Leishmania infantum infection is highly prevalent in endemic areas. Dogs with leishmaniosis may develop keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS). The goals of this study were (1) to quantify Leishmania amastigotes in the Meibomian glands (MG), main lacrimal gland (MLG) and nictitating membrane gland (NMG) from dogs with leishmaniosis; (2) to compare these results to immunohistochemistry (IHC), and (3) to explore the association between the Leishmania parasite load and the presence of ocular clinical signs. Twenty-five dogs diagnosed with leishmaniosis were included. MG, MLG and NMG from both eyes were collected. Histopathology, IHC and real-time PCR were performed. All specimens yielded positive real-time PCR results. For all three glands, samples from dogs with ocular clinical signs had mean ΔCt (cycle threshold) values significantly lower (higher parasite loads) than those from dogs without signs. Cut-off values of ΔCt<0, ΔCt<4 and ΔCt<4.9 for MG, MLG and NMG, resulted in a likelihood ratio of positives of 5.9, 6.38 and 6.38, respectively. Samples with ΔCt values below the reported cut-off were significantly more likely to display clinical signs related to KCS than those with results above the cut-off, for all three glands. Similarly, ΔCt values below the cut-off were significantly associated with positive IHC. In this study real-time PCR has been standardised for use in MG, MLG and NMG. A cut-off value established for each of these tissues may aid the clinician in the discrimination between ocular signs related to Leishmania from those associated with other causes of KCS.
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