Leishmaniosis was first described in dogs and cats from Syria in 1756 by Russel and around 1900 sand flies (Phlebotominae) became known as the transmitting vector. After World War II when Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) was used in an eradication program for Anopheles, leishmaniosis in animals became rare because the sand fly was decimated too. Than in 1980 Morsy et al. showed a prevalence of 20.5% in cats in Jordania and since that time leishmaniosis became an issue especially in animals from the Mediterranean area. In cats cutaneous leishmaniosis seems to be the most frequent form. Typical signs include nodular to ulcerous lesions on the nose, lips, ears, eyelids and alopecia. Recent reports confirmed Leishmania infantum infections in cats serologically as well as by PCR. In the last years animal welfare and rescue organizations started to import dogs and cats from Southern Europe to Germany and leishmaniosis became a topic in German veterinary practices. Leishmaniosis is known to cause either a persistent disease or a lifelong carrier state. To determine the prevalence and therefore the risk to import infected cats, we investigated in our study feral cats captured in a neutering program in the area of Thessaloniki for antibodies of Leishmania infantum. All cats got a full clinical examination and were grouped regarding their health status and body conditions. An EDTA and a serum sample were taken from each cat under sedation. The serum samples were shipped on dry ice to Germany and were investigated in our laboratory by IFAT for the presents of antibodies for Leishmania infantum.
From 389 investigated cats 84 samples were positive, titres varying from 1:64 (n=63) to 1:1024 (n=1). These results show a prevalence of 21.6%. Leishmania-related clinical signs were seen in 16 (19%) of positive cats, which mean 4.1% of all investigated cats.
None of all tested cats (n=389) was positive for FeLV and only 5.3 % (n=21) were positive for FIV. In the group of leishmania-antibody-positive cats 1.8% were FIV-positive.
Despite these results and many other studies, cats are still regarded as an unusual leishmania hosts.
In comparison to our study, Papadopoulou et al. showed a higher prevalence rate of up to 45.4% in dogs from this area. One explanation might be the effect of the cats nocturnal and twilight activity. Sand flies are also most active at dusk. But they need a host that is more or less motionless for at least ten minutes before they bite. So cats might be simply too active in comparison to dogs at this time of day and that might explain the lower prevalence rate.