Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide







  • Last modified
  • 14 July 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Animal Disease
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • leishmaniosis
  • Overview
  • The leishmaniases are a group of infectious diseases that affect humans, domestic and wild animals and are caused by members of the genus Leishmania. Visceral leishmaniosis caused by Leishmania infantum...

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Dermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosis. Dog with facial alopecia and exfoliative dermatitis.
TitleDermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosis
CaptionDermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosis. Dog with facial alopecia and exfoliative dermatitis.
Copyright©Gad Baneth-2014
Dermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosis. Dog with facial alopecia and exfoliative dermatitis.
Dermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosisDermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosis. Dog with facial alopecia and exfoliative dermatitis.©Gad Baneth-2014
Exfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulceration. Dog with Leishmania infantum infection.
TitleExfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulceration
CaptionExfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulceration. Dog with Leishmania infantum infection.
Copyright©Gad Baneth-2015
Exfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulceration. Dog with Leishmania infantum infection.
Exfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulcerationExfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulceration. Dog with Leishmania infantum infection.©Gad Baneth-2015
Amastigotes of Leishmania infantum in a macrophage from a spleen aspirate of an infected dog.
TitleAmastigotes of Leishmania infantum
CaptionAmastigotes of Leishmania infantum in a macrophage from a spleen aspirate of an infected dog.
Copyright©Gad Baneth-2011
Amastigotes of Leishmania infantum in a macrophage from a spleen aspirate of an infected dog.
Amastigotes of Leishmania infantumAmastigotes of Leishmania infantum in a macrophage from a spleen aspirate of an infected dog.©Gad Baneth-2011
Promastigote of Leishmania infantum grown in culture.
TitlePromastigote of Leishmania infantum
CaptionPromastigote of Leishmania infantum grown in culture.
Copyright©Gad Baneth-2010
Promastigote of Leishmania infantum grown in culture.
Promastigote of Leishmania infantumPromastigote of Leishmania infantum grown in culture.©Gad Baneth-2010


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • leishmaniosis

International Common Names

  • English: cutaneous leishmaniasis; cutaneous leishmaniasis in horses and sheep; cutaneous leishmaniasis, leishmaniosis, in horses and sheep; leishmaniasis; visceral leishmaniasis


Top of page Leishmania


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The leishmaniases are a group of infectious diseases that affect humans, domestic and wild animals and are caused by members of the genus Leishmania. Visceral leishmaniosis caused by Leishmania infantum, the most severe disease form, is a frequent cause of chronic and potentially fatal clinical illness in dogs and humans in some regions, and it is less common in cats and rare in horses (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009; Ready, 2014). Dogs are considered the major reservoir for human L. infantum infection, in an area that stretches from Portugal to China and across South America. Canine leishmaniosis (CanL) is also important in non-endemic countries due to importation of dogs from endemic areas and dog travel with owners to countries where its vectors are not present (Baneth et al., 2008).

Visceral leishmaniosis is a major zoonosis in the Mediterranean basin, Middle East and South America. A World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2014 indicates that there are approximately 200,000-400,000 new human cases of visceral leishmaniosis annually with 20,00 to 30,000 deaths annually and the population at risk globally is about 200 million people ( Anthroponotic visceral leishmaniosis caused by Leishmania donovani mainly in India and East Africa is responsible for a large part of the fatalities in people. However, visceral leishmaniosis with the dog as a major reservoir for the parasite is the main form of the disease in other parts of the world including Brazil, China and the Mediterranean region (Ready, 2014). Visceral leishmaniosis caused by L. infantum in the Mediterranean basin was traditionally predominantly a disease of young children and the name of the causative agent of this disease reflects the predilection to infants. Malnutrition has been recognized as a risk factor for infantile leishmaniosis, and may explain why this disease is more prevalent among children in poor countries as compared with affluent ones despite high prevalence rates in the dog populations. AIDS patients are currently an important risk group for human visceral leishmaniosis in Southern Europe (van Griensven et al., 2014).

Other species of Leishmania infect canines and additional mammal hosts, including Leishmania braziliensis in South America and Leishmania tropica, in the Old World, however, these are not the focus of this datasheet, as these infections are less frequent and paramount to human health and welfare (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Hosts/Species Affected

