Dog dies of a tropical disease in the first case of the United Kingdom


A dog died of parasitic leishmaniasis in what is considered the first reported case in the UK.

Shih Tzu, 3 years old, who lived in Hertfordshire, became increasingly sick with vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss for three weeks.

Never having left the British Isles, veterinarians suspect the dog has picked up the parasite Leishmania infantum from another dog with whom it lived.

This dog came from Spain and was sacrificed six months before after developing severe leishmaniasis.

Although dogs can not transmit leishmaniasis directly to humans, sand flies can act as a reservoir for the infection by biting the popular pets and then transmitting the infection to people.

Sand flies are not found in the UK, however, infected humans in tropical regions can withstand sores, fever and even deadly swelling of the liver and spleen.

Shih Tzu, 3 years old, who lived in Hertfordshire, became increasingly sick with vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss for three weeks. The dog was infected in the United Kingdom (stock)

Shih Tzu, 3 years old, who lived in Hertfordshire, became increasingly sick with vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss for three weeks. The dog was infected in the United Kingdom (stock)

The dog was examined by a team from the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK, led by Myles McKenna, Department of Clinical Science and Services.

"To the authors' knowledge, this is the first reported case of leishmaniasis in the UK in a dog with no travel history for an endemic area," Vet Record wrote in the BMJ journal.

"In an era of increased foreign travel of dogs and increased import of dogs into the UK, it is likely that the number of dogs seropositive for L infantum continue to increase.

Dogs infected with Leishmania may present a risk of infection to other dogs, even in the absence of natural vectors, since direct transmission between dogs is possible.

Leishmaniasis is transmitted through sandflies, but infected dogs can spread the disease by biting other canines.

A veterinary examination of the Shih Tzu revealed that he was deficient in all three blood cells – red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body; white blood cells, which make up the immune system; and platelets, which cause blood to clot.

It also had a high level of calcium in the blood as well as an abnormally high amount of protein globulin, which is usually a sign of liver disease.


Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection found in tropical and subtropical regions, as well as in southern Europe.

The disease is caused by being infected with one of more than 20 parasites of Leishmania, which spread to over 30 species of sand flies.

The most common forms of the disease are cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes skin sores, and visceral lesimaniosis, which affects the spleen, liver and bone marrow.

The cutaneous symptoms usually begin as swellings that ulcerate. These are usually painless.

Visceral symptoms include fever, weight loss, abnormally low blood cells, and enlargement of the spleen and liver.

Some people have a "silent infection" and never develop symptoms.

The prevalence of leishmaniasis is difficult to estimate.

It is believed that the cutaneous form of the disease affects between 700,000 and 1.2 million people worldwide each year.

And the visceral form of the disease affects about 100,000 to 400,000 per year.

Infections are found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, southern Europe, Mexico, Central and South America.

Cases that arise in the US or UK are almost always from people who were infected while traveling or living in other countries.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis usually cures alone without treatment, but this can take years and leave scars.

There is also a risk that the ulcers may spread from the skin to the nose, mouth, or throat.

Visceral leishmaniasis is often fatal if left untreated.

There is no vaccine or preventive medication against diseases, with people being advised to avoid sand flies through insecticide sprays and nets.

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Bone marrow and skin biopsies revealed that the Shih Tzu was infected with L. infantum.

This is one of 20 known parasites that cause leishmaniasis.

The Shih Tzu case triggered a second incident of leishmaniasis in the UK to come to light.

A three-year-old English pointer – who never went beyond the borders of Essex – developed leishmaniasis earlier this year.

He was eventually diagnosed after his owners took him to the vet four times between February 2016 and September 2017 when he developed a similar reaction to eczema and hair loss.

Although the dog had never left the UK, its owners lived in Spain.

The couple also traveled between Alicante and Valencia last summer.

Unlike the first case, this dog was not living with an infected dog.

Veterinarians therefore believe that their owners may have brought back the sand in their luggage.

His case was written in Vet Record by a team from Mount Veterinary Practice in Fleetwood, Lancashire.

"The increased import of infected dogs into the UK also makes incidental socialization with infected dogs more likely," they warned.

"We should not be complacent about the risk of Leishmania infantum becoming established in the UK even in the current absence of the sandfly vector.

Daniella Dos Santos, junior vice president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: "The increase in cases of non-endemic diseases, such as leishmaniasis, is extremely worrying.

More than a quarter of the veterinarians interviewed by the BVA last year mentioning [reported] seeing cases of this rare disease in practice.

"Leishmaniasis is primarily associated with pets that have recently traveled outside the UK or to" trojan "rescue dogs from overseas with unknown health histories."

Ms Santos advises pet owners who are planning to travel with their dogs to seek advice from a veterinarian while those who have rescued an imported dog should have them tested.

"Anyone wishing to get a dog should consider adopting a UK charity rather than redeeming from abroad, as the unintended consequences of the trojan can be severe for the health and well-being of UK pets ", she said.


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