Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread via the urine of infected animals such as rats, wildlife and dogs. Although there are over 200 known strains (serovar) around the world, only 8 effect dogs and cats with only 2 commonly found in the UK. Weil’s Disease is a strain of Leptospirosis with the main carrier being rats, with dogs being the main carrier of the Canicola strain. A third serovar (strain), Bratislave, is beginning to become more common in the UK. All strains of Leptospirosis can cause liver and kidney disease as well as affecting other major organs such as the heart and eyes, ultimately leading to organ failure and death if untreated. Leptospirosis is contagious to humans.
What are the symptoms of Leptospirosis?
The severity of symptom depends very much on a dog’s age, immune response and vaccination status. The main signs are:
In mild cases, dogs can make a full recovery but others can develop long term infections with the added risk of infecting other animals. First signs of infection can begin within a couple of days of exposure with symptoms progressing rapidly in a matter of hours. In severe cases, it can rapidly lead to organ failure and death, with puppies being the most susceptible.
What are the causes of Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is caused by the leptospira bacteria which is shed in the urine of infected animals. It is transmitted to other animals through direct contact with infected urine or found in contaminated, stagnant water such as ponds and ditches, and slow-moving waterways such as drains, canals and rivers. Outbreaks of the disease can sometimes follow flooding. Male adult dogs living in rural areas are considered most at risk but, as rats can carry the bacteria, urban dogs can also be exposed to the disease. In the U.K. the most likely infected animals are rats and foxes and in the U.S., racoons and skunks are the most common carriers.
What are the risk factors of Leptospirosis?
An animal can become infected by the bacteria through ingestion or contact with mucus membranes (such as the eyes and nose), or broken skin. Exposure to the bacteria can come from the infected urine of an animal via contaminated water, soil or bedding but can also be found in other bodily fluids, making contaminated food or bite wounds a risk of infection too.
How is Leptospirosis diagnosed?
If your dog is showing symptoms, take him to your vet who will want to take a full history of your pet’s symptoms and recent movements ie walks and contact with other animals. A full examination will be made together with blood and urine tests.
What treatment is there for Leptospirosis?
If your vet suspects Leptospirosis, your dog will be given a high dose of antibiotics and, in most cases, hospitalized for intensive care which may include fluid therapy and any additional medication needed to reduce vomiting. The earlier the treatment is started the better. If the disease has progressed towards organ failure, the prognosis is not good.
How to prevent Leptospirosis
Vaccination is the best preventative measure that can be taken but only likely to be recommended by a vet in areas where Leptospirosis is common. An initial course will be given, followed by an annual booster. It is important to keep up with the boosters as the Leptospira bacteria changes over time and so to be effective, the vaccination must be constantly developed to keep up with the changes.
Keep your dog away from drains and any other waterways that could be contaminated. If you become aware of an infected dog, be sure to keep healthy dogs away.
Good hygiene is important. Disinfect and hose down any area a dog has urinated and allow it to dry as the Leptospira bacteria can only survive in damp conditions and will die as soon as the surface is dry. If you have come into contact with an infected animal, wash hands, clothes and any other items the animal has touched. Remember, leptospirosis can be passed from animal to human. If you believe you have been infected and are showing signs of the above symptoms, go to your GP as soon as possible where you will be prescribed antibiotics.