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Visceral leishmaniosis caused by L. infatum or its synonym in Latin America, Leishmania chagasi is a disease that involves mainly humans and dogs. Dogs are considered the main peridomestic reservoir host for human infection, and also suffer from severe clinical disease. In addition, natural L. infantum infection has been recorded in cats, horses, pigs and in a variety of wild mammal and marsupial species including: golden jackals (Canis aureus), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), gray wolves (Canis lupus), crab-eating foxes (Cerdocyon thous), opossums (Didelphis albiventris and D. marsupialis), lynx (Lynx pardinus), hares (Lepus granatensis and L. yarkandensis), badgers (Meles meles), mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon), pine martens (Martes martes), genets (Genetta genetta),weasels (Mustela nivalis), a seal (Monachus monachus), bats (Carollia perspicillata), rats (Rattus rattus and R. norvegicus) and other rodent species (reviewed in Quinnell and Courtenay, 2009). Not every infected animal species may serve as a reservoir host, e.g. be responsible for parasite transmission to humans or animals. Reservoir hosts for Leishmania should have several characteristics in order to serve as efficient sources of blood meals with parasites for sandfly vectors: they should be abundant, infected at a high rate, attractive and infectious to sandflies, and able to maintain infection year round. The identification of blood meal belonging to a certain animal host in a considerable number of naturally-infected sandflies in a survey of an endemic region may provide evidence for the potential of this host to serve as reservoir. Apart from dogs and humans, only a small number of animal host species have been studied for their capacity to infect sandflies with L. infantum by xenodiagnoses (feeding sandflies on an infected host). Studies have shown that domestic cats, hares, black rats, opossums and crab-eating foxes can infect sandflies under experimental conditions (Quinnell and Courtenay, 2009; Molina et al., 2012). However, the mere ability to infect sandflies does not imply that the host is an epidemiologically-important reservoir which plays a role in sylvatic or domestic transmission at the population level. The transmission of L. infatnum from domestic dogs undoubtedly constitutes the main route for human infection in most endemic areas globally. In these areas people share the same habitat with dogs infected for long durations. Although sub-clinically infected dogs are infectious to sandflies, dogs with clinical signs of disease have been shown to have high parasite loads and be more infectious (Michalsky et al., 2007).

In dogs, susceptibility or resistance to clinical disease is influenced by genetics. The presence of overt CanL among Ibizian hounds in the Balearic islands is rare and significantly lower than among other breeds and it has been shown that this breed mounts a predominantly cellular immune response against L. infatnum (Solano-Gallego et al., 2000). Other breeds that originate from regions that are not enzootic for leishmaniosis such as the Boxer, Rottweiler and German Shepherd are overrepresented in CanL surveys. A study on the polymorphism of the canine Slc11a1 (NRAMP1) gene, which encodes an iron transporter protein involved in the control of intraphagosomal replication of parasites and macrophage activation, has implied that susceptible dogs have mutations in this gene (Sanchez-Robert et al., 2008). A DLA class II DLA-DRB1 genotype, which is a dog major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II allele, has been linked to the risk of being infected in an endemic area in Brazil (Quinell et al., 2003).

In the USA, CanL has mainly been described in foxhounds, and it has been shown that transplacental transmission of this infection is responsible for some of the disease which occurs in dogs from this breed, in an environment that apparently lacks clear transmission of infection by sandfly vectors (Boggiatto et al., 2011).

Systems Affected

Top of page skin and ocular diseases of small ruminants


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CanL is a major zoonotic disease endemic in more than 70 countries in the world. It is enzootic in regions of southern Europe, Africa, Asia, South and Central America and is sporadic in the USA. CanL is also an important concern in non-endemic countries where imported disease constitutes a veterinary and public health problem. Dogs are the primary animal reservoir for human visceral leishmaniosis and the disease is usually fatal if not treated in people (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009). Phlebotomine sandflies are the vectors of Leishmania infantum, the causative agent of CanL in the Old World and for its New World synonym L. chagasi. Seroprevalence rates for CanL found in studies carried out in the Mediterranean basin range between 10 and 37% of the dogs in disease foci. Surveys using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the detection of leishmanial DNA in canine tissues, or combining serology and PCR, have revealed higher infection rates approaching 70% in some foci (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009). It has been estimated based on seroprevalence studies from Italy, Spain, France and Portugal that 2.5 million dogs in these countries are infected (Moreno and Alvar, 2002). The number of infected dogs in South America is also estimated in millions with high infection rates in some areas of Brazil and Venezuela.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanNo information availableOIE, 2009
ArmeniaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
AzerbaijanDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
BahrainDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
BangladeshPresentOIE, 2009; Alam et al., 2013
BhutanNo information availableOIE, 2009
Brunei DarussalamDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
CambodiaNo information availableOIE, 2009
ChinaLocalisedOIE, 2009; Alam et al., 2014
-GansuLocalisedZhang et al., 2013; Alam et al., 2014
-HebeiLocalisedAlam et al., 2014
-HenanLocalisedAlam et al., 2014
-Hong KongNo information availableOIE, 2009
-ShandongLocalisedAlam et al., 2014
-SichuanLocalisedZhang et al., 2013; Alam et al., 2014
-XinjiangLocalisedAlam et al., 2014
Georgia (Republic of)WidespreadOIE Handistatus, 2005; Babuadze et al., 2014
IndiaRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
IndonesiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
IranWidespreadOIE, 2009; Mohebali, 2013
IraqWidespreadSukkar et al., 1981; OIE, 2009
IsraelLocalisedBaneth et al., 1998; OIE, 2009
JapanNo information availableOIE, 2009
JordanNo information availableOIE, 2009
KazakhstanDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
Korea, DPRDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Korea, Republic ofNo information availableOIE, 2009
KuwaitDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
KyrgyzstanDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
LaosDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
LebanonLocalisedNuwayri-Salti et al., 1997
MalaysiaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
-Peninsular MalaysiaNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
-SabahDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
-SarawakNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
MaldivesDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
MongoliaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MyanmarNo information availableOIE, 2009
NepalNo information availableOIE, 2009
OmanLocalisedElnour et al., 2001
PakistanPresentRab et al., 1995
PhilippinesNo information availableOIE, 2009
QatarNo information availableOIE, 2009
Saudi ArabiaLocalisedAl-Zahrani et al., 1988
SingaporeDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Sri LankaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
SyriaWidespreadDereure et al., 1991
TaiwanDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
TajikistanWidespreadAlam et al., 2009
ThailandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
TurkeyWidespreadOIE, 2009; Toz et al., 2013
TurkmenistanPresentLesnikova et al., 1990
United Arab EmiratesDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
UzbekistanWidespreadKovalenko et al., 2011
VietnamNo information availableOIE, 2009
YemenPresentRioux et al., 1989


