Leptospirosis, also commonly called Lepto, is caused by pathogenic members of the genus Leptospira. This organism is contagious to and can be carried by many different species, including but not limited to cattle, wildlife (deer, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, rats, mice, and skunks), dogs, rarely cats and people. Leptospirosis generally causes liver and kidney abnormalities that will be discussed later, Lepto is the number one zoonotic disease (contagious to people) in the world.

How can my dog (or I) become affected and what happens during an infection?

Lepto can penetrate intact skin, cut skin or mucus membranes (lips, conjunctiva of the eyes, etc.) and rapidly invades the blood stream in 4-7 days, then spreading to all parts of the body in 2-4 days. This invasion leads to fever, increase in white blood cells, and rupture of red blood cell (a type of anemia), urination of hemoglobin and albumin (a blood protein). Fever and blood borne bacteria will soon resolve and the patient will appear to have returned to normalcy. Damage to the liver and kidneys soon begins with death usually resulting from kidney and vascular damage, renal failure, blood infection or vascular coagulation (DIC).

How are my pets at risk?

Leptospirosis is spread from organism to organism via urine contaminated with the Leptospira serovars which then contacts mucous membranes or skin (normal or irritated). This is usually done through a water source (more common in standing water) or neutral to slightly alkaline soils. This is a world wide distribution with warm, wet seasons and climates leading to more exposures. Drinking from standing puddles from rain, stagnant ponds or small lakes especially during a drought could lead to increased exposure.

What are the general signs of Leptospirosis

Clinical sign vary greatly from case to case and can make Lepto very challenging to diagnosis. Exam findings tend to be things like: rapid breathing rate, rapid pulse, poop perfusion, dark stool, bloody noses, strange bruising, stiff gait, conjunctivitis, blood in urine and mildly swollen lymph nodes. Patients generally only have one to three of these findings which are very general in nature. Historically, patients with low grade/early disease, can have a fever, sore muscles, stiffness, weakness, anorexia, depression, vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, cough, breathing difficulty, increase drinking or urinating, vaginal discharge, and at times sudden death. If the patient does not present with these signs, there could be a return to normalcy for a time. With Chronic disease, there may be no evidence of infection at all, increased urination or drinking, fever of an unknown origin, signs of chronic kidney failure/dysfunction or evidence of kidney or liver inflammation.

How is Lepto diagnosed and treated?

To diagnose leptospirosis there are several tests that will need to be ran in the hospital and sent to outside laboratories. This is extremely important because of the fact that Lepto is contagious to people. There by, a correct diagnosis is of the utmost importance. Diagnosis will be generally finalized with serology (repeated 4 weeks later) that will indicate presence for the Leptospira organisms at a level high enough for clinical disease.

Treatment will be based on clinical signs and state of disease processes. Supportive care is the mainstay of treatment with fluid given for dehydration, and blood transfusions given if needed for anemia. Most patients will also be restricted to cage rest to be monitored and kept warm. It is critical of the patient is to be kept at home that the owners are aware of the potential for spread from patient to care givers.

How can Lepto be prevented for my pet?

There are several vaccines on the market that will give our canine an adequate defense against Leptospirosis. There are four serovars of Lepto that can cause disease in canines and most vaccines only cover two of the four. You may want to ask your veterinarian if they give the vaccines that cover all four serovars. At CCAH, we do give the four serovars vaccines.

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