DUBAI // The owner of a dog that died from a rare parasitic disease is calling for further investigation into whether more animals - or even humans - are at risk.
Amr Yazji, 36, from Syria, found that the cause of the death of his Doberman, Caesar, was leishmaniasis - a disease that can be fatal to animals and, in extreme cases, humans.
The parasite is normally transmitted by sandflies, and is common in South America and the Indian subcontinent.
Although there are sandflies in the UAE, they are not thought to carry the leishmania parasite. Mr Yazji, however, believes the animal contracted the disease from a tick bite during a walk in The Greens shortly before the animal fell sick.
"I'm 100 per cent sure it was from this tick bite," he said. "I don't have proof that this tick can bite human beings, or that The Greens is an infected area, but I do believe the government should look into this.
"My dog was everything to me. I want to raise awareness of this because I don't want it to happen to someone else."
There are two types of leishmaniasis. Cutaneous leishmaniasis can cause ulcers on the skin, while visceral leishmaniasis can cause systemic problems, such as weight loss, fever and anaemia. Visceral leishmaniasis can be fatal to humans in extreme cases.
Dr Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, said the leishmania parasite was not found in the UAE. "This is an imported disease, we don't have it in this country," he said. "We have very rare cases of leishmaniasis, and it mainly comes from Asia. I've seen two or three cases from imported dogs in 20 years, but it's very rare. I don't believe they get it from here."
Caesar, who would have been two in October, was imported from Hungary in April 2011.
The dog was treated at the Modern Veterinary Clinic in Dubai after suffering symptoms for more than a month. The vet who handled the case, Dr Peter Jaworski, said it was possible the dog could have received the disease congenitally from its mother in Hungary, in which case the symptoms would have been delayed.
However, he said there was debate among vets here on whether the disease exists locally. "We suspect it might be transmitted through local ticks, but it's just a discussion among us doctors," he said.
"This really needs to be investigated a bit more thoroughly by parasitologists. It's just our suspicion. We do have sand flies here and that can be a very typical transmission vector."
He said the clinic normally only receives one or two leishmania cases a year, but many more could go undiagnosed.
Many stray dogs who have been brought to the clinic by charitable organisations may have had the disease but their cases go undiagnosed because those organisations cannot afford to pay for tests.
"Our statistics are not really reliable for leishmania because very often it's not diagnosed," he said.
However, there were important similarities between Mr Yazji's case and the last case to be diagnosed by the clinic. "The last owner said that their dog was also covered in tick bites," he said.