AlgeriaWidespreadAït-Oudhia et al., 2011; OIE, 2012
AngolaPresentOIE, 2012; Vilhena et al., 2014
BeninDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
BotswanaDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
Burkina FasoNo information availableOIE, 2009
BurundiDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
CameroonNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
Cape VerdeDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
Central African RepublicDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
ChadNo information availableOIE, 2009
CongoNo information availableOIE, 2009
Congo Democratic RepublicDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Côte d'IvoireNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
DjiboutiDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
EgyptPresentOIE, 2009; Rosypal et al., 2013
EritreaNo information availableOIE, 2009
EthiopiaPresentBashaye et al., 2009
GabonDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
GambiaNo information availableOIE, 2009
GhanaNo information availableOIE, 2009
GuineaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Guinea-BissauNo information availableOIE, 2009
KenyaPresentS. Muriuki, Africa, personal communication, 2012
LesothoDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
LibyaPresentPostigo, 2010; OIE, 2012
MadagascarDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MalawiNo information availableOIE, 2009
MaliDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
MauritiusDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
MoroccoWidespreadNatami et al., 2000
MozambiqueDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
NamibiaPresentOIE, 2012
NigeriaNo information availableOIE, 2009
RéunionNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
RwandaNo information availableOIE, 2009
Sao Tome and PrincipeNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
SenegalLocalisedOIE, 2009; Faye et al., 2010
SeychellesDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
Sierra LeoneDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
SomaliaNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
South AfricaNo information availableOIE, 2009
SudanWidespreadDereure et al., 2000
SwazilandDisease never reportedOIE, 2012
TanzaniaNo information availableOIE, 2009
TogoDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
TunisiaWidespreadOIE, 2012; Zoghlami et al., 2014
UgandaNo information availableOIE, 2009
ZambiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2012
ZimbabweDisease never reportedOIE, 2012

North America

BermudaDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
CanadaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
GreenlandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MexicoDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
USAPresentPetersen, 2009

Central America and Caribbean

BarbadosDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
BelizeDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
British Virgin IslandsDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Cayman IslandsDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Costa RicaLocalisedMendoza et al., 1983
CubaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
CuraçaoDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
DominicaNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
Dominican RepublicNo information availableOIE, 2009
El SalvadorAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
GuadeloupeNo information availableOIE, 2009
GuatemalaNo information availableOIE, 2009
HaitiDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
HondurasNo information availableOIE, 2009
JamaicaNo information availableOIE, 2009
MartiniqueDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
NicaraguaNo information availableOIE, 2009
PanamaNo information availableOIE, 2009
Saint Kitts and NevisDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Trinidad and TobagoDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005

South America

ArgentinaLocalisedOIE, 2009; Cruz et al., 2010
BoliviaNo information availableOIE, 2009
BrazilPresentOIE, 2009
-AlagoasLocalisedDantas-Torres, 2006
-BahiaWidespreadAlmeida et al., 2005
-CearaWidespreadSchubach et al., 2014
-Espirito SantoPresentTonini et al., 2012
-GoiasPresentAzevedo et al., 2008
-MaranhaoWidespreadPonte et al., 2011
-Mato Grosso do SulWidespreadSousa et al., 2013
-Minas GeraisWidespreadCoura-Vital et al., 2013
-ParaPresentLima et al., 2010
-ParanaLocalisedThomaz-Soccol et al., 2009
-PernambucoWidespreadAlmeida et al., 2005
-PiauiPresentSilva et al., 2012
-Rio de JaneiroWidespreadHonse et al., 2013
-Rio Grande do NorteWidespreadLima et al., 2012
-Rio Grande do SulWidespreadAlmeida et al., 2005
-RondoniaLocalisedSantos et al., 2014
-Santa CatarinaPresentMaziero et al., 2014
-Sao PauloWidespreadMotoie et al., 2013
ChileDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
ColombiaPresentTravi et al., 2001
EcuadorDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Falkland IslandsDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
French GuianaAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
GuyanaDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
ParaguayLocalisedOIE Handistatus, 2005; Pangrazio et al., 2009
PeruDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
UruguayDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
VenezuelaWidespreadZerpa et al., 2000


