Animal Care

Canine Leptospirosis

There has been a lot of talk lately about the resurgence of canine leptospirosis. New outbreaks of leptospirosis have been reported in vaccinated dogs. But what is this disease exactly?

Leptospirosis is a bacteria which is found throughout the world. It affects many wild and domestic animals, including humans. This illness has been on the rise in the past few years, because our pets are becoming more exposed to wildlife such as opossums, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, foxes or deer that are infected with this sickness. This contagious disease is spread by a bacterial pathogen called leptospira. Leptospirosis is transmitted between animals through contact with infected urine, bite wounds or ingestion of infected tissue (flesh). It can be found in stagnant, slow moving water and may live in the soil for several months. A pet may have drunk, been swimming or walking through contaminated water. The bacteria enters the body through the skin or mucous membranes such as eyes, nose or mouth.

Once the bacteria enter the body, they multiply rapidly in the circulatory system and spread to the kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system, eyes and genital tract. The immune system fights this infection and rids the organisms from most organs, but may remain in the liver and the kidneys and may shed for months in the urine. After one week of infection, the animal will begin to recover if the kidney and liver damages are not too severe.

There are multiple strains or serovars of leptospirosis. The strains called L.canicola and L.grippotyphosa are associated with kidney infections with minimal liver involvement. The serovars L.pomona and L.icterohaemorrhagiae produce liver disease. Puppies younger than six months tend to develop liver disease regardless of which serovar.

Clinical signs of leptospirosis vary. In the acute stage, the first symptoms are fever of 103-104, shivering, muscle pain, then vomiting, diarrhea which may lead to severe dehydration. Hypothermia may follow in a severely infected dog and may die before liver or kidney failure develops.

In the subacute stage, the animal develops fever, decreased appetite, increased thirst, vomiting and dehydration. The animal may refuse to move due to severe muscle or kidney pain. Eyes may become jaundiced and a change in the color of the dog’s urine, from lemon to deep orange, if the liver is involved. Within a week, the animal will begin to recover. Signs of improvement begin to show after 2 to 3 weeks. If the liver and kidneys are involved, he may develop chronic renal failure.

If your pet shows any of the signs listed, contact your veterinarian immediately. He will perform a blood test. Depending on the level of the titer, a positive diagnosis to the specific strain can be made. Treatment consists of antibiotics, IV therapy, controlling vomiting and slowing down the progression of liver and kidney damage. Penicillin is the drug of choice to treat the initial infection. Doxycycline is used to cure and prevent a potential long-term carrier state.

A new vaccine by Fort Dodge now protects against the four serovars mentioned above. Keep your dogs vaccinated against Leptospirosis even though vaccines do not provide 100% protection and are effective for only six to eight months. Consult your veterinarian to determine at what age your puppy should receive this particular vaccine.