Leishmaniose bei Hunden - Behandlung, Symptome & Therapie

Leishmaniasis in dogs

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Leishmaniasis is a disease that is predominantly found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is caused by single-celled parasites known as leishmania and can be transmitted to humans or dogs through the bite of female sand flies. In dogs, it is usually the Leishmania species Leishmania infantum that causes this disease.

Which is exactly Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is a serious parasitic infectious disease that can occur in dogs and other animals, but also in humans. The disease is caused by protozoa of the genus Leishmania. These parasites are transmitted through the bite of certain species of sand flies, particularly the genus Phlebotomus and Lutzomyia.

The disease occurs in different parts of the world, especially in tropical and subtropical regions, but also in southern European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. There are two main forms of leishmaniasis in dogs:

  1. Visceral leishmaniasis (internal leishmaniasis) : This form affects the dog's internal organs, such as the liver, spleen and bone marrow. Symptoms can be varied and include weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and enlarged lymph nodes.

  2. Cutaneous leishmaniasis : This is the cutaneous form of the disease. It manifests itself in skin changes such as ulcers, scaling and hair loss. These changes can extend throughout the dog's entire body.

  3. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis: Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis is a form of leishmaniasis that affects the mucous membranes and skin. This parasitic disease is caused by protozoa of the genus Leishmania and can result in ulcerative lesions, particularly in the facial area.

Leishmaniasis can cause serious health problems in dogs and can be life-threatening if left untreated. Since an outbreak of the disease depends on the stability of the immune system, the incubation period ranges from 3-7 months to a few years. Diagnosis is often made through blood tests and skin samples. Treatment can be difficult and usually requires medications that affect the dog's immune system to stop the parasites from multiplying.

It is important to note that leishmaniasis can also be transmitted to humans, so combating the disease is of great importance not only for animal love but also for public health reasons.

Sandflies Leishmaniasis Dogs


Zoonoses are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people. They are caused by various pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and protozoa. Leishmaniasis is also a zoonose, which means that transmission between dogs and people as well as between dogs is theoretically possible. Although veterinarians often recommend separating leishmaniasis-positive and -negative dogs in waiting rooms, no clear case of such transmission has been proven. The main risk of infection comes from direct contact with blood, for example through blood transfusions. This also applies to human-to-human transmission, which usually only occurs during birth or through blood and organ donations. In practice, however, with normal hygiene measures, dog owners are hardly at risk of infection from their leishmaniasis-positive dogs.


With regard to resistance, a few sand flies appear in southern Germany, but this should not necessarily be a cause for concern. The sandfly first needs an infected host to pass on the disease. Both humans and dogs can develop natural resistance to leishmaniasis. Although they become infected from the mosquito bite, they remain healthy, which is called subclinical infection. This appears to be true for the majority of the population and dog population in the regions affected by the disease. About half of dogs in Mediterranean areas are estimated to be infected with Leishmania without showing any symptoms. A non-antibody-based cellular immune defense, especially in dogs that have been in contact with these pathogens for generations, plays a crucial role and offers natural protection against the outbreak or significantly mitigates the course of the disease. Nevertheless, leishmaniasis should not be underestimated, as it can break out in a weakened immune system and cause serious damage to internal organs, in the worst case with fatal outcomes. In Germany, canine leishmaniasis has become more important in recent years due to increased imports of southern dogs and travel with dogs to these countries and is an often controversial topic.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of leishmaniasis in dogs can vary and depend on several factors, including the stage of the infection and the dog's individual response. Here are some common signs and symptoms of leishmaniasis:

  1. Skin changes: This is a common sign of leishmaniasis in dogs. Hair loss, scaling, skin ulcers, crusting and inflammation can occur.

  2. Weight loss: Dogs with leishmaniasis often lose weight and may appear emaciated.

  3. Loss of appetite: A reduced interest in eating is a common symptom. Dogs with leishmaniasis often have little appetite.

