Hepatozoon spp., Babesia spp. and Leishmania infantum are common parasites of dogs in Mediterranean countries and are less frequent in cats, particularly Babesia spp. and L. infantum. Moreover, there is limited information on coinfections between these parasites and on L. infantum’s distribution in blood, skin and lymphoid tissue in cats. We used PCR and DNA sequencing to investigate the prevalence of these parasites and the aetiology of Hepatozoon spp. and Babesia spp., in blood, skin, spleen and lymph node samples from up to 212 stray cats and 82 abandoned dogs in southeast Spain. All except 2 dogs were healthy; instead, 112 cats had clinical signs. The estimated PCR prevalences (95% confidence interval) were 25% (19–31%) Hepatozoon felis in cats, 13% (6–21%) Hepatozoon canis in dogs, 1% (0–4%) Babesia vogeli in dogs, 0% Babesia spp. in cats and 21% (15–26%) and 44% (33–55%) L. infantum in cats and dogs, respectively, and infections were not associated with each other. Leishmania infantum prevalence in lymphoid tissue was significantly higher in dogs than in cats (p < 0.001), and dogs had higher parasite loads than cats (p = 0.012). Moreover, L. infantum prevalence was significantly higher in the skin and lymphoid tissue compared to blood in infected, asymptomatic animals but it was similar in cats with clinical signs, which also had higher parasite loads compared to infected, asymptomatic cats (p < 0.05). The study highlights significant differences between sympatric dogs and cats with respect to the parasite infections investigated, as well as the need to examine both lymphoid tissue and skin samples to maximise the sensitivity of L. infantum infection diagnosis.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Open Access funding provided thanks to the CRUE-CSIC agreement with Springer Nature. The study was funded by the Universidad de Murcia and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. María Ortuño held a “Contrato Predoctoral FPU” from the Universidad de Murcia and was also beneficiary of an “Erasmus + Movilidad Internacional” grant to do some of the present work at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
© 2022, The Author(s).