Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Leptospira. The disease causes serious damage to the kidney and liver, and may be fatal in severe cases. Bacteria are passed in the urine of infected animals and can survive in the environment for long periods of time in warm, stagnant water or moist soil. Wild animals, including skunks, raccoons, opossums, rats, wolves, and deer, can spread infection to dogs.
Your dog can contract the organism through direct contact with another infected animal or the urine of an infected animal. Most infections occur when dogs go swimming in and/or drink infected water, but in reality most anything (plants, dirt, objects or water) can be a potential source of infection2.
Additionally, it is important to note that once they are infected, wild animals can serve as reservoirs and may continue to excrete the bacteria into the environment for months or even years, which may then live in the environment for weeks to months.
What Happens once a dog is infected? After infection, bacteria multiply in the bloodstream and then move into the tissues. They concentrate in the liver and kidney, causing extensive damage to these organs. About eight to ten days after infection, the dog's immune system produces an antibody response that quickly clears most of the Leptospira from the body. However, the damage caused by the bacteria often leads to liver failure or kidney failure, and sometimes both. In severe infections, the damage is irreversible and quickly becomes fatal. Dogs usually recover from mild infections, although the time for recovery varies.
What are the signs of Leptospirosis infection in dogs?
Severely infected dogs show signs of lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, and increased thirst and urination. Dogs may develop jaundice, which means the lining of the mouth and the whites of the eyes turn yellow. In some cases there may be bleeding. Illness typically develops quickly, sometimes in just a few days, and can be rapidly fatal. In comparison, dogs with mild infections may show little or no signs of illness and the disease may go undetected.
How is Leptospirosis diagnosed in dogs?
In order to arrive at a diagnosis of Leptospirosis, your veterinarian will consider your dog’s Leptospirosis vaccination status, information from your dog’s history, the likelihood of exposure, clinical symptoms and physical examination findings along with some routine and other more specialized blood tests. These specialized tests may include serology tests, which detect antibodies against the organism, or real-time PCR tests, which may detect the actual organism in a blood and/or urine sample. Treatment is often started before all of the specialized test results are back due the potential severity of this disease and the increased risk of infection to people (veterinary staff and pet owners alike) exposed to the dog.
Can Leptospirosis be treated?
Leptospirosis is a potentially fatal disease if not treated. Because the disease is caused by bacteria it can be treated with antibiotics. The earlier treatment is started, the better the odds of survival. There are two phases of antibiotic treatment: the first phase quickly clears the most serious or acute infection from the body. The second phase clears the low-grade lingering infection found in carrier dogs.
"In addition to antibiotics, dogs with severe kidney or liver damage may require hospitalization for intravenous fluid treatment and other therapy."
There are commercial vaccines available against some of the most common Leptospira serovars that infect dogs. (In fact the ‘L’ in the DHLPP vaccine your dog may have already received is one such example.) Vaccines can be very effective at providing protection against this disease, but no vaccine provides 100% protection against infection. This may be the case with Leptospirosis as there are multiple strains of the organism.
The four-serovar vaccine is currently the only vaccine recommended by experts. This vaccine prevents against the four most common strains: Leptospira canicola, L. grippotyphosa, L. icterohaemorrhagiae and L. pomona.
Revaccinating annually is needed to maintain best immunity. If you have any questions or concerns please call us at 613-692-3411