While leptospirosis is a disease most often seen in dogs, they can easily transmit it to their caring owners. In this blog, our Houston County vets discuss the causes and symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs and explain why it's important to have your dog vaccinated against this dangerous illness.
What is Leptospirosis in Dogs?
Leptospirosis is a disease that can put the health of your dog, farm animals, and family at risk. It develops when a bacterium known as Leptospira (seen in soil and water all across the world) makes a substance contaminated through urine. Leptospirosis has also been found in cats that have fed on host animals like rodents.
Almost everywhere in the world has been reported to have this bacteria, but it's more common in warmer climates that get high amounts of rainfall. According to research, this disease has slowly spread into areas of the United States.
Because leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, it can be transmitted from animals to humans. People can contract leptospirosis from contaminated water sources, wild animals, livestock, and other pets, just like dogs. The majority of leptospirosis outbreaks in humans are caused by contact with contaminated water.
Causes of Leptospirosis in Dogs
All pets are at risk of getting leptospirosis, it doesn't matter where in the world they live (urban, suburban, or rural areas). Below we have listed factors that could put your dog at a higher risk:
- Exposure to or drinking water from streams, lakes, rivers, or puddles
- Contact with rodents like squirrels or rats, or other dogs (such as in dog parks, boarding facilities, or urban areas)
- Exposure to wild animals or farm animal species that may pass infected urine, even in your backyard
Signs & Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Dogs
Leptospirosis symptoms in dogs include:
- Increased drinking and/or urination
- Decreased appetite or not eating
- Shivering or fever
- Muscle pain, stiffness, or reluctance to move
- Conjunctivitis (red eye)
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing or coughing)
- Inability to have puppies
Microscopic Agglutination Test: This is the gold standard for diagnosing leptospirosis, and it detects the presence of antibodies against Leptospira in the dog's blood. Infection is confirmed if the level of antibodies (called a "titer") is high enough.
How Leptospirosis is Treated & Prevented in Dogs
As with most diseases, it's more beneficial to prevent leptospirosis than treat it. If your dog hasn't been vaccinated against this disease, ask your veterinarian if they recommend it for your dog's lifestyle.
If it's found early enough, your dog's chance of surviving leptospirosis is approximately 80%. However, their kidney and liver function can be severely impaired. This is one of the reasons why it's important to prevent this disease with vaccinations.
At Smith Animal Hospital our veterinarians offer the leptospirosis vaccine for dogs that are between 10 and 12 weeks old as part of our dog vaccination schedule. Once your pooch has received their primary leptospirosis vaccination, your puppy will need a booster shot three to four weeks later. After this, your dog will need annual vaccines to keep them protected during their lifetime.
Since humans are able to get leptospirosis from their dog, if you think your dog may be infected, do your best not to touch their urine with your bare hand, and always wash your hands after touching your pooch. We highly recommend wearing rubber gloves while you are cleaning locations where your pup may have soiled, and be sure to disinfect any spots where your dog has urinated. One of the best ways to disinfect your home is to use a household disinfectant or diluted bleach solution.
Prescription antibiotics can be used to treat dogs with leptospirosis and can also keep the other pets and humans in your home from getting infected.