  4. Fatigue and Weakness: Affected dogs are often lethargic, weak, and show signs of fatigue.

  5. Fever: An elevated body temperature is a common symptom of visceral leishmaniasis, the internal form of the disease.

  6. Lymph node swelling: Enlarged lymph nodes, particularly in the neck and armpits, may occur.

  7. Joint Pain: Dogs with leishmaniasis may exhibit lameness and joint pain.

  8. Bleeding tendency: In some cases, bleeding may occur, such as nosebleeds or blood in the urine or stool.

  9. Eye problems: Eye inflammation and eye changes are possible, especially with cutaneous leishmaniasis.

NOTE: It is important to note that many dogs that come to Germany from southern countries through animal welfare organizations may exhibit symptoms such as emaciation, diarrhea or skin changes. This is often due to their previous life history, which may have left behind metabolic diseases or other health problems. However, it is not necessarily the case that such dogs have leishmaniasis. Just because a dog is from the South and is experiencing weight loss or other symptoms does not automatically mean that he has leishmaniasis.

Diagnosis and treatment of leishmaniasis

The diagnosis and treatment of leishmaniasis in dogs usually requires professional veterinary care. Here are the four common detection methods:


  1. Blood test with leishmaniasis antibody titer (LAT)

    One of the most common methods of diagnosing leishmaniasis is by examining blood samples.

    The leishmaniasis antibody titer (LAT) is a common but unfortunately not absolutely reliable method of diagnosis. This is a serological test in which the antibody level in the blood serum is measured. Although there are now special tests for leishmaniasis pathogens, so-called cross-reactions can occur under certain circumstances, for example with babesiosis pathogens. So an increase in titer could also indicate that the dog is suffering from another disease such as babesiosis.

    A positive leishmaniasis test result can also be caused by stress, deworming, vaccinations, medication or surgery, common situations in imported rescue dogs. The titer remains elevated even after leishmaniasis has been overcome. So, in some cases, a healthy body can be misdiagnosed as leishmaniasis positive. In principle, the titer determination is therefore not sufficient to definitively confirm the suspicion of leishmaniasis. Despite its limitations, LAT blood testing remains an important screening method, particularly in dogs from regions where leishmaniasis is endemic.

    NOTE: It is important to note that a positive leishmaniasis antibody titer (LAT) should always be checked with a second test, ideally with sufficient time interval. This allows symptoms from other causes to subside and ensures an informed diagnosis is made. Only if the second LAT is also positive should confirmation by a puncture examination be made before the use of special leishmaniasis medication is justified.
  2. Direct pathogen detection (microscopically or through culture)

    Direct detection of the pathogen by taking samples from lymph nodes, bone marrow or tissue is relatively safe to confirm the presence of Leishmania in affected skin or organ areas. However, this involves greater effort and inconvenience for the dog and is therefore rarely used.

  3. Detection method using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)

    The PCR method for diagnosing leishmaniasis in dogs uses the polymerase chain reaction to detect the genetic material of leishmania in the dog's bone marrow. This highly specific and sensitive molecular technique enables precise identification of the Leishmania pathogen, even in early stages of infection. Despite the complex procedure and cost, PCR offers a relatively safe way to detect the presence of Leishmania in dogs, especially when they show clinical symptoms.

  4. Clinical symptoms

The clinical symptoms such as skin changes, weight loss and other signs can also help in the diagnosis.


The treatment of leishmaniasis in dogs can be complex and lengthy. It aims to control symptoms, prevent the spread of parasites and support the dog's immune system. Here are some common approaches to therapy:

  1. Medication: Antiparasitic medications such as allopurinol and antimony compounds are often prescribed to stop leishmania from multiplying. These medications often have to be taken for a long period of time.

  2. Symptomatic treatment: Depending on the dog's symptoms, symptomatic treatment may be necessary. This may include administering painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications, or antibiotics.

  3. Immunomodulators: Some veterinarians prescribe immunomodulators to support the dog's immune system and improve parasite control.

  4. Diet: A special diet that meets the needs of dogs with leishmaniasis may be recommended to promote health and strengthen the immune system.

  5. Prevention and Control: Avoiding sandfly bites is crucial to preventing further infection. This can be achieved by wearing protective clothing, using insect repellents, and avoiding activities during the evening and night hours.

Medication for leishmaniasis

The treatment of leishmaniasis is challenging due to the serious side effects of the medications used. Common medications such as allopurinol, miltefosine, megluminatimonate, and domperidone have time limits on their use to prevent possible serious side effects. With allopurinol in particular, the long list of potential side effects often seems not to be sufficiently taken into account and is often used in dogs that do not yet show any visible symptoms.

