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Animal Welfare in Greece:

Leishmaniasis or Kala Azar strikes terror in the hearts of dog owners. If left untreated, this progressively debilitating disease will eventually kill the animal in a slow and painful way. A Leishmaniasis positive blood test will sound like a death knell to the horrified owner of a beloved pet. Unfortunately there are many misconceptions about the disease that result in prejudices against animals that suffer the disease, much like AIDS in the early 80s. Stray animals with Kalazar have almost no chance of being adopted and are often put down for lack of a better alternative. Although this does not have to be so at all....

Marley on the streets with Leishmaniasis

Marley after his rescue 8 month later. See here for his full story.

There is no need for this, since modern medicine has quite a few effective treatments against Canine Leishmaniasis. If the disease is caught early, clinical cure may be even achieved, meaning that the animal may go into remission. However as yet, there is no possibility of a parasitological cure. This means that any animal with the disease may be infected with very low parasitic counts for life. There is always a possibility of relapse, in which case, treatment is resumed. Animals that do not achieve a complete remission of clinical signs may still live many years with an excellent quality of life if given medication that keeps the disease under control. Any animal that has Kala Azar should be tested bi-annually and their state of health monitored.

One of the major concerns of adopting a dog with Leishmaniasis is the risk of infecting other healthy animals that live in the same home and area. The disease is transmitted by the sand fly (Phlebotomus papatasi). These insects are widespread in tropical and subtropical countries around the globe as well as the countries of the Mediterranean basin when the weather is warm enough to support this insect, usually from May to October. The disease is transmitted when female sand flies suck blood for protein to make their eggs. If a fly bites an infected dog, the Leishmania parasite grows in the stomach of the fly and, later, when the fly bites again, infective forms of the parasite are injected into the skin of the animal, which may then develop the disease. However the reaction of the affected animal may vary, from incubating the parasite with no clinical signs for many years, to a complete resistance to the disease. Many infected animals do eventually develop the disease. Only very rarely can a healthy dog get infected by being in close contact with a dog with leishmaniasis, Puppies of an infected bitch may also very rarely be born with the infection.*(

It is little known that the level of infectiousness is directly related to the parasitic load of the animal. This means that an animal that is being treated for the disease is much less infectious than one that is not. An animal in the early stages of the disease and that does not manifest severe external signs of the disease like weeping sores and ulcers is also much less infectious because the disease has not yet progressed to high levels of parasitic load. Whichever the stage of the disease, treatment will almost always lower the parasitic count and keep the clinical signs of the disease under control. A pet that has the disease, but is receiving treatment, will be less likely to infect other animals.

Apart from treatment, the risk of infection can be reduced to a minimum by applying insecticides like permethrin and imidacloprid. Studies have demonstrated the high repellent potential of the imidacloprid / permethrin combination, thus protecting dogs from sand fly bites. *( These treatments are topical and applied monthly. There are several commercial brands of these pesticides manufactured specifically for dogs that are readily available. There also exists Deltamethrin impregnated collars that the dog may wear during the warm season, which gives a high level of protection against sand fly bites.

It is also advisable to keep the animal indoors and behind insect screens during the period of most heavy activity of the sand fly: dawn to dusk. If screens are not available a fan blowing air in the animal’s sleeping area is a good deterrent to the sand fly. Do not let the animal sleep outdoors with no protection…

Please note that the northernmost point in Europe where the sand fly has been detected so far has been Cochem, Moselle in Germany. In Germany the sand fly has been mainly detected in South Germany in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. However autochthonous cases of canine leishmaniasis are still relatively rare in Germany.* ( Generally the European countries considered safe are the Scandinavian countries, the UK including the Channel Islands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, northern France, and the mountains of Switzerland.**( The non-existence or very low incidence of the disease transmitting sand fly in these areas means that the probabilities of transmission of the disease from an infected animal are minimal.

It is also practically unheard of for a sick dog to transmit the disease to humans. In any case, human patients respond much better to treatment than canine patients. Providing treatment is promptly given, human infections by Leishmania infantum are not life threatening and respond well to the same drugs used to treat dogs.

All this means that a dog with Leishmaniasis who receives the proper treatment can be taken into a loving home as any other healthy animal. If they are taken care of, they can live long and happy lives and certainly, they are capable of giving their owners as much love and affection as healthy pets.

Daisy and Hercules are living testaments to this fact.