Dog owners can breathe a sigh of relief, says veterinary pharmacist Alastair Mallia. After 20 years of research, prevention now exists for the deadly canine leishmaniosis, also known as sandfly. So why do some avoid the jab?

About 2.5 million dogs in Europe are already infected by the parasite that causes canine leishmaniosis, which is transmitted between dogs by the bites of infected sandflies, often wrongly referred to as mosquitoes.

If your dog is infected with the parasite, symptoms may not show immediately. Signs to look for include fever, hair loss (particularly around the eyes), weight loss, skin sores and nail problems.

Internal organs are also affected, which can lead to anaemia, arthritis and severe kidney failure. All breeds are susceptible, but Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Rottweilers and German Shepherds are at particular risk of developing symptoms.

This disease is often deadly and expensive treatments can only control the symptoms, but not cure the disease. Sandflies also transmit this deadly infection from dogs to humans, therefore control is of utmost importance. Sandflies are widespread and can be found in many habitats in Malta – seaside areas are just one example.

Along with Malta, countries bordering the Mediterranean basin (especially Portugal, Greece and parts of Spain, Italy and Southern France) are of particularly high risk for dogs.

After 20 years of cutting-edge research by high-level scientists, including state-of-the-art vaccination technology, the first vaccine against canine leishmaniosis is available.

With vaccination, it is possible to provide a dog with a new level of protection against the disease.

Vaccinations are crucial for good health, both for humans, as well as for their beloved pets. Vaccinating dogs for common diseases like parvovirosis, distemper and leishmaniosis drastically decreases the risk of them contracting one of these serious illnesses.

The risk associated with vaccinations is rare and is totally outweighed by the benefits. This can be seen locally in veterinary clinics, where thousands of vaccinations are administered every month without incident.

In a study conducted on the Leishmania vaccine, it was found that 23 per cent of dogs that were not vaccinated developed the disease, while only seven per cent of vaccinated dogs were affected.

This makes vaccination very important, especially in a high-risk endemic area, such as the Maltese islands, from where an imported human case of this disease was reported in Switzerland – when a tourist contracted leishmaniosis while on holiday in Gozo in 2012 – not to mention the multitude of new cases of diseased pet dogs every year.

The full vaccine course involves three injections given at three-week intervals and provides the dog with a long-term internal defence against the symptoms of the infection. Only one annual re-vaccination is needed to maintain the immune defence of a dog against canine leishmaniosis.

Vaccination can be given to most dogs over six months, which are free from infectious diseases, including canine leishmaniosis itself. Vaccination is recommended as none of the topical products are able to completely prevent all sandfly bites, even with the correct use of anti-flea spot-ons, collars and sprays.

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