AlbaniaWidespreadLazri et al., 2008
AndorraReported present or known to be presentOIE Handistatus, 2005
AustriaNo information availableOIE, 2009
BelarusDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
BelgiumDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
Bosnia-HercegovinaPresentOIE Handistatus, 2005; Alvar et al., 2012
BulgariaPresentOIE, 2009; Harizanov et al., 2013
CroatiaWidespreadZivicnjak et al., 2005; OIE, 2009
CyprusWidespreadDeplazes et al., 1998; OIE, 2009
Czech RepublicDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
DenmarkNo information availableOIE, 2009
EstoniaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
FinlandDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
FrancePresentOIE, 2009; Bourdeau et al., 2014
-CorsicaWidespreadNeogy et al., 1992
GermanyDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
GreeceWidespreadOIE, 2009; Bourdeau et al., 2014
HungaryLocalisedOIE, 2009; Tánczos et al., 2012
IcelandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
IrelandDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
Isle of Man (UK)Disease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
ItalyWidespreadOIE, 2009; Bourdeau et al., 2014
JerseyDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
LatviaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
LiechtensteinDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
LithuaniaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
LuxembourgDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
MacedoniaWidespreadOIE, 2009; Alvar et al., 2012
MaltaWidespreadHeadington et al., 2002; OIE, 2009
MoldovaDisease not reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
MontenegroPresentOIE, 2009
NetherlandsDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
NorwayDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
PolandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
PortugalWidespreadOIE, 2009; Bourdeau et al., 2014
RomaniaPresentOIE, 2009; Mircean et al., 2014
Russian FederationPresentOIE, 2009
San MarinoPresentSalvatore et al., 2013
SerbiaPresentDakic et al., 2009; OIE, 2009
SlovakiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
SloveniaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
SpainWidespreadOIE, 2009; Bourdeau et al., 2014
-Balearic IslandsWidespreadSolano-Gallego et al., 2001
SwedenPresentOIE, 2009
SwitzerlandDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
UKPresentOIE, 2009
-Northern IrelandDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
UkraineDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
Yugoslavia (former)No information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)No information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005


AustraliaPresentOIE, 2009
French PolynesiaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
New CaledoniaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
New ZealandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
SamoaDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
VanuatuDisease never reportedOIE Handistatus, 2005
Wallis and Futuna IslandsNo information availableOIE Handistatus, 2005


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CanL is the result of a chronic infection which may potentially involve any organ. Clinical manifestation of disease may develop three months to seven years after infection. As with other chronic persistent intracellular infections, the immunoglobulin response to infection is usually excessive but not protective, and can eventually be detrimental. T-lymphocyte regions in the lymphoid organs become depleted, and antibody-producing B-cell regions proliferate. The proliferation of B lymphocytes, plasma cells, histiocytes, and macrophages results in generalized lymphadenomegaly, splenomegaly, and consistent hyperglobulinemia. Increased B-cell activity results is the generation of large amounts of specific and non-specific antibodies and circulating immune complexes. Immune complex deposition may cause vasculitis, polyarthritis, uveitis, and glomerulonephritis (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

The type of inflammatory infiltrate found in tissue cytology or histopathology specimen of organs such as skin, liver, intestine, eye, spleen, lymph nodes, striated muscles, synovium,and nasal mucosa, is commonly either pyogranulomatous to granulomatous or lymphoplasmacytic. Typically, there is lymphoid reactive hyperplasia in lymphoid organs such as lymph nodes and spleen along with histiocytic hyperplasia in the bone marrow and spleen associated with variable numbers of Leishmania amastigotes (Baneth et al., 2008; Miro et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Immune complex glomerulonephritis results in renal failure, which is the main cause of death in dogs with leishmaniosis. Glomerulonephritis is mainly membranoproliferative or mesangioproliferative. Other histological types of glomerular disease including membranous, focal segmental, chronic, and minimal change glomerulonephritis, have also been described in CanL. Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis is more frequently associated with clinically-manifested kidney disease, whereas in dogs without clinicopathological evidence of renal disease, histopathological evaluation usually reveals mesangioproliferative lesions and minimal change glomerulonephritis (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Skin lesions are one of the main clinical manifestations of CanL. A variety of skin lesions have been reported in CanL and they are frequently generalized rather than local because L. infantum disseminates all over the body. In addition, microscopical lesions and presence of parasite may also be detected in healthy-looking normal-appearing skin from sick dogs and not only necessarily in dermal lesions. Dermal manifestation of CanL include exfoliative dermatitis with alopecia which can be generalized or localized over the face, ears and limbs (See pictures: Dermal manifestations of canine leishmaniosis; Exfoliative dermatitis and pinneal ulceration); ulcerative dermatitis over bony prominences, and in mucocutaneous junctions, paws, and the ear pinnae; focal or multifocal nodular dermatitis; mucocutaneous proliferative dermatitis; and papular dermatitis (Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Ocular lesions in CanL consist of anterior uveitis, conjunctivitis, keratoconjunctivitis sicca, blepharitis or a combination of these. In keratoconjunctivitis sicca, inflammatory infiltrates located around the lacrimal ducts cause secretory retention and a decrease in tear production.  Muscle pathology is attributed to immune mediated mechanisms and inflammatory responses associated with CanL. Muscle weakness is observed in CanL and is associated with mononuclear myositis, neutrophilic vasculitis and IgG immune complexes in muscle tissues in conjunction with serum anti-myofiber antibodies. This includes masseter muscle atrophic myositis, polymyositis, myocarditis and pericarditis (Baneth et al., 2008; Miro et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009; Noli and Saridomichelakis, 2014).

