What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is caused by bacterial organisms called Leptospira which is spread via the urine of infected animals. These bacteria can be shed in the soil and water which can then serve as a source of infection for dogs.
Leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease which means that it can be passed from animals to people. This is one of the reasons that prompt diagnosis and treatment is so important.
How do dogs get leptospirosis?
Dogs can become infected when they come in contact with soil, water, or urine that has the Leptospira bacteria. The bacteria can enter the dog’s body thorough the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth or through any areas where the skin is broken.
Common ways that dogs become infected is by swimming in or drinking contaminated water or through exposure to infected wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, or deer. Even dog’s that live in urban environments can become exposed due to increased soil movement from building and development projects.
What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?
Dogs with leptospirosis don’t have specific symptoms but rather vague signs of illness such as lethargy, poor appetite, increased water intake and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. Some dogs may also have evidence of joint or muscle pain and become extremely ill depending on the severity of the infection.
The leptospira organisms tend to cause the most problems in the liver and/or kidneys and so routine blood tests may show evidence of liver or kidney disease in dogs with leptospirosis.
How is leptospirosis diagnosed?
In addition to routine blood counts and chemistry testing, your veterinarian can test for leptospira antibodies in your dog’s blood. This type of testing has to be sent out to a referral laboratory however so therapy for leptospirosis is usually started while awaiting test results.
Your veterinarian may also recommend abdominal x-rays and/or ultrasound to look for other things such as enlarged kidneys or abdominal fluid that can be seen with leptospirosis infection.
How is leptospirosis treated?
A course of antibiotic therapy is the only way to clear this infection. If your dog is very sick, specifically if there is evidence of kidney or liver damage, hospitalization for intravenous fluids and intravenous antibiotics may be necessary.
If your dog is diagnosed with leptospirosis, be sure that you do not handle or come in contact with any of their blood or urine until they are treated. If you do come into contact with any body fluids, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. A solution of household bleach (1 part bleach in 10 parts of water) can be used to clean areas that your pet has come into contact with.
If you feel you have had any high-risk contact with your pet while it was infected, be sure to talk to your doctor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has a very helpful article about leptospirosis in people here.
How can I decrease the chance that my dog will become infected with leptospirosis?
As a pet owner, there are a few things that you can do to minimize the chances that your dog will contract this infection. One thing is to keep rodents and other pests under control around your house and yard since they may be carriers of the disease. It also best to remove any standing water if you can or at least limit your dog’s access to it.
There is leptospirosis vaccine available however, currently available vaccines do not cover for all strains of leptospirosis. Even so, vaccination may lessen the risk of infection and may decrease the risk of further bacterial shedding. Talk to your veterinarian about whether leptospirosis vaccination is recommended in your area and whether your dog is a candidate for the vaccine.
· Lunn KF. Leptospirosis. In: Bonagura JD, Twedt D, ed’s. Kirk’s Current Veterinary Therapy XV. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders;2014: 1286-89.
· Sykes JE, Hartmann K, Lunn KF, et al. 2010 ACVIM Small Animal Consensus Statement on Leptospirosis: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Treatment, and Prevention. J Vet Intern Med. 2011; 25(1):1-13.