Leptospirosis

Mar 31, 2021

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is transmitted in urine from one animal to another and can cause serious liver and kidney disease in dogs that can result in death.  A very scary potential with this disease is that it is zoonotic, meaning that it can be passed to humans from our furry friends. 

We used to consider this a disease that was most prevalent around in stagnant water sources like lakes and puddles which made more active dogs more at risk, but research has shown that this disease is also prevalent in slow-moving water and also can be transmitted to animals by sprinkler activity in dry climates and even through contact with infected soil, so in reality, it’s everywhere.  It is found worldwide in soil and water sources and is most common in warm climates, which have high annual rainfall (Hello, Greenville!).  Risks are also higher for dogs that roam rural properties, drink from streams, lakes, or rivers, exposed to farm or wildlife, but even your back yard is a risk given that rodents like squirrels are also carriers of this disease.  Dogs less than 35 pounds are most commonly affected.  Dogs become infected through their mucus membranes or open skin when they come into contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil, water, food, bedding, or bite from an infected animal.

Cats can also become infected but they are unlikely to show overt signs of disease.  We used to think that cats don’t get this disease but recent research has shown that they do acquire leptospirosis and it may play a role in long term kidney disease in cats.

Signs of disease vary greatly but can cause fever, shivering, eye problems, increased thirst, dehydration, lethargy, vomiting, severe lung disease, bleeding disorders which can cause blood in vomit, urine, stool, or saliva, swollen legs, or fluid accumulation in their chest or belly.  It can be often successfully treated with antibiotics and at times, aggressive hospitalization.  However, given that the signs are very non-specific and testing is quite expensive and takes awhile to receive test results, leptospirosis infections are often under-diagnosed. 

The best way to prevent infection is vaccinating for this disease.  Vaccination is recommended for all dogs at risk- which as we discussed, is basically all dogs who ever leave the confines of indoor space.  It consists of an initial 2-vaccine series separated by about 4 weeks, and then annual vaccination thereafter. Vaccination can begin as early as 8 weeks of age. I do find that this vaccination can cause more inflammation at the injection site compared to some other vaccinations (just like a tetanus shot for people hurts worse than your typical influenza vaccination).  Overall rates of hypersensitivity vaccine reaction was low (roughly 3 out of every 5,000 dogs vaccinated) and similar to any other vaccination.

Please ask our HAH veterinary team if you have questions about this disease or vaccinations available as this can be a devastating disease which we can easily prevent!

Dr. Stacy Logsdon