What is Leptospirosis in Dogs?

What is Leptospirosis in Dogs?

Leptospirosis often referred to as lepto, is a bacterial disease. It leads to severe illness by damaging organs, particularly the liver, and kidneys. Leptospirosis bacteria often get spread by urine, entering the body through the nose, mouth, or a wound.

There are several different kinds of leptospirosis bacteria. Each is a little different. In northern Europe, it’s possible to vaccinate against the types of lepto bacteria most often found there. 

Find out more about leptospirosis in dogs as we look at the common ways to catch it along with its symptoms and treatments. 

How Dogs Get Infected with Leptospirosis

Dogs can pick up leptospirosis, also known as Weil’s disease, from:

  • Other infected dogs
  • Sniffing or licking an area where an infected dog has urinated
  • Urine from infected farm animals like cows, pigs, or rodents 

Dogs can also pick up the infection from wet ground and even from rivers and lakes. That’s because the lepto bacteria can live in wet ground and freshwater for several months.

Common Signs of Leptospirosis

These are the symptoms to watch out for in dogs infected with leptospirosis:

  • Sudden fever, shivering, weakness, loss of appetite, or a depressed mood
  • Sore or stiff muscles and legs along with a reluctance to move
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with blood
  • Dark red-speckled gums 
  • Yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes
  • Breathing problems, a cough, and a runny nose

You may also notice an increase in thirst and the need to urinate. Both could indicate chronic kidney failure, leading to an inability to urinate at all.

What Happens When a Dog Gets Infected with Leptospirosis?

Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria multiply and then make their way into the dog’s tissues. They tend to mainly congregate in the kidney and liver, leading to severe organ damage there.

Just over a week after getting infected, a dog’s immune system kicks in with an antibody response. It will clear most of the bacteria from the body but any damage caused by the bacteria tends to lead to liver or kidney failure. Sometimes this is irreversible and fatal.

Dogs tend to recover from mild infections but recovery times vary. Even those that seem to have recovered well may still have small numbers of bacteria left in the body, especially in the kidney area. The dog can still pass these bacteria in their urine. 

Younger dogs with less developed immune systems are at the greatest risk of severe complications.

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Diagnosing Leptospirosis

A routine blood test won’t give a definitive diagnosis of leptospirosis. It will offer clues, however. Your vet will need to have a thorough history of your dog’s health. They’ll need to understand any potential symptoms along with activities that might have led to your dog getting infected. 

Your veterinarian would then typically arrange for a:

  • Chemical blood profile and blood count
  • Urinalysis
  • Electrolyte panel blood test
  • A fluorescent antibody urine test

Your vet would also ask for blood and urine cultures to check the level of the bacteria. They may also carry out a test to measure the body’s immune response to the infection. 

Treatment for Acute Leptospirosis in Dogs

Any dogs with severe symptoms of the disease would need to go to a veterinary hospital. Fluid therapy to prevent dehydration as well as anti-vomiting drugs would normally be part of the treatment. 

An infected dog may also need a gastric tube to feed them if they are unable to keep food down. They may also require a blood transfusion if they’ve been hemorrhaging.

Depending on the stage of the infection, your vet may need to prescribe certain types of antibiotics. Courses tend to last at least a month. Once a dog is well enough to return home, they’ll need plenty of rest. 

Can Dogs Pass On Leptospirosis to Humans?

Yes. The bacteria are zoonotic. That means they can get passed on to humans and dogs from any infected animal. Children are most in danger of getting the bacteria from an infected pet.

People and pets can become infected and not show immediate symptoms. Your vet will be particularly cautious in the way they handle a dog they suspect may have Leptospirosis. 

They will advise you to be the same. You should, for example, wear protective latex gloves at all times. You should also treat all bodily fluids as biologically hazardous materials.

You should thoroughly clean places where your dog may have urinated, vomited, or possibly left any other kind of fluid using iodine-based disinfectants or bleach. Wear protective masks and gloves when cleaning and dispose of them properly afterward.

If you have other pets and children in your home, they may have a Leptospirosis infection but not yet show symptoms.

It might be worthwhile to get your family tested for the bacteria. Bear in mind that the bacteria can carry on getting shed through the urine for several weeks after treatment and apparent recovery from the infection.

Prognosis and Prevention of Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is very serious. Dogs with mild symptoms can recover if they get immediate veterinary help. Those dogs with more severe symptoms may die during the early stages of the disease.

We are able to vaccinate against leptospirosis. There are several different types of leptospirosis bacteria. That means there are several lepto vaccinations available. Talk to your vet about which vaccination is going to give your dog the right kind of protection. You’ll need to get your dog vaccinated against Leptospirosis each year.

Leptospirosis is one of those illnesses that tend to get underdiagnosed. It’s therefore very important to consult your vet about current recommendations about the lepto vaccine for dogs where you live.

Book a Consultation Today!

If you have any questions or concerns about Leptospirosis, we have a team of experienced vets ready to talk to you. Reserve a timeslot today and get expert advice about the symptoms and treatment of Leptospirosis in dogs.

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