18th May 2023
Written by Dr. Victor Vassallo D.V.M.
In this first article I shall be writing about the dreaded "sand-fly", a well-known name to Maltese dog owners. This name is wrongly used to describe the disease Leishmaniasis. Leishmaniasis is a chronic parasitic disease of dogs and occasionally humans. The sandfly is actually the vector of this disease. This means that the sandfly ingests the parasite when it bites an infected dog and passes it on to a healthy dog the next time it bites. In this article some characteristics of this insect shall be described. This knowledge will help dog owners protect their dogs from infection.
The sand-fly (Phlebotomus papatasi) is a very small insect (1 to 3 mm), and very difficult to see. It is yellowish (sand) in colour, hence its name. It feeds very much like a mosquito by sucking blood from its host. It feeds every 10 to 20 days.
It is a weak insect and once it lands on a dog it will hop from one place to another until it finds a fairly bald patch of skin. It is active only during the warm summer nights, with its periods of maximum activity being just after sunset and just before sunrise. It does not need water to breed; in fact water actually kills its larvae. That is why it is unlikely to be found anywhere near the sea. So don’t worry about taking your dog to an evening barbeque on the beach.
The sand-fly breeds in moist organic material, like decaying leaves, mostly in shady areas. That is why rubble walls are good breeding sites for these insects. The sand-fly rarely flies higher than one storey. So, the higher up you live, the safer your dog is.
With this information in mind it is easier for the dog owners to protect their pets against the sand-fly bite. Dog owners frequently tell me that they do not take their pets out for walks after sunset because of their fear of the sand-fly. In actual fact it is quite unlikely that this occurs during a walk, as the insect would find it quite difficult to find and settle on to a bald patch of skin due to the constant movement of the animal.
Your dog should be protected while it sleeps. One very effective way of protection is to have a fan on during the night, as the air currents will prevent the sandfly from settling down for a meal.
It is also important that some form of repellant is used to protect your dog. There are some good products on the market. Get advice from your veterinarian at the start of summer.