What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that dogs can pick up in the environment. It is also something that can be passed on to humans (zoonotic), which is why it is so important for people to be informed about it. Leptospirosis can cause serious damage to the kidneys and liver, it can also be fatal.

How does a dog pick up Leptospirosis? Leptospirosis is spread by the urine of infected animals including wild animals such as mice, skunks and raccoons. Drinking out of puddles, standing water, and ingesting contaminated soil are some of the ways in which your dog can become infected.

When a dog becomes infected with Leptospirosis the bacteria multiply in the bloodstream and tend to concentrate on the kidneys and liver where they cause damage. The damage that this bacteria can cause usually leads to liver and/or kidney failure.

The symptoms of leptospirosis can vary. Severely infected dogs usually show signs of lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever and increased thirst and urination. Illness typically develops quickly, and if not caught, can just as quickly become fatal. Dogs with healthy immune systems who pick up mild infections may show little or no signs of illness and the disease may go untreated.

If your dog is suspected of having Leptospirosis, your Veterinarian will recommend testing some bloodwork and urine to look for changes in the white blood cells, liver and kidney values, and to see if there is any protein in the urine. If abnormalities are detected, then further diagnostics and the initiation of treatment will be required.

Can Leptospirosis be treated? Yes, it can. Antibiotics are highly effective and most dogs respond quickly to therapy. In cases with severe kidney or liver disease, your dog may require hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and other medical management of signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, the prognosis for severely infected dogs is guarded.

As mentioned above, Leptospirosis is zoonotic which means it can be spread from animals to humans. Anyone dealing with an infected patient (veterinary staff, owners, and caregivers) need to take precaution when dealing with these animals. It is recommended to use face masks, gloves, and even eye protection so that infected urine does not come into contact with your eyes, nose, mouth or broken skin. Carefully disposing of soiled bedding is recommended and it’s crucial to thoroughly disinfect contaminated areas. Anyone feeling ill after dealing with an infected pet should seek medical attention.

There is a vaccine for the common strains of Leptospirosis. It is highly recommended that your dog receive this vaccine annually unless your Veterinarian advises you otherwise. Prevention of dogs coming into contact with this bacteria is nearly impossible as it cannot be seen visibly and wildlife lives amongst us, even in the urbanest areas. Awareness and education are important in keeping both our pets and the people who love them, safe and healthy.