Leptospirosis is a disease that affects not only dogs but many kinds of animals worldwide. It is a disease caused by a type of bacteria called spirochetes. There are many strains of Leptospira but four are the most common ones that infect our dogs. They are Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae, L. canicola, L. grippotyphosa and L.pomona. Leptospira are found in both wild and domestic animals. Most of the infected animals that spread Lepto do not appear ill. Animals with Lepto shed live bacteria in their urine. This bacterium often makes their way into water sources and remain infective in the soil for up to six months. Rats, cattle, raccoon, skunks and opossums are common carriers of Lepto.
Spirochetes enter a dogs system through a break in the skin or from drinking water contaminated by infected urine. Dogs that spend time in wooded or swampy areas are more likely to catch Lepto than dogs that spend most of their time indoors.
Signs generally appear 4 to 12 days after exposure. Fever is present in the early stage. Other signs are loss of appetite for several days, vomiting lethargy, depression, muscle and joint pain, and sometimes diarrhea or blood in the urine. Lepto primarily affects the kidneys and liver.
In severe cases the whites of the dog's eyes turn yellow (jaundice). This is indicative of hepatitis with destruction of liver cells. Coagulation problems can occur with spontaneous bleeding from the mouth and the presence of blood in the stools.
Because symptoms can vary between pets and because most veterinarians see few cases it is common to miss the diagnosis of Lepto. Blood tests can confirm or rule out whether your pet has Lepto.
Treatment usually consists of antibiotics such as penicillin, doxycycline, or tetracycline and supportive measures to control vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases may require hospitalization.
Limiting your pet's access to contaminated water is the best way to avoid Lepto. Lepto vaccines are available, however they are not without risk. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) considers Leptospirosis vaccine a non-core vaccine for dogs. Unless there is a good chance that your pet is at risk the AAHA does not recommend vaccinating for Lepto. Reactions to this vaccine can range from mild to harsh or even fatal. Consult with your veterinarian before administering any vaccines.
Renee Jones-Lewis is a certified professional dog trainer, having received instruction from canine behaviorist Dr. Pamela Reid, plus nationally acclaimed trainers: Patricia McConnell, Pia Silvani, and Jean Donaldson, to name a few. She serves as a Pet Marketing and Canine Specialist for JeffersPet and JeffersPet.com.
Questions about this article, training or non-emergent health concerns are welcome. Renee can be reached most days from 9am 5pm Central Time (Mon-Fri) at 1-800-JEFFERS (533-3377) ext 381 or by email rsjones@jefferspet. com.
Information given here is meant to be helpful and/or educational. It is, in no way, intended to supersede, challenge or supplant the diagnosis, treatment or advice of a licensed veterinarian.