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May 07 2015


In early April, our Blog post discussed Zoonotic Diseases, which are diseases that can be spread from animals to humans. One of the zoonotic diseases of particular importance for dog owners is Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection, and there are many strains of the bacteria that can affect dogs. It is a bacteria that is found all over the world in soil and water.

Many wild animals (rodents, deer, raccoons, cattle, skunks, and opossums) serve as reservoirs or hosts for the Leptospira bacteria. These animals will carry the bacteria without showing any signs, and pass the bacteria in their urine. Dogs may become infected if they come into contact with infected urine, contaminated soil and water (including streams, ponds, and standing water), or even the carcass of an infected wild animal.

Dogs exposed to the Leptospira bacteria may develop a mild infection (and may or may not show any clinical signs) and spontaneously recover, or they may develop more severe clinical disease.   Signs of Leptospirosis can be somewhat non-specific, including lethargy, fever, muscle pain and reluctance to move, increased water consumption and increased or decreased urination, vomiting and/or diarrhea, and jaundice (development of “yellow-colored” skin and mucous membranes). In severe cases, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney failure, liver failure, or respiratory failure, as well as bleeding disorders.

A diagnosis of Leptospirosis is made based on the history of potential exposure and clinical signs of the dog, as well as specific diagnostic tests. These tests include blood tests, urine tests, imaging (X-Rays and Ultrasound), and on very specific blood tests to detect either antibodies against the Leptospira organism, or to detect the DNA of the bacteria in the blood or urine. Treatment is based on the severity of the clinical signs, and usually includes supportive care (antibiotics and intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration), often requiring hospitalization and 24-hour monitoring care. Prognosis can be fairly good if the disease is caught and treated early, however there is always some risk of permanent liver or kidney damage, and severe cases can be fatal.

As a zoonotic disease, the likelihood that you or your family would develop Leptospirosis if your dog became infected is not high, but the risk is present, and additional discussion with your veterinarian and your physician would be appropriate with a diagnosis or even a concern for Leptospirosis.

We recommend yearly vaccination against Leptospirosis with a polyvalent vaccine (a vaccine which includes all of the primary strains of the bacteria that affect dogs). These vaccines are safe and effective, and are the best way to minimize your dog’s risk of contracting Leptospirosis.

Bob Cohen, DVM | Medical/Surgical

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