What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can infect dogs and cause serious damage to the kidneys and liver – it is potentially fatal. It can also infect humans where it causes the condition known as Weil’s disease.
There are different strains of leptospirosis and each causes a slightly different pattern of disease. Thankfully, a vaccination is available for dogs to protect them from the strains present in the UK – a booster must be given annually to maintain immunity.
How is it spread?
Leptospira bacteria are shed in the urine from an infected animal (wild or domesticated), which can include dogs, rats, mice, cows and pigs. Dogs are normally infected when they drink contaminated water or lick/sniff at urine from an infected animal, but can also be infected by the bacteria getting into open wounds. Dogs that live on farms or who regularly kill rodents are more at risk of leptospirosis.
What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?
The clinical signs of leptospirosis vary according to the strain involved and the severity of infection but typically include:
- Jaundice (yellow discolouration of tissues e.g. gums and whites of the eyes)
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Lethargy and weakness
- Dark urine
- Weight loss
- Increase thirst and urination
How is it diagnosed?
The vet may be suspicious of leptospirosis based on the clinical history and physical examination, plus a lack of up-to-date vaccination against the disease. Diagnosis is normally based on blood and urine tests. It is best to take samples before starting antibiotics as this can cause false negative results.
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How is it treated?
Treatment for leptospirosis normally involves:
- Intravenous fluids (a drip) to rehydrate the dog and help the kidneys.
- Medication to control the symptoms e.g. anti-sickness medication.
- Medication to support the liver if affected.
Infected dogs must be treated very carefully as they are potentially infectious to humans and other animals until the infection has been cleared. Strict isolation and barrier nursing is therefore needed.
Will my dog recover?
Leptospirosis is a very serious disease and can sadly be fatal if the organs are too badly damaged. Sometimes, if dogs do recover, then they can be left with permanent damage to their kidneys and liver.
Can I prevent leptospirosis?
Yes – a safe and effective vaccination is available that protects dogs against the strains of leptospirosis found in the UK. A booster must be given annually to maintain immunity – this is very important as the immunity formed against leptospirosis is not very long-lived.