Leptospirosis is a rare infection, one that you may not have heard of until this week. A veterinarian from the Paws and Claws Animal Clinic in Plano, confirmed that two dogs are dead as a result of the disease and two more are thought to be infected.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial spirochete, a corkscrew shaped bacteria that infects both dogs and humans. Once a dog becomes infected, they infiltrate the dog’s system, they gain entry into the various organs and reproduce.
These organs include the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, genitourinary system, and even the eyes.
Leptospirosis is also known as “rat fever”, as rodents are one of the most common hosts. Dogs also frequently become infected by the bacteria after coming into contact with water- particularly stagnant water seen in tropical and subtropical environments. Infection occurs when a dog drinks the contaminated water, swims/walks through the water, or comes into contact with the urine of an infected animal.
Who’s at Risk
Dogs who have been kenneled, farm dogs, hunting and sporting dogs, and dogs that live in the woods are at the highest risk. Cases have been reported in both the U.S. and Canada.
Signs and Symptoms
Diagnosis is made challenging by the fact that symptoms are vague, generalized symptoms that can be seen with many other illnesses.
It is important to let your veterinarian know if your dog has come into contact with rodents, bodies of water, or if you are living in a high risk area.
-myalgias (reluctance to move)
-vomiting and diarrhea (with or without blood)
-decreased urination (due to progression of renal failure)
-petechiae (spots, these may be seen on gums)
Cultures (blood and urine) will be obtained. You can expect the usual panels to be ordered- CBC, basic metabolic panel (electrolytes, renal function), and liver function tests, among others. Your dog will also need a fluorescent antibody urine test, and microscopic agglutination test. An agglutination test aka “titers” will measure the presence of antibodies in the bloodstream.
You should know that both animals and humans are at risk of becoming infected. Those with compromised immune systems and children have the highest risk. It is important to avoid contact with body fluids of any individual that may be infected.
If your dog is high risk, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about vaccination. In some areas there have been a sharp rise in cases of the disease, leading veterinarians to recommend the vaccination for all dogs. There are possible adverse effects, as with any vaccine. The benefits should be weighed against the risks. Note that dogs need to be vaccinated yearly in order to remain protected and some literature suggests that immunity lasts even less than the stated 12 months. Also consider the other limitations- there are hundreds of serovars of Leptospirosis, and a dog can still become infected via a different serovar that is not covered by the vaccination.
When caught early, the disease can be treated with antibiotics. Dogs will also require basic supportive care including rehydration, antiemetics, and possibly NG tube placement for nutrition if they cannot tolerate oral intake. Left untreated, it is fatal. If you would like to read more, PetMD has a comprehensive article on the disease.