Dogs with leishmanioasis may show signs of hemorrhagic diathesis manifested primarily as epistaxis, and less commonly as hematuria and hemorrhagic diarrhoea. Hemorrhagic diathesis is associated with tissue ulceration and alterations in primary and secondary hemostasis. Epistaxis appears to be the result of thrombocytopathy, hyperglobulinemia-induced serum hyperviscosity, and lymphoplasmacytic or granulomatous rhinitis with or without nasal mucosa ulceration. Anemia usually develops as a sequel to the decreased erythropoiesis of chronic disease or to chronic kidney disease but may be aggravated by blood loss.

More rare pathologic findings in CanL include mucosal lesions of the oral cavity, tongue and genital organs; joint swelling with erosive or non-erosive polyarthritis; osteolytic and osteoproliferative bone lesions; chronic hepatitis; chronic relapsing colitis, neurological disease due to meningitis, and systemic vasculitis with thromboembolism or serum hyperviscosity syndrome (Baneth et al., 2008; Miro et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).


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The clinical manifestations of CanL vary as a consequence of the numerous pathogenic mechanisms of the disease process, the different organs affected, and the diversity of immune responses mounted by individual dogs. Pertinent clinical history, a thorough physical examination and several routine diagnostic tests such as complete blood count, biochemical profile, urinalysis and serum electrophoresis can help to raise the suspicion index for this disease and determine its severity. Accurate diagnosis of CanL often requires an integrated approach consisting of clinicopathological diagnosis and specific laboratory tests (Solano-Gallego et al., 2011).

The main clinical findings found on physical examination in typical CanL include skin lesions, generalized lymphadenomegaly, progressive weight loss, muscular atrophy, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite, lethargy, splenomegaly, polyuria and polydypsia, ocular lesions, epistaxis, abnormal nail growth (onychogryposis), lameness, and less frequently vomiting and diarrhoea. Additional variable clinical signs make the list of differential diagnosis to CanL extensive (Solano-Gallego et al., 2009; Solano-Gallego et al., 2011; Noli and Saridomichelakis, 2014).

About 60-80% of the dogs with clinical CanL admitted to veterinary care have dermal manifestations of the disease. Dermal involvement in CanL caused by L. infantum is associated with a visceral infection, and dissemination of the parasite to internal organs, in addition to its presence in the skin. Skin patterns of lesions include: non-pruritic exfoliative dermatitis, ulcerative dermatitis, focal or multifocal nodular dermatitis, mucocutaneous proliferative dermatitis and papular dermatitis. Atypical cutaneous manifestations such as depigmentation, panniculitis, digital and nasal hyperkeratosis, pustular eruption, and erythema multiforme are relatively uncommon.

Up to 80% of the dogs diagnosed with CanL have ocular lesions, including conjunctivitis, blepharitis, keratoconjunctivitis and uveitis. In some cases, ocular abnormalities are the only clinical signs.

Most dogs with clinical CanL will have mild to moderate non-regenerative anemia and less commonly thrombocytopenia. The most consistent serum biochemistry findings in dogs with clinical CanL are serum hyperproteinemia with hyperglobulinemia and hypoalbuminemia resulting in a decreased albumin/globulin ratio. Marked hyperglobulinemia with no apparent cause in dogs from Leishmania-endemic regions should also be investigated for CanL. Grossly elevated activities of liver enzymes or azotemia are found in only a minority of dogs with CanL. However, some degree of renal pathology is present in most dogs with clinical CanL. Azotemia with increased serum creatinine and urea levels usually develops with increased progression toward severe kidney disease. However, proteinuria and an abnormal urine protein/creatinine ratio may be present prior to the development of azotemia (Baneth et al., 2008; Miro et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009; Solano-Gallego et al., 2011; Noli and Saridomichelakis, 2014).

Diagnosis of CanL infection is usually performed for two main reasons: (1) to confirm ’disease‘, e.g. to find out if a dog with clinical signs and/or clinicopathological abnormalities compatible with CanL has the disease; and (2) to investigate the presence of ’infection‘ for epidemiological studies, for screening clinically healthy dogs living in endemic regions usually requested by the owners, to prevent transmission of infection from subclinical carriers by blood transfusion, to avoid importation of infected dogs to non-endemic countries, and to monitor response to treatment. Therefore, it is important to separate subclinical Leishmania infection from disease and to apply different diagnostic techniques accordingly (Solano-Gallego et al., 2011).

