Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with the Leptospira bacteria. This bacteria can be found in most animals, including livestock, such as cattle, pigs, and sheep. It can also be found in wildlife, such as deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rats, and other rodents. The bacteria are typically spread through the urine into water sources, which is where they can reside, and is where your puppy can come in contact with them. The most common water sources include: stagnant surface water, moist soil, puddles, ponds, and lakes. Your puppy can become infected with Leptospirosis by drinking, swimming, or walking through contaminated water. Another way in which your puppy can become infected is if their mucous membranes, or other area of skin which has a cut or scrape comes into contact with infected urine, urine-contaminated soil, water, food, or bedding. Leptospirosis can also be transmitted through a bite from an infected animal, or by eating the tissues or carcass of an infected animal. It can also be passed through the placenta from the mother dog to puppies.
The signs of Leptospirosis in dogs vary. Some infected dogs do not show any signs of illness, some have a mild and transient illness and recover spontaneously, while others develop severe illness and death. Signs of Leptospirosis may include fever, shivering, muscle tenderness, reluctance to move, increased thirst, changes in the frequency or amount of urination, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes, or painful inflammation within the eyes. The disease can cause kidney failure with or without liver failure. Dogs may occasionally develop severe lung disease and have difficulty breathing. Leptospirosis can cause bleeding disorders, which can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool or saliva; nosebleeds; and pinpoint red spots, which may be visible on the gums and other mucous membranes or on light-colored skin. Affected dogs can also develop swollen legs due to fluid accumulation or accumulate excess fluid in their chest or abdomen.
Leptospirosis may be suspected based on the exposure history and signs shown by the dog, but many of these signs can also be seen with other diseases. In addition to a physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend a number of other tests such as blood tests, urine tests, radiographs, and an ultrasound examination.
Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics and supportive care, such as intravenous fluids. When treated early and aggressively, the chances for recovery are good but there is still a risk of permanent residual kidney or liver damage. Currently available vaccines effectively prevent Leptospirosis and protect dogs for at least 12 months. Annual vaccination is recommended for at-risk dogs. Reducing your dog’s exposure to possible sources of the Leptospira bacteria can reduce its chances of infection.
Leptospirosis is also a disease that can be transmitted to humans. While the disease is rarely fatal in humans, it can cause severe illness. You can reduce the disease risk by enacting preventative measures such as: vaccinating your puppy, avoiding water that might be contaminated by the bacteria, and practicing good sanitation measures.
Here at Bloomsburg Veterinary Hospital we strongly recommend vaccinating against Leptospirosis if your puppy is considered to be at risk. Any puppy with an outdoor lifestyle is potentially at risk for coming in contact with Leptospirosis. It is important to discuss the lifestyle of your puppy with your veterinarian in order to help keep them protected throughout their life. Please refer to the vaccination schedule for vaccination recommendations for Leptospirosis.