Spirit staff Pet Advocate
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with leptospira bacteria. These bacteria can be found worldwide in soil and water. Dogs are most commonly affected. Leptospirosis in cats is rare and appears to be mild, although very little is known about the disease in felines.
Common risk factors for leptospirosis in dogs residing in the United States include exposure to, or drinking from, rivers, lakes or streams; roaming on rural properties (because of exposure to potentially infected wildlife, farm animals, or water sources); exposure to wild animal or farm animal species, even if in the backyard; and contact with rodents or other dogs.
Cases of leptospirosis have been on the rise in dogs that live in urban areas so all pet owners, no matter where you live, should be aware of the signs and treatment and really consider getting their pet vaccinated against this disease.
Dogs can become infected and develop leptospirosis if their mucous membranes (or skin with any wound, such as a cut or scrape) come into contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil, water, food or bedding; through a bite from an infected animal; by eating infected tissues or carcasses; and rarely, through breeding.
It can also be passed through the placenta from the mother dog to the puppies.
Signs of leptospirosis may include fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move, increased thirst, changes in the frequency or amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes), or painful inflammation within the eyes.
The disease can cause kidney failure with, or without, liver failure. Dogs may occasionally develop severe lung disease and have difficulty breathing. Leptospirosis can cause bleeding disorders, which can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool or saliva; nosebleeds; and pinpoint red spots (which may be visible on the gums and other mucous membranes or on light-colored skin).
Affected dogs can also develop swollen legs (from fluid accumulation) or accumulate excess fluid in their chest or abdomen.
Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics and supportive care. When treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good, but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage.
Currently available vaccines effectively prevent leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs. Reducing your dog’s exposure to possible sources of the Leptospira bacteria can reduce its chances of infection.
Although an infected pet dog presents a low risk of infection for you and your family, there is still some risk. If your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, take the following precautions to protect yourself:
Administer antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian;
Avoid contact with your dog’s urine;
If your dog urinates in your home, quickly clean the area with a household disinfectant and wear gloves to avoid skin contact with the urine;
Encourage your dog to urinate away from standing water or areas where people or other animals will have access;
Wash your hands after handling your pet.
If you are ill, or if you have questions about leptospirosis in people, consult your physician. If you are pregnant or immuno-compromised (due to medications, cancer treatment, HIV or other conditions), consult your physician for advice.