Leptospirosis: understanding the risk to your dog
What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that causes serious illness in dogs, other animals and people throughout the US and around the world. The disease is caused by spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospires that live in water or warm, wet soil. Leptospirosis causes a variety of flu-like symptoms but it can develop into a more severe, life-threatening illness that affects the kidneys, liver, brain, lungs and heart.
Leptospires: Long, thin and flexible shaped Leptospira bacteria move by twisting and flexing.
How do dogs become infected with Leptospirosis?
The most common way dogs become infected with leptospirosis is by coming into contact with the urine of infected animals-usually in water or on wet ground. Dogs become infected by swimming in or drinking contaminated water or by playing in areas where infected urine is present.
Leptospires enter the body through the dog’s eyes, nose or mouth or through a break in the skin caused by a cut or scratch. Once a dog has become infected, the leptospires reproduce, multiply and begin to spread to other parts of the body. If the infection reaches the kidneys and bladder, the dog may become a carrier of leptospirosis, spreading the bacteria each time it urinates.
What are the signs of canine leptospirosis?
While some dogs will have no obvious symptoms, early signs of leptospirosis usually appear about a week after infection and may include fever, muscle weakness and a loss of appetite or energy. Some dogs seem depressed. Other clinical signs include jaundice (yellow eyes or skin) and blood in the urine.
Vomiting and diarrhea may follow after a few days, causing dogs to become dehydrated and very thirsty. This is a warning sign that the infection has reached the kidneys and the dog needs immediate medical care from a veterinarian.
Call your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms: fever, loss of appetite, loss of energy, vomiting, dehydration and jaundice.
How serious is leptospirosis in dogs?
More than 80% of dogs with leptospirosis develop serious, short-term kidney problems. And while most dogs do get better with prompt treatment, dogs that suffer severe liver or kidney damage can die within days. Even dogs that do recover may still be at risk for chronic kidney failure or become carriers of the disease, spreading leptospires during urination.
80% of infected dogs develop serious short-term kidney problems.
How is leptospirosis diagnosed?
Leptospirosis can be difficult to recognize by its clinical signs because the infection affects many different areas of the body and causes a variety of symptoms. However, you veterinarian can diagnose the infection by testing your dog’s blood or urine.
If your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis to protect yourself and other family members, as the infection can be spread to people. Use rubber gloves when handling your dog’s urine specimen and when disinfecting the dog’s urine specimen and when disinfecting the dog’s bedding, housing and surrounding areas.
What can be done if my dog becomes infected?
Prompt medical treatment is critical for limiting the spread of the infection to your dog’s kidneys, bladder and liver. The standard treatment for leptospirosis includes intravenous antibiotics and fluids, good nutrition and supportive care.
If treatment is started early enough, most dogs recover after 2 weeks. Your veterinarian may then prescribe a course of oral antibiotics to make sure the infection is gone and to keep your dog from becoming a carrier of the disease.
Is my dog at risk for infection?
Leptospirosis can be transmitted by a variety of domestic and wild animals. Since rats can spread the disease, dogs in urban environments are at risk for this disease. Infected animals shed leptospires, the infective stage of the bacteria, in their urine. Certain factors can raise their risk of infection.
Rural: Working, hunting and herding dogs.
Suburban: Dogs living near water or wildlife.
City: Dogs can be exposed to rodent urine in puddles.
How can I protect my dog from leptospirosis?
You can try to lower your dog’s risk of leptospirosis by limiting exposure to potential sources of contamination (stagnant water, rodents, unmaintained canine facilities) but the best way to protect your dog is with an annual vaccination that protects against the leading causes of leptospirosis. Currently, vaccines are available to protect against the 4 most common types of leptospires.
Is vaccination against leptospirosis safe?
Dogs have been vaccinated against leptospirosis for many years and while minor side effects do occur, the vaccine are generally safe and well tolerated. Sometimes dogs experience tenderness or swelling at the injection site that usually goes away very quickly.
Where can I learn more about leptospirosis?
Ask your veterinarian if you have further questions about leptospirosis or vaccination. You can also explore this information website to learn more:
Assess your dog’s risk of leptospirosis:
Does my dog really need to be vaccinated against leptospirosis?
Take this survey to find out your dogs risk of getting leptospirosis. Check yes or no:
- Does your dog have access to wetland areas such as swamps, marshes, streams, lakes, rivers, drainage ditches or sources of slow-moving or stagnant water?
- Does your dog roam rural fields, woodlands, suburban parks or new housing developments where wildlife such as deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks and other animals may be present?
- Does your dog live in an urban environment where he may be walking near puddles?
- Does your dog live in an area that experiences heavy rainfall or frequent flooding?
Share your answers with you veterinarians. If you answered yes to any of the above questions, your dog may have a higher risk of infection and may benefit from vaccination against leptospirosis.
5 things you can do to protect your dog from leptospirosis:
- Drain areas of standing water on your property.
- Don’t let your dog swim or play in slow-moving creeks or water sources where wild animals may also swim.
- Keep rodents (rats, mice and other pests) under control.
- Be aware of any changes in your dog’s health or behavior. Watch for signs of leptospirosis and contact your veterinarian immediately if you see them.
- Vaccinate your dog against leptospirosis.
Disclaimer: This information was taken directly from the Merck pamphlet on Leptospirosis and its risks for dogs and I give them full credit on the information. Please call the above numbers for more information on this disease.
Please watch out for the signs.