transmitted by the bite of the phlebotomine sandfly which, when biting the dog, leave the parasite in the white cells under the skin. There are eight different species in different areas of the world but all the countries of the Mediterranean subregion have the sand fly. This is particularly relevant as one of the factors affecting the risk of infection; there must be sandflies to transmit it. The sandfly season is May to September so visiting outside these months should mean there is little risk. Also sandflies appear in the evening after sunset and are not particularly known for coming indoors so keeping your dog inside should also help reduce the risk of infection.

There is a problem in the treatment of Leishmaniasis in the U.K. in so far that Glucantime, one of the favoured drugs in countries where the disease in endemic, is not licensed here and if the vet thinks that is the desired treatment a special treatment authorisation is required and that can take weeks. As previously mentioned Allopurinol can be used in the disease is not too far advanced but this is usually for nine to twelve months and often for life. If it is not too late when Leishmaniasis is diagnosed there is a good chance of remission but relapses are common.

Recently a vaccine has been developed in Brazil against Leishmaniasis but it isn’t very effective and Dr. Killick-Kendrick didn’t rate it very highly.

One preventative that has proven to be around 90% effective is the ‘Scalibor Collar’. This is a dog collar containing a deposit of deltamethrin complex that releases the insecticide slowly into the oils of the dog’s skin.This collar is distributed by Intervet and also works with ticks and mosquitoes. It isn’t a 100% successful method because sandflies sometimes bite the lips or muchus membranes. Ann Finch said all the G.I.N. animals wore a Scalibor collar.

Dr. Killick-Kendrick most strongly suggested the following if considering importing from an endemic area:

Import in March or April (6 months from the previous sandfly season)

Test for antibodies immediately before importing

Test again once the animal has been in the country for six months.

If an imported dog shows sign of infection keep it away from other dogs and seek veterinary help and remember that dog to dog transmission can happen, although rare, through the licking of sores.

Before taking a dog to any infected area, and remember that 1 in 400 dogs taken to the Mediterranean and Portugal return with Leishmaniasis, Dr. Killick-Kendrick recommended

Put a Scalibor collar on your dog at least a week before leaving.

Do not shamp\oo the dog after fitting the collar (this removes the oils)

Keep the dog indoors from sunset to sunrise

Follow those suggestions and your dog should have 90% protection but if, within a year of your return, you notice signs veterinary advice must be sought. Your vet may look at you as if you have six heads because he will probably have never seen a case but suggest he looks at and that should help him with diagnosis and treatment.

It had been a serious seminar and the questions from the floor were equally serious. Could an infected stud dog pass on the disease on any in-season visiting bitches? If a bitch hadn’t shown signs of Leishmaniasis because of very low infestation and had subsequently been mated and produced pups would they also be infected and what is the best way to diagnose Leishmaniasis?

Dr. Killick-Kendrick was quite short, and to the point, in his replies: don’t know…..but if you want to sponsor me to find out. A very low chance but blood test just in case and why do expensive tests? The old fashioned way of stick a needle into a node and examine under a microscope still works very well!

It was Midland Counties Championship Show weekend but the Kennel Club were there; Our Dogs were there; the Maremma people were there and so were people in other breeds who had imported dogs. There was even a lady who had a friend abroad with dogs that had died from Leishmaniasis and she wanted to know more about it.

If you are thinking of visiting Southern Europe with your dog or even importing from there why weren’t you? You might have learnt something very useful.