The purpose of this study was to determine the clinical and laboratory profiles of canine leishmaniasis in two distinct areas. Dogs from urban and rural areas were examined. The population studied in the metropolitan area included 54 dogs. Of these, 20 (37%) animals did not present with any signs suggestive of visceral leishmaniasis (VL). Among these, only eight were confirmed negative by ELISA (rK39 and CE) and 12 dogs, clinically negative for leishmaniasis, were seropositive by ELISA (rK39 and CE). Thinness, conjunctivitis and onychogryphosis were the most frequent clinical signs in the urban areas, followed by crusty lesions, alopecia, ulcerated lesions, hyperkeratosis and exfoliation. In the metropolitan area human VL cases occurred mainly in 1991, 1992, 1999 and 2000. In the rural areas the ELISA rK39 test detected a seroprevalence of 11.3% and ELISA CE (Leishmania crude extract) of 20.6%. Thirty-nine dogs were examined 6 months after the first visit. Serological exams using rK39 antigen showed seroconversion of only one dog, whereas Leishmania CE showed seroconversion of 13 (33.4%) dogs. In this rural environment 83.3% of the positive dogs were asymptomatic. Lutzomyia intermedia and Lu. longipalpis were the most predominant sandfly vector species. Amastigotes were identified in spleen and liver fragments of symptomatic necropsied animals. PCR amplification of DNA isolated from promastigote culture indicated that the species was Leishmania chagasi. This finding suggests that delayed diagnosis and euthanasia of potentially infectious animals may occur with an increased transmission risk to sandflies and subsequently to humans.