List of Symptoms/Signs

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SignLife StagesType
Digestive Signs / Anorexia, loss or decreased appetite, not nursing, off feed Sign
Digestive Signs / Hepatosplenomegaly, splenomegaly, hepatomegaly Diagnosis
Digestive Signs / Melena or occult blood in faeces, stools Sign
Digestive Signs / Oral mucosal ulcers, vesicles, plaques, pustules, erosions, tears Diagnosis
Digestive Signs / Polyphagia, excessive appetite Sign
Digestive Signs / Tongue ulcers, vesicles, erosions, sores, blisters, cuts, tears Sign
Digestive Signs / Vomiting or regurgitation, emesis Sign
General Signs / Exercise intolerance, tires easily Sign
General Signs / Fever, pyrexia, hyperthermia Sign
General Signs / Generalized weakness, paresis, paralysis Diagnosis
General Signs / Haemorrhage of any body part or clotting failure, bleeding Diagnosis
General Signs / Lymphadenopathy, swelling, mass or enlarged lymph nodes Diagnosis
General Signs / Orbital, periorbital, periocular, conjunctival swelling, eyeball mass Sign
General Signs / Paraparesis, weakness, paralysis both hind limbs Sign
General Signs / Polydipsia, excessive fluid consumption, excessive thirst Sign
General Signs / Swelling skin or subcutaneous, mass, lump, nodule Sign
General Signs / Underweight, poor condition, thin, emaciated, unthriftiness, ill thrift Sign
General Signs / Weight loss Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Abnormal corneal pigmentation Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Abnormal pigmentation, colour, iris Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Blepharospasm Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Chemosis, conjunctival, scleral edema, swelling Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Conjunctival, scleral, injection, abnormal vasculature Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Conjunctival, scleral, laceration, cut, tear, injury Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Conjunctival, scleral, papules Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Conjunctival, scleral, redness Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Corneal edema, opacity Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Lacrimation, tearing, serous ocular discharge, watery eyes Sign
Ophthalmology Signs / Obstruction of nasolacrimal duct Sign
Respiratory Signs / Epistaxis, nosebleed, nasal haemorrhage, bleeding Diagnosis
Respiratory Signs / Nasal mucosal ulcers, vesicles, erosions, cuts, tears, papules, pustules Diagnosis
Respiratory Signs / Sneezing, sneeze Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Absence of skin Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Alopecia, thinning, shedding, easily epilated, loss of, hair Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Cracked skin, fissure Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Defective growth of nail, claw, hoof Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Dryness of skin or hair Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Foul odor skin, smell Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Hyperkeratosis, thick skin Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Overgrown nail, claw, hoof Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Pruritus, itching skin Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Purulent discharge skin Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Rough hair coat, dull, standing on end Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Scarred skin Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin crusts, scabs Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin erythema, inflammation, redness Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin hyperpigmentation, excess pigment Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin hypopigmentation, decreased pigment, vitiligo Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin laceration, cut, tear, bite Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin papules Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin plaque Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin pustules Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin scales, flakes, peeling Diagnosis
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Skin ulcer, erosion, excoriation Sign
Skin / Integumentary Signs / Splitting nail, claw, hoof, breaking, brittle, cracked Diagnosis
Urinary Signs / Increased frequency of urination, pollakiuria Sign
Urinary Signs / Oliguria or anuria, retention of urine Sign
Urinary Signs / Polyuria, increased urine output Sign
Urinary Signs / Proteinuria, protein in urine Diagnosis

Disease Course

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Canine leishmaniosis is primarily a chronic disease that develops months to years after the initial infection with L. infantum. Infected dogs experience a long sub-clinical infection before the appearance of clinical disease. And, only a small part of the dogs that become persistently infected develop overt clinical manifestations of disease, while the majority of infected dogs appear to remain sub-clinically infected for long period, often for their life time (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Population studies in Leishmania-endemic areas have shown that a proportion of the canine population develops a clinical disease, another fraction has persistent subclinical infection, while yet another fraction is resistant to the infection or intermittently resolves it without developing clinical signs. The immune responses mounted by dogs during infection is an important factor in determining if they will develop a lasting infection and whether and when it will progress from a subclinical state into clinical disease. Dogs that are able to resist infection and either resolve it and eliminate the parasite, or restrict the infection and remain constantly asymptomatic, have been termed "clinically resistant". Animals that are predisposed and will develop symptomatic disease are considered "susceptible" (Baneth et al., 2008).

