What is Lepto? Leptospirosis is a disease caused by spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospires. Leptospirosis (also known as “Lepto”) is worldwide and can affect humans as well domestic animals like dogs and cats. Due to increased building and development, humans and their pets are encroaching into areas that were previously rural. Pets may be exposed to more wildlife than before, such as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums, or deer infected with Lepto. Cases of leptospirosis are extremely rare in cats, so the remainder of this article will focus on its significance in dogs.
How can my pet get Lepto? Leptospires are spread through the urine of infected animals, which can get into water or soil and can survive there for weeks to months. Infected animals may excrete the bacteria into the environment continuously or periodically for a few months up to several years. Dogs become infected through contact with contaminated urine, water, or soil. Drinking, swimming, or walking through contaminated water can cause infection. The bacteria enter the body through the skin, especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch, or through the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth).
What does it do? Once the Lepto bacteria enter the body, they quickly spread through the bloodstream leading to fever, joint pain, and general malaise that can last up to a week. The organism settles in the kidneys and begins to reproduce, leading to further inflammation and eventual kidney failure. Depending on the type of leptospire involved, other organ failure (especially liver) can be expected, as well. The clinical signs of leptospirosis vary and are nonspecific. Common clinical signs reported in dogs include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, anorexia, severe weakness and depression, stiffness, severe muscle pain, or infertility. Sometimes dogs do not have any symptoms. The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days but can be as long as 30 days or more.
Treatment. Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics. If a dog is treated early, it may recover more rapidly and if any organ damage occurred it may be less severe. Other treatment methods, such as dialysis and hydration therapy may be required if significant kidney failure or other organ failure is occurring.
Prevention. Preventing leptospirosis can be done by keeping rodent problems (rats, mice, or other animal pests) under control, removal of standing water, and through vaccination. Vaccination against the four most common leptospirosis strains affecting dogs is sometimes included in the distemper shot (DHLPP – the “L” stands for leptospirosis). Therefore most dogs have been vaccinated against leptospirosis at their annual visits. The leptospirosis vaccine is now being given separately at Ansley Animal Clinic. Most dogs should be vaccinated against leptospirosis annually. Certain dog breeds (e.g., Dachshunds and Chihuahuas) may not be given this vaccine because of the potential for a vaccine reaction to occur in that breed.
If your dog has never been vaccinated against leptospirosis, the veterinarians at Ansley Animal clinic can help you decide if the vaccine is appropriate for your dog.