Allopurinol, an anti-gout agent in human medicine, influences purine metabolism. Leishmania require purines from the host to reproduce. Allopurinol poses as a purine, but does not feed the leishmania, but rather inhibits them from reproducing. However, the drug also prevents the breakdown of purines into uric acid in the organism. This increases the intermediate product “xanthine” created from the excess purine, which is the precursor to uric acid. As the xanthine level increases, the kidneys often fail to excrete the xanthines to the extent that they are produced. This often results in kidney disorders such as the formation of xanthine stones or crystals, which promote bladder infections.

This explains the frequent combination of allopurinol with a diet low in purines, although this must be carefully considered to avoid unnecessary side effects.

NOTE: It is important to emphasize that the side effects of medications such as allopurinol, particularly kidney disorders, can be serious. The use of such medications is only justified if leishmaniasis has been proven beyond doubt. Regular blood tests are advisable as the disease itself and the metabolism of medication can lead to impairment of liver and kidney values. In the event of such changes, not only should the therapeutic measures be adjusted, but a special diet should also be considered.


The use of antibiotics to treat leishmaniasis in dogs is controversial because leishmaniasis is a parasitic infectious disease caused by Leishmania, protozoa of the genus Leishmania. Antibiotics are medications used to fight bacterial infections, but not parasitic infections.

The primary treatment of leishmaniasis in dogs usually includes antiparasitic drugs such as allopurinol, miltefosine or others aimed at controlling the growth and reproduction of leishmaniasis in the dog's body. These drugs are aimed at fighting the parasites and relieving the symptoms of the disease.

It is important to note that the treatment of leishmaniasis in dogs can be complex, and the choice of medication and duration of treatment should be made by a veterinarian who takes into account the dog's individual needs. The use of antibiotics to treat leishmaniasis is usually not standard practice and should be carefully considered by a professional.

Which food is right for leishmaniasis?

Proper nutrition is important if a dog has leishmaniasis. The diet can help support the dog's health and strengthen the immune system.

A high quality dog ​​food is crucial to ensure the dog receives all the necessary nutrients. Look for a food that is balanced and contains all the necessary proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and improve the appearance of your dog's skin. Flaxseed oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Adequate protein content in the food is important to support the dog's muscle mass and immune system. Protein sources such as chicken, fish or insects can be useful.

It is important to note that diet alone cannot provide a cure for leishmaniasis. However, proper nutrition can help improve the dog's quality of life, reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.

The appropriate purine content

Purine content is an important factor in the diet of dogs with leishmaniasis. Purines are organic compounds that the body produces itself and also absorbs through food, especially animal products. During digestion, purines are converted into uric acid, which is converted into allantoin by the liver and excreted via the kidneys. The higher the purine content, the greater the strain on the kidneys caused by the increased uric acid. High uric acid levels increase the risk of kidney disease, urinary stones and urine grit.

Leishmaniasis affects the load on the metabolic organs, especially the liver and kidneys. Therefore, a diet with moderate purine content is important, along with the medications often administered and the fact that leishmania require purines to reproduce.

However, reducing purine content is complicated because meat and high-quality proteins naturally have a high purine content. Foods that are very high in purine include:

  • Innards such as heart, liver, lungs, kidneys and rumen
  • Skin and slaughter products rich in connective tissue
  • Horse meat
  • tuna
  • Peas and other legumes such as white beans
  • soy

It is important to choose a balanced recipe with high-quality protein sources so as not to put a strain on your metabolism. In contrast to conventional "pet food meat", soldier fly larvae, for example, contain very little purine.

In order to determine whether a food is actually low in purines, the food must be analyzed for the purines and uric acid it contains. The purines must then be converted into uric acid equivalents and added to the uric acid determined. The result is the proportion of uric acid in the product. However, the interaction of the ingredients in the entire feed ration is crucial, rather than rejecting individual purine-rich ingredients across the board. A balanced approach is crucial to strengthen the dog's immune system, regardless of purine content.

Moderate protein and phosphorus content

Choosing food for dogs with leishmaniasis requires careful consideration of protein and raw ash content to promote animal health. A balanced protein content is crucial, as proteins are important not only for building muscle, but also for numerous metabolic processes. Dogs affected by leishmaniasis require a balanced source of protein, ideally high-quality animal protein, to meet their nutritional requirements.

