Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease that is caused by a bacterium named Leptospira. This bacteria likes to grow in stagnant water in cool temperatures. It gains entry into animals either through being ingested or through skin wounds. It is thought to be primarily a disease of dogs, however, it can invade humans and evidence is pointing towards it causing disease in cats as well. It is shed in the urine of other mammals, such as skunks and raccoons without causing illness in them. There is concern that other animals such as rodents might be able to carry it as well, since there have been cases in dogs that have extremely limited exposure to the outside world.

Lepto causes liver and kidney disease usually, however, less commonly, it can cause eye and respiratory disease, pancreatitis, bleeding or only a fever. Animals are usually presented with a lack of appetite, excessive thirst and urination, dehydration and fever. Bloodwork would show kidney issues usually, often liver as well. Testing to diagnose can be difficult, but is best done when antibiotics have not yet been started, so that a DNA test called PCR can be used. If antibiotics have already been started then antibody tests have to be done but take longer to get results. Before the PCR test was available, many of my patients that I suspected of having lepto died before we got the antibody testing finished.

Yes leptospirosis can be fatal if not treated early. But with proper treatment, sometimes involving a prolonged hospital stay, most cases of leptospirosis can be cured. However, prevention remains my focus as the vast majority of my patients get the annual vaccine against it. Historically, the leptospira vaccines caused a lot of vaccine reactions, so many breeders and websites recommend against getting that vaccine. However, the vaccines currently on the market have been shown through some rather large data compilations not to be any more likely to cause problems than any other vaccine. We don’t get many vaccine reactions fortunately. However, last year one of the few dogs in our practice that had never been vaccinated for lepto came down with the disease! We were able to save him but it made me feel that we have been doing the right thing for our clientele by strongly recommending the vaccine.