A broad range of immune responses, pathologic and clinical manifestations have been described in CanL. Leishmania infection in dogs may be a subclinical infection, or manifested as a self-limiting disease, or a non-self-limiting disease associated with severe illness. In dogs, the two opposite extremes of this clinical spectrum are characterized by: (1) protective immunity that is CD4 T cell mediated by the release of IFN-gamma, IL-2 and TNF alpha that induce macrophage anti-Leishmania activity, or, (2) disease susceptibility that is associated with the production of a marked humoral non-protective immune response and a reduced or depressed cell mediated immunity with a mixed Th1 and Th2 cytokine production. Within this spectrum, clinical disease can range from a mild papular dermatitis associated with specific cellular immunity and low degree humoral responses to a severe disease associated with a massive humoral response and high parasite loads frequently associated with glomerulonephritis (Baneth et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Specific immune responses play a major role in susceptibility to infection. During infection, dogs become increasingly immunosuppressed and may develop decreased CD4+ lymphocyte counts and a decrease in the CD4+/CD8+ ratio. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the infectiousness of dogs with leishmaniosis to sandflies increases with the decrease in CD4+ counts (Guarga et al., 2000). Immune-mediated mechanisms are responsible for much of the pathological findings in CanL. Circulating immune complexes and antinuclear antibodies have been detected in animals with CanL. Glomerulonephritis associated with the deposition of immune complexes in the kidneys is a hallmark of the disease. Renal pathology is present, even if not manifested clinically, in the majority of infected seropositive dogs (Baneth et al., 2008).


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The natural life cycle of Leishmania infection involves a sandfly vector and a vertebrate host. Phlebotomine sandflies of the genus Phlebotomus in the Old World and Lutzomyia in the New World are the natural vectors of leishmaniosis. In the Mediterranean region and Asia, sandflies are primarily active from spring to late autumn, while in Latin America, some sandfly species are active throughout the year. Sandflies in general do not move long distances, and studies have shown that they are seldom dispersed more than 2 km away from their initial location of previous detection (Maroli et al., 2010). Many species of sandfly exist, but only some of them are competent vectors of Leishmania able to transmit infection. Different vector species may be found in distinct geographic regions and ecologic niches. Some sandfly species exclusively transmit only one Leishmania species, whereas others are permissive vectors able to transmit several species. The capacity of different sandfly species to act as vectors appears to be related to the ability of Leishmania parasites to specifically bind to ligands in the sandfly digestive system. When they do not bind to the sandfly gut, the parasites that initially replicated in the gut lumen are excreted with the digested blood and do not transmit during a second blood meal (Dostálová and Volf, 2012).

The Leishmania life cycle includes two life forms: the promastigote, which is a flagellated free form that develops in the sandfly, and the amastigote, which is the parasite’s intracellular form found in the cytoplasm of host macrophages (Solano-Gallego et al., 2009). During the sandfly’s bite, blood from the vertebrate host with intracellular amastigotes is taken up by the sandfly. The vertebrate host’s infected macrophages rupture in the sandfly’s gut and release amastigotes which transform under the change in temperature and pH into promastigotes. Promastigotes bind to the sandfly gut, replicate in large numbers, and migrate toward the anterior gut close to the valve that separates the gut from the pharynx. They evolve into metacyclic promastigotes and are injected to the skin of the vertebrate host with saliva during the infected sandfly’s subsequent blood meal (Dostálová and Volf, 2012). In the skin, promastigotes invade macrophages and transform in to the amastigote intracellular form. Invasion of the macrophage is mediated via binding to a membrane receptor, phagocytosis into a phagosome, and continued survival in cytoplasmic vesicles, inhibiting destruction of the parasite by the lysosome enzymes and oxidative burst. The promastigotes are rapidly transformed into amastigotes in the macrophage cytoplasms. Amastigotes replicate by binary fission and fill the macrophage with more parasites until it ruptures, and then amastigotes invade additional macrophages and disseminate. Dissemination and parasite replication initially takes place in the skin, and then infected macrophages reach the local draining lymph nodes and in the case of visceralzing Leishmania species, such as L. infantum, they disseminate further via the blood and lymph to internal organs including the spleen, liver and to the bone marrow. Cells with amastigotes can also be found widespread in the host’s skin distantly from the original infectious bite site, due to parasite migration and dissemination from other infected organs. Further transmission of the parasite takes place when additional sandfly females feed on the infected hosts’ skin and uptake infected cells in their blood meal (Solano-Gallego et al., 2009).

Impact: Economic

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No formal figures are published for the economic loss due to CanL. Losses would include expenses for prevention of the disease via vaccination and use of insecticides; expenses for the diagnosis of infection and for its treatment.

Zoonoses and Food Safety

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Visceral leishmaniois is a severe human disease that may be fatal if untreated. It primarily affected young children and infants in the past, but now it is also often a complication in adults infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or those receiving immunosuppressive therapy. Transmission of L. infantum from dogs to humans via sandflies is considered to be the main route of this zoonotic infection. Several studies have investigated the association between canine and human leishmaniosis in the same region and examined to what degree infection in dogs poses a risk for human disease. An increased prevalence of infection in the canine population is associated with increased incidence of human leishmaniosis, poor socioeconomic conditions are risk factors for the association between canine and human infections, and dog density and infected dog ownership are risk factors for infantile human leishmaniosis. The link between dog and human infections probably differs from one region and life style to another and could depend on factors such as human nutrition, time spent outdoors, the density of dogs, and the behaviour of local sandfly vectors (Baneth et al., 2008; Miro et al., 2008).

