What is leptospirosis and can I catch it?
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection. Several forms of the Leptospira bacterium exist, but all cause liver and kidney disease and often failure of these organs.
This disease is a zoonosis, which means that humans can become infected too. In human medicine leptospirosis is known as ‘Weil’s disease’ and there is no vaccination available for humans. As infected dogs shed large amounts of Leptospira with their urine, owners are at risk of catching the disease from an infected pet.
How is leptospirosis spread?
Leptospirosis can survive for a long time in damp or wet surroundings (e.g. puddles or near rivers) and, as they are also transmitted by small mammals like mice or voles, dogs are potentially at risk on every walk.
Dogs can spread leptospirosis via their urine. Following infection some dogs become long term carriers and while they appear healthy, they can put other pet’s and humans at risk unless strict hygiene is observed.
What are the clinical signs of leptospirosis?
The symptoms of this disease vary between patients, from no signs of disease at all, to a rapidly progressive and often fatal illness.
Signs can include a high fever, jaundice (a yellow discolouration to the skin caused by damage to the liver), vomiting and diarrhoea, dehydration, increased tendency to bleeding, dark urine, lethargy, acute kidney damage and occasionally death.
How is leptospirosis diagnosed?
Leptospirosis can be diagnosed by running tests on the pet’s blood or urine for specific markers. There may be other signs that point your vet towards a diagnosis of leptospirosis, including changes to the liver and kidney enzymes as well as electrolyte abnormalities.
How is leptospirosis treated?
As leptospirosis is a bacterial disease, it can be treated with a number of antibiotics, however, damage is likely to have occurred to the patient’s organ systems therefore supportive therapy is essential. Treatment can include antibiotics, intravenous fluid therapy to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, medication for nausea, pain relief and nursing to keep the pet clean and comfortable.
How is leptospirosis prevented?
Leptospirosis is prevented with vaccination; however, it is important to note that there are a number of strains of the disease. If you regularly work your pet (retrieving, flushing etc.), or you spend a large amount of time walking around lakes, rivers or canals, then please mention this to your vet and they will suggest a vaccination protocol that is best suited to your needs. The immunity that your pet receives from their vaccination, is only short lived so annual revaccination is needed to ensure your pet remains protected.
Hygiene is also important in stopping spread of disease. The bacteria are quickly destroyed by light and temperatures in excess of 20oC, therefore, it is recommended you keep your pet away from any water that appears stagnant or is in shaded areas.
What are the survival rates for leptospirosis?
Survival rate for mild-moderate cases for discharge from hospital is 80%. If symptoms are severe and bleeding to the lungs occurs, then this drops to 40-50%. Some patients will suffer irreversible damage to their liver or kidneys and need lifelong monitoring.
Dog Health Information
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To assist owners in understanding more about a health conditions that are specific to dogs we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through some of the more common health concerns seen and treated by our General Practice Vets.