The bacteria that cause leptospirosis are transmitted through infected water and soil. This bacteria can lead to an infection accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms. Here, our Perry vets discuss what leptospirosis in dogs is, how it is transmitted, as well as the diagnosis and treatment for this infection.
What is leptospirosis in dogs?
Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria which can cause a disease that can spread to animals as well as your family members. It occurs when a bacterium known as Leptospira (found in water and soil all over the world) contaminates a substance through contact with urine. We've also seen cases of leptospirosis in cats, which feed on host animals like rodents.
While this bacteria and disease can be found everywhere, it has been proven to be more commonly seen in areas that are warmer and experience higher levels of rainfall.
Because leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, it can be transmitted from animals to humans. People can contract leptospirosis from contaminated water sources, wild animals, livestock, and other pets, just like pets. The majority of leptospirosis outbreaks in humans are caused by contact with contaminated water.
How does a dog get leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis can be transmitted to any pet regardless of where they live. Some of the factors that can increase your pet's risk of contracting the disease are:
- Exposure to wild animals or farm animal species that may pass infected urine, even in your backyard
- Exposure to or drinking from streams, lakes, rivers, or puddles
- Contact with rodents, such as squirrels or rats, or other dogs (such as in dog parks, facilities where multiple dogs are housed, or urban areas)
Leptospirosis Symptoms in Dogs
Some typical symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs can include:
- Shivering or fever
- Increased drinking and/or urination
- Decreased appetite or not eating
- Conjunctivitis (red eye)
- Inability to have puppies
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing or coughing)
- Muscle pain, stiffness, or reluctance to move
Diagnosing Leptospirosis in Dogs
Microscopic Agglutination Test: This is the gold standard for diagnosing a dog with leptospirosis, and it detects the presence of antibodies against Leptospira in the dog's blood. Infection is confirmed if the level of antibodies (called a "titer") is high enough.
How can leptospirosis in dogs be prevented and treated?
As with many other diseases, preventing leptospirosis is far more beneficial than treating it. If your dog hasn't been immunized against this disease, consult with your veterinarian to see if it's a good idea for your dog's lifestyle.
The chances of a dog surviving leptospirosis, if the disease is found early enough, is around 80%. However, their kidney and liver function can be severely impaired. Thus, it's always best to prevent the disease with vaccination.
Our vets at Perry Animal Hospital offer the leptospirosis dog vaccine between 10 and 12 weeks of age as part of our vaccine schedule for dogs. After their primary leptospirosis vaccination, they will require a booster shot three to four weeks later. Beyond that, annual vaccines will be required to protect your dog throughout its lifetime.
Because leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans, if you suspect your dog is infected, avoid touching their urine with your bare skin and always wash your hands after petting them. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning any areas that your dog may have soiled, and disinfect any areas where your dog has urinated. Using a diluted bleach solution or a household disinfectant is one of the best ways to disinfect your home.
Leptospirosis can be treated with prescription antibiotics, which can also prevent other members of your household from becoming infected.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.