In southern Europe, where human disease is often sporadic and the ratio between clinically affected humans and infected dogs is low, the ownership of dogs is usually not observed as being associated with an increased risk to humans. Despite this, effective control of canine leishmaniosis could lead to a decrease in human leishmaniosis in endemic regions.

Infected pets may remain disease carriers despite treatment. In areas where sandfly vectors are found, this poses a problem to owners, veterinarians, and local public health and environmental agencies who are concerned with the risk to humans and animals. Before deciding on the fate of an infected pet, owners should be consulted and educated about the disease, its zoonotic nature, the prognosis for their dog, what should be expected from therapy, and safety precautions that should be taken (Miro et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2011).

Disease Treatment

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The main drugs used for treatment of CanL include: (1) the pentavalent antimony meglumine antimoniate (Glucantime®) which selectively inhibits leishmanial glycolysis and fatty acid oxidation; (2) allopurinol which acts by inhibiting protein translation through interfering with RNA synthesis; (3) Miltefosine (Milteforan®) which is an alkylphospholipid with a direct toxic effect on Leishmania parasites impairing signalling pathways and cell membrane synthesis. Treatment with these drugs is frequently combined, with allopurinol administered together with meglumine antimoniate or with miltefosine for 4 weeks initially and then allopurinol continued alone for long term therapy of at least 6 months and often a year or longer (Solano-Gallego et al., 2011; Noli and Saridomichelakis, 2014).

Amphothericin B which acts by binding to ergosterol in the parasite's cell membrane and altering its permeability is also effective but it is highly nephrotoxic and therefore not recommended.

The WHO recommends that drugs used against leishmaniosis in people should not be used in animals due to the possibility of provoking resistance and development of drug-resistant strains ( Allopurinol is not used again leishmaniosis in humans and therefore it is good choice for the fulfillment of the WHO requirements.

Anti-leishmanial treatment often achieves only temporary clinical improvement in dogs with leishmaniosis and it is frequently not associated with the complete elimination of the parasite. Treated dogs often remain carriers of the disease, may be infectious to sandflies and may experience clinical relapses. Owners must receive a thorough and realistic explanation about the disease, its zoonotic potential, the prognosis for their dog, and what should be expected from treatment.

The indications for stopping treatment are fulfillment of all the following terms: complete disappearance for the clinical signs of disease, normalization of the hematology and serum biochemisty paramaters, and a negative serological titer by a quantitative antibody test, such as the IFAT or ELISA (Solano-Gallego et al., 2011).

Prevention and Control

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Decrease of sandfly bites and subsequent infection can be achieved by keeping dogs indoors during the sandfly season from dusk to dawn, reducing the microhabitats favourable to sandflies in the vicinity of the house or in locations where the dog spends time, and use of insecticides. The use of topical insecticides against CanL in collars or spot-on formulation containing pyrethroids has been shown to be effective in reducing disease transmission. Deltamethrin-impregnated collars and permethrin with imidacloprid spot on drops have been shown to significantly reduce the number of sandfly bites to dogs under experimental transmission and demonstrated decreased transmission of infection in field studies. It is also recommended that dogs travelling from a non-endemic region for CanL to an endemic region would wear collars against sandfly bites or be treated with some other topical insecticide with approved efficacy against sandfly bites (Miro et al., 2008; Solano-Gallego et al., 2009; Maroli et al., 2010).

Commercial vaccines against CanL have been approved in Brazil and Europe, however they do not completely prevent infection but rather decrease the occurrence of clinical disease. The only commercial vaccine currently available in Europe is CaniLeish® manufactured by Virbac, which consists of excreted-secreted products obtained by in vitro culture of L. infantum promastigotes with the QA-21 saponin adjuvant. The first immunization consists of 3 subcutaneous injections at 3-week intervals in dogs above 6 months of age seronegative to L. infantum based on a negative rapid serological test supplied by the vaccine manufacturer. Booster vaccination is recommended every year (Gradoni, 2015).

In Brazil, the Leishmune® vaccine manufactured by Zoetis is a fucose-mannose ligand (FML) extract from L. donovani with a saponon adjuvant. The LeishTec® is a second approved canine vaccine in Brazil produced by Hertape Calier and based on recombinant protein A2 and saponin (Gradoni, 2015).


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Links to Websites

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CAPCVET website on leishmaniosis
Center for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta
CFSPH: Animal Disease Information"Animal Disease Information" provides links to various information sources, including fact sheets and images, on over 150 animal diseases of international significance.
LeishVet website
OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals (Terrestrial Manual) aims to facilitate international trade in animals and animal products and to contribute to the improvement of animal health services world-wide. The principal target readership is laboratories carrying out veterinary diagnostic tests and surveillance, plus vaccine manufacturers and regulatory authorities in Member Countries. The objective is to provide internationally agreed diagnostic laboratory methods and requirements for the production and control of vaccines and other biological products.
WHO report on Leishmaniasis 2010
World Health Organization


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24/02/15 Original text by:

Gad Baneth, Professor of Veterinary Medicine, The Rybak-Pearson Chair in Veterinary Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University, P.O. Box 12, Rehovot 76100, Israel.

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