It is important to avoid excessively high protein levels as this can increase strain on the kidneys and worsen existing kidney problems. We recommend a protein content of less than 25% for dry food and less than 8% for wet or BARF feeding (in the fresh substance).

At the same time, the mineral content, especially the phosphorus content, should be taken into account. Here are some features to consider when choosing a suitable food for dogs with kidney failure:

  • Low phosphorus content approx. 0.6% in dry food & 0.2% in wet food
  • Low calcium content approx. 1% in dry food & 0.3% in wet food
  • Calcium-phosphorus ratio from 1.2:1 to 1.8:1 .
  • Reduced, but still high-quality protein content approx. 16-23% in dry food & 5-9% in wet food
  • Controlling sodium levels in the diet can help regulate blood pressure and minimize fluid retention
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can have anti-inflammatory effects and support kidney health
DANGER: These are guideline values ​​of standard analytical values ​​for dry and wet food. If you have any more specific questions, please always contact the manufacturer directly.

Find out more about kidney failure in dogs →

Leishmaniasis in puppies

Leishmaniasis can also affect puppies, although the disease is less common in young dogs than in adult dogs. Leishmania transmission usually occurs through the bite of infected sand flies, and puppies, as well as adult dogs, can be at risk, particularly in endemic areas.
Symptoms of leishmaniasis in puppies can vary, and the disease can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms seen in affected puppies include:
  1. Skin changes: Puppies with leishmaniasis may have skin changes such as ulcers, scaling, hair loss and inflammation.
  2. Eye problems: Eye inflammation and eye changes may occur.
  3. Weight loss: Decreased interest in eating and weight loss are common signs.
  4. Lameness and Joint Pain: Puppies may show signs of lameness and joint pain.
  5. Fatigue: Lethargic behavior and tiredness are also possible.
Diagnosing leishmaniasis in puppies is usually done through blood tests to check for the presence of leishmania and antibodies. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, appropriate treatment should be initiated.
Treatment for leishmaniasis in puppies can be similar to that in adult dogs and involves administration of antiparasitic medications such as allopurinol or miltefosine. Treatment aims to stop the parasites from multiplying and relieve symptoms. Because puppies are typically more susceptible to disease, it is important to protect them from sandfly bites, especially in endemic areas.
This can be achieved by wearing protective clothing and using insect repellents. If leishmaniasis is suspected in a puppy, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Protective measures against leishmaniasis for dogs in at-risk areas

There is no absolute guarantee against leishmaniasis. Both commercially available chemical protection bracelets and other chemical preparations as well as vaccinations cannot ensure that a dog will not become ill. The question of the appropriate benefit in relation to the possible health burden remains open, especially with chemical preparations.

Before traveling to endangered areas, such as Mediterranean countries, the need to take your dog with you should be reconsidered. If the dog's immune system is weakened due to chronic or acute illnesses, it is advisable to postpone the trip or leave the dog at home.

Basically, a stable immune system is the best natural protection against leishmaniasis. Deworming, vaccinating or treating your dog with chemical care products shortly before your vacation is not recommended. If these measures are necessary, they should be carried out early, ideally at least four to six weeks before the trip, to give the immune system enough time to stabilize.

The journey should be as stress-free as possible for the dog, as excessive stress can weaken the immune system. At the holiday destination itself, it is advisable to keep the dog indoors from dusk onwards, as sand flies are particularly active at dusk and at night.

Leishmaniasis Mediterranean dog

our recommendation

You should keep your dog on a low-purine diet if he has certain health conditions such as leishmaniasis, gout, kidney stones, or liver disease. Unfortunately, the term “low in purines” is not regulated by law. The 100mg per 100g brand is often mentioned, although it is not always clear whether this refers to the pure purine content or the uric acid equivalents.

We at BugBell have decided that we speak of low purine when the total uric acid content (not just the purine content!) is below 80mg/100g of product. By reducing purine-containing ingredients, potential complaints can be reduced and your dog's health can be supported. You can find the purine content of our products under the Composition tab.

Wet food terrine with insects →

This is wet food that you can mix yourself. There are a total of 3 varieties, all of which have a uric acid content of approximately 40 mg/100g of product after mixing.

Wet food vegan yellow & red →

For our vegan doses we are at 63.5 mg/100g for Happy Hack and only 21.1 mg/100g for Jackules.

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