This study reports, for the first time, autochthonous cases of T. callipaeda infection in dogs from the central western region of Spain. All 182 animals infected came from the same geographical area of La Vera, whereas three dogs coming from a different geographical area (i.e., Madrid) had spent the previous summer along with their owners in La Vera region where, probably, they had become infected with T. callipaeda.
Interestingly, the latitude (40°N) of La Vera region falls within that of the European and Asian countries where cases of thelaziosis had been previously reported . This area is characterized by a continental Mediterranean climate and habitat conditions similar to those described in Southern Italy where canine thelaziosis is highly endemic [8, 15]. In addition, La Vera region falls within the geoclimatic provisional model for the distribution of the arthropod vector P. variegata . Future studies focussing on the occurrence of this arthropod vector in this area would therefore desirable.
As previously reported [8, 17], although infections were more frequently detected in large- sized breeds than in small ones, no statistically significant differences in the rates of infection by T. callipaeda were recorded. This was explained by the fact that large-sized dogs are usually housed outdoors, thus favouring physical contacts between the dogs and the arthropod vector of canine thelaziosis . The percentage of dogs that presented clinical signs (i.e., 15.4%) was considerably lower than that recorded in previous studies [10, 12]. This finding probably relates to the fact that dogs were examined during the early phases of infection, as suggested by the type/s of clinical signs that were observed. Although the number of worms collected from symptomatic dogs was higher than in asymptomatic ones, no relationship between the parasitic burden and the clinical signs was recorded. The molecular characterisation of the nematodes examined in the present study indicated that all cox 1 sequences were identical to that of T. callipaeda haplotype 1, which had been previously detected in domestic and wild animals in Europe . These data confirm the low genetic variability of T. callipaeda occurring in Europe and support the hypothesis that the infection could have been introduced into Spain by dogs travelling from other regions of Europe (e.g., France, Italy) where thelaziosis is endemic. Interestingly, practitioners (co-authors of this article: VV and MB) reported that during every fall season, many hunters travel together with their dogs from Italy to La Vera for game animals and that the area is also a popular destination for summer holidays, especially for French citizens. In this region, T. callipaeda might have found the appropriate conditions to complete its life cycle, favoured by the occurrence of both the specific arthropod vector and definitive host/s. In the same area, wild carnivores (e.g., foxes, beech martens and wolves) might act as reservoirs for this nematode and spreaders of the infection .
Based on the high infection prevalence recorded herein, and on the current scientific knowledge of the epidemiology of canine thelaziosis in Europe, new cases of infection are likely to emerge in other areas of Spain as well as in other European countries, both in animals and human beings. A spatial geographical model based either on the vector distribution and on the environmental and climatic features of the current endemic areas will be useful in order to estimate the spreading of this emerging parasitic disease.
Finally, canine thelaziosis should be included amongst the differential diagnoses of causes of conjunctivitis in dogs from Spain, as well as other European countries with similar environmental and climatic characteristics.