Canine Leishmaniasis Vaccine now available in Portugal.

Leishmaniasis is a potentially fatal disease for our dogs, with approximately 2.5 million dogs infected in Europe. However, the good news is that after 20 years of research Portugal has been chosen to be the first country to be able to offer a vaccine against Canine Leishmaniasis. Up until now we could only hope to provide protection to our dogs if they are in an area prevalent in Leishmaniasis by using insecticides.

Where is Leishmaniasis found? 

Leishmaniasis can be found in Greece, Italy, The Balkans, Malta, South of France, Portugal, Spain, humid parts of North Africa, central & South America, Middle East and Asia.

There are five species:

Leishmania Infantum   – Found in the Mediterranean area & Middle East

Leishmania Donovani – Found in the Mediterranean area & Middle East

Leishmania Chagasi – Found in Central & South America

Leishmania Braziliensis – Found in Central & South America

Leishmania Mexicana – Found in Central & South America

Hot spots for Leishmaniasis in Portugal:

Lisbon Metropolitan Region

Evora District



So what is Leishmaniasis?

Canine Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by a parasitic infection from the bite of a Sandfly. This microscopic parasite lives in the cells of blood and internal organs of our dogs, especially the bone marrow, lymph nodes, skin, spleen, kidneys and liver. It is a zoonotic disease where the dog can pass the parasite on to humans via the Sandfly.

How is it transmitted?

The female Sandfly requires a protein found in blood to produce her eggs. As the female is feeding (sucking blood) from an infected animal the parasite enters and grows in the Sandfly’s stomach. When she has her next meal infective forms of the parasite will be injected into the next animal skin as she bites/feeds.

‘Up to 700 Sandflies can bite a dog in one night!’

It is very rare but not impossible for transmission to be dog to dog.

Many dogs that are bitten never get the clinical signs of Leishmaniasis and are able to control the parasite with their own immune system. It does appear to be dependent on genetics with the Dobermann Pinschers and German Shepherd Dogs being more susceptible.

What is the incubation period?

The time from the Sandfly bite to the first signs of Leishmaniasis is around 3 to 7 months but it can be longer, up to several years.

What are the signs of Leishmaniasis?

Some dogs may not show any signs of infection, if they do these are some of the signs you may see.

Early signs:

Enlarged lymph nodes


Hair loss, particularly around the eyes and muzzle, can spread to other areas of the body

Dry skin with dandruff

Weeping skin sores or ulcers especially around the head and legs

Weight loss

Other signs:

Nose bleeds

Eye diseases e.g. conjunctivitis

Poor appetite


Exercise intolerance/tiredness




Claws can overgrow and become twisted

Kidney Failure – you may see your dog drinking more than normal or urinating more than normal

Liver failure


Neurological abnormalities

Swelling of the abdomen


How can I know for sure it is Leishmaniasis?

There are laboratory tests to detect whether your dog is infected with Leishmaniasis.

Is there a cure?

Unfortunately there is no complete cure. If caught in the early stages of infection there is a good chance to control the disease’s clinical signs and for your dog to go into remission but they will still be infected with very low levels for life. Regular check ups with your Veterianary Surgeon are advisable as they can have relapses.

What is a Sandfly?

A Sandfly ia a small two winged insect about 3mm long.

They are hairy, hold their wings up above their body and hop around.

Despite their name they are not found on the beach, as they breed in damp soil rich in organic material they are most abundant in gardens, the countryside, parklands and woodlands.

Even though they can be confused with mosquitoes you will not hear these around you.

They are most active from dusk to dawn as they hate the heat during the day and will be found tucked away in cool moist resting areas e.g. cellars and cracks in the walls.

Sandflies mainly bite outside and have limited powers of flight therefore it is advisable to keep your dogs inside and even better upstairs between dusk and dawn.

When is the season for Sandflies?

Sandflies hibernate as larvae in damp soil from about the end of October till the month of May. From May they come out of hibernation with late August and into September being the most prevalent time.

What is the vaccine called?


How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine encourages your dogs body to make antibodies against the proteins released by the Leishmania Infantum parasite during its growth. If your dog is later exposed to the Leishmania Infantum parasite their immune system will be able to respond quicker, helping to reduce the risk of developing infection and protecting them against the disease. The vaccine does not contain any parasites.

Does my dog have to be a certain age before vaccination?

Yes, the vaccine is for dogs 6 months or older.

 Are there any requirements before vaccination?

The vaccine is only for use in dogs who are negative for Leishmaniasis, therefore your dog will require a laboratory test to check they are free from Leishmaniasis first.

How many injections are required for my dog to be protected?

The initial course is similar to the puppy vaccination course.

Your dog will have three injections given under the skin three weeks apart.

i.e. First injection, wait three weeks, second injection, wait three weeks, third injection.

Your dog will be covered by the vaccine four weeks after the initial vaccination course.

Thereafter a yearly single booster is required to keep them covered.

Are there any risks associated with the vaccine?

There can be a moderate and temporary local reaction to the injection where you may see some swelling, a hard nodule, pain if you touch the area of the injection or reddening of the area of injection. These should resolve after anything between 2 days and 2 weeks.

You may also see hyperthermia, a lack of vitality, digestive problems lasting 1 to 6 days, or a possible allergic-type reaction which will require treatment.

How will I know what the best thing to do for my dog is?

Speak to your Veterinary Surgeon about how high the incidence of Leishmania Infantum is in your area and then with the help of your Veterinary Surgeon assess the benefit against the risk before deciding whether to vaccinate.

What else can I do to prevent Leishmaniasis? 

Keep your dog inside between dusk and dawn.

Use an insecticide:

Scalibor ProtectorBand (Intervet), is a collar impregnated with deltamethrin providing about 95% cover for 6 months. Your dog will be protected after 10-14 days of wearing the collar.

Advantix (Bayer), a spot on treatment required every two weeks in prevention of Sandflies.

About Silver Coast Angelic Dogs

English dog training and behaviour consultant based in Portugal. Special interest in human-canine relations and how they impact on a dogs everyday life.
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2 Responses to Canine Leishmaniasis Vaccine now available in Portugal.

  1. Jamie Snell says:

    Hi, we came across your article on Canine Leishmanisis via Google. We are researching the subject as our dog has been diagnosed. We adopted her from Spain last year. We realise it can be managed/treated, however our main concern is the potential risk of transfer from the infected dog to our other dog (who didn’t come from Spain) and to our family, in particular my pregnant fiancée and unborn baby. We are getting inconsistent messages on this – are you able to tell us whether we and our healthy dog are at risk? Thanks so much in advance.

    Jamie Snell, Teignmouth, England.

    • Leishmaniasis is a zoonosis – transmittable to humans and other dogs. Transmission dog-dog or dog-human usually requires an exchange of blood e.g. during fighting or exudative wounds and a wound on the person or dog catching it to come into contact. Puppy mouthing on your hands is also a way to possibly to transmit it but very rare.
      Hope this helps.

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