Canine Leptospirosis, or Lepto, is a bacterial infection in dogs. It is a treatable disease and can sometimes be prevented by vaccine. Early treatment of an infected dog helps ensure a recovery without significant, lasting damage.
Causes of Lepto
A dog becomes infected by the transmission of the Leptospirosis bacteria from an infected animal. Leptospirosis can infect many species of animals, including mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians. Humans many also be infected with Lepto, although this is relatively rare.
The bacteria lives and reproduces primarily in warm and wet climates. Therefore, most Lepto infections occur in late summer when areas are warmest, and early spring when it can thrive in the wetter environments of spring rains and melting snow. Stagnant water is an excellent breeding ground for Canine Leptospirosis.
Once infection occurs, the bacteria may affect the body organs, such as the liver, kidneys, the reproductive system and eyes.
Modes of Transmission
Transmission occurs through contact with urine, through bites or through the ingestion of infected tissue. Since dogs will sniff and lick almost any surface and the bacteria can be transmitted through mucus membranes, canines are especially susceptible to infection.
Some of the common ways that a dog can become infected include:
- Drinking from the same water bowl as an infected dog
- Drinking from a stagnant pond or river where the bacteria is present
- Eating from the same bowl as an infected dog
- Sniffing or licking areas with infected urine residue from another animal
- Sniffing, licking or biting an infected animal
- Bacteria entering through a cut or wound
Symptoms of Canine Leptospirosis
Symptoms will usually appear within one to two weeks after infection. However, some symptoms may appear within days. Common symptoms include:
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Since the bacteria will affect the kidney and/or liver, some symptoms may include:
- Tenderness or pain, especially in the abdomen
- Increased or decreased urine output
- Increased thirst
A veterinarian will usually diagnose Leptospirosis through a blood test and perhaps a urine test. The vet will look for several factors:
- Elevated antibodies
- Raised liver enzymes
- Abnormal blood components
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Urine sediments
This testing will also confirm which, if any, of the organs are affected. The vet may also investigate further, such as growing a culture, to identify exactly which strain of Lepto has infected the dog.
Standard treatment for Leptospirosis includes administering antibiotics, such as penicillin, to kill the bacterial infection. This may be followed by other therapies, such as fluid replacement, to treat any organ damage that may have occurred. Tetracycline therapy is also possible in some cases.
Many dogs recover fully from a Lepto infection. Others may have lasting liver or kidney damage. In some cases, Lepto can be fatal.
There is a vaccine available for a few of the strains of the Leptospirosis bacteria. The vaccine is usually administered as part of the Distemper series, know as DHLPP. However, the vaccine is only effective against four of the strains. The vaccine is also only effective for approximately six to eight months, so a vaccination may need to be repeated in high risk areas. Some dogs have had an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Consequently, dogs that have been recently vaccinated should be watched closely for any serious reaction symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, swelling or hives. Such a rection usually requires a dose of epinephrine to reverse it.
Pet owners can reduce the possibility of exposure with a few simple steps:
- Keep your yard free of debris that may attract rodents since rats are a common carrier for Lepto.
- Prevent other wildlife from nesting in areas where your dog has contact.
- Discourage your dog from drinking from stagnant water supplies, such as puddles or ponds.
- Don't allow your dog around stagnant or slow moving water.
- Keep bowls and bedding clean.
- Don't allow your dog to have contact with wildlife or a strange dog or cat.
You can do many things to avoid a Lepto infection in your dog. You can vaccinate your pet and avoid risky behaviors. Lepto is also treatable with early detection. See your vet regularly to keep your best friend healthy.