Cyprian Cilla diagnosed with disease from insect bite

October 2017’s Pet of the Month, Cilla, has been coming to see us for two years since being rescued from Cyprus, but it was in June this year that her owners had spotted something flicking in and out of her nose when she was breathing – possibly a flake of skin. However, when Cilla attended her appointment, whatever it was had gone. Then in July, Cilla returned as she now had small skin lesions on the soft part of her nose that would scab over, come off and then reappear. She also had exfoliative skin lesions in her armpits: tiny scabs that came away when you stroked her fur. Given Cilla’s history – that she had come from abroad – our vet Emma wondered if Cilla could possibly be showing symptoms of Leishmaniasis.

Leishmaniasis is only contracted by the bite of an infected female sandfly. The flies pick up the parasitic protozoal organism by feeding on an animal infected with Leishmaniasis and then, in turn, inject the Leishmania while they are taking a blood meal from a new unsuspecting victim. Once injected, the Leishmania organism spreads from cell to cell. It can take as long as 6 years before there are any signs a host is suffering from the condition.

Leishmaniasis is a very serious diseases as it can affect internal organs, as well as producing skins lesions, and ultimately can be fatal. Emma ran several tests to investigate, and whilst Cilla’s blood profile was unremarkable, she tested positive for antibodies against Leishmania, showing definite exposure. Also her urine sample contained raised levels of protein which can be consistent with the disease. We then sent away skin biopsies (see accompanying photos) to test for the presence of genetic material from the Leishmania parasite using a special process called PCR. Unfortunately, these results were positive, confirming our predicted diagnosis and our first case of this disease here at 387 Vets.

Taking a biopsy from skin lesions

Removing the skin biopsy

Wound post biopsy

It’s two years since four year old Cilla came to the UK, and she only started exhibiting symptoms of Leishmaniasis this summer. She’s now on a special medication to reduce the clinical signs and control the parasite but unfortunately, like the similar protozoal parasite malaria, it is not possible to ‘cure’ an animal from Leishmania and Cilla will continue to carry the parasite.

Leishmaniasis is endemic in Mediterranean Europe and hence most dogs imported from these areas are carrying the parasite. However, it can only be contracted abroad where there are sandflies to pass the disease from animal to animal. If you have adopted a pet from overseas, please do look out for classic signs of the condition, as prompt action could save your pet’s life.