Leptospirosis in dogs

Leptospirosis in dogs

Your dog no longer likes to play. In fact, he's so lethargic it almost looks like he doesn't even want to move at all! You have noticed more diarrhea than usual and the vomiting has just started. What will you do?


What is leptospirosis in dogs?

La leptospirosis is a serious disease that does not only affect dogs, but also other animals and humans! It is caused by Leptospira, a kind of spiral-shaped bacteria living in moist and warm soil that is found all over the world. Although it can be found anywhere, the bacterium is more common in warmer regions with more rainfall each year.

The disease is zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. Usually the bacteria are spread in the urine of an infected host. Because the urine of these infected animals can easily contaminate any open body of water, any animal around these areas is at risk.

Leptospira can enter through the soft lining of the nose, eyelid, mouth, and even open sources covering an animal's body (even scratches).

This spiral-shaped invader lives in untreated water, which is (usually, as you'll read below) the urine of an animal. When your pet ventures out for an innocent drink in the pond or that stream, they might swallow these baddies!

Life of Leptospira bacteria

If the conditions are right, Leptospira bacteria can survive for up to 180 days. They might even thrive if the environmental conditions are right! This includes things like:

  • Hot and humid environment
  • Backwater
  • Untreated water
  • Wet ground
  • Dense animal population (i.e. kennels)
  • Heavy rodent population
  • Poverty stricken regions of the world

The bacteria need moist soil to survive and cannot live on dry surfaces.

What are the risk factors for leptospirosis?

Although it can infect humans and other animals, our dogs are the most common host of the Leptospirosis bacteria (Leptospira). Because it is so rare in cats, little is known about it.

  • Exposure to / drinking from rivers / untreated water
  • Drink in lakes or streams
  • Rural wildlife exposure
  • Exposure to potentially infected farm animals
  • Contact with infected rodents or other dogs
  • Contact with infected urine
  • Contaminated bedding or food
  • Bite from an infected animal
  • Can be transmitted through the placenta from mother to child


leptospirosis risk factors

Young puppies are most at risk

Any condition causing dehydration would put a young puppy at extreme risk! Leptospirosis is no different. Vomiting and / or diarrhea in young puppies is already a problem, not normal, and potentially very harmful!

A young puppy needs 100% of its current circulatory volume. Even something as innocent as fleas, which would normally pose nothing more than a slight nuisance to an adult, can be drastic or even fatal for a newborn or young puppy in their first few weeks of life. .

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your puppy has vomiting and / or diarrhea.

Hazards of untreated water

We might not think anything of our dogs drinking in streams, lakes or rivers. After all, swimming is good exercise, and hunting dogs do it all the time, right?

Even though a dog's body is generally better able to deal with many foreign invaders, it is still not immune and there are still many that can cause huge problems! Leptospires aren't even the only thing a pet owner would have to worry about when it comes to untreated water.

Whenever possible, it is best toprevent your dog from drinking from unprocessed sources. If swimming is a big part of his life, be sure to keep up with regular vet appointments.


Do you live on a farm?

Although dogs are the most common host, farm animals often eliminate where it suits them best. This type of environment would pose a greater risk, especially to dogs. It would be particularly important to follow regular veterinary examinations!

Signs and Symptoms of Leptospirosis in Dogs

The disease in dogs can appear in several ways. Some lucky dogs may not show any signs, while others may become mildly ill with rapid recovery and the illness can turn fatal in some cases! It can often cause serious damage to the kidneys and liver.

Possible signs and symptoms:

  • Fever
  • chills
  • muscle tenderness
  • Reluctance to relocate
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in the frequency or amount of urination
  • dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice
  • Painful inflammation in the eyes

This disease can even lead to organ failure, including the kidneys and possibly the liver. Dogs can develop severe lung disease with breathing difficulties. Bleeding disorders caused by leptospirosis can lead to vomiting, saliva, or bloody stools. Dogs can even develop swollen limbs due to fluid buildup caused by the impact of the bacteria on their body, with possible fluid in the abdomen or chest.

Possible signs and symptoms

Severe infection

Dogs with advanced infection may show signs of loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, depression, increased urination and thirst, and even jaundice (eyes / mouth lines become yellowish). Some dogs may start to bleed.

These dogs usually get sick very quickly, often in just a few days, and their illness is often fatal. Dogs with milder infections often show fewer or no signs at all, sometimes carrying the disease undetected (but still able to transmit it).

Dangers of dehydration

Changes in the frequency of urination, vomiting, and diarrhea can all lead to dehydration, which in turn can lead to weakness, lethargy, and disorientation. A severely dehydrated dog will find it difficult to regulate his body temperature and can easily overheat, especially during the warmer months.

Severe dehydration can affect the level of blood volume and create circulation problems. At this point (the same goes for humans), the blood vessels will constrict (narrow), while the animal's blood will flow to the center of its body in an effort to protect its internal organs. The dog will be disoriented, may pass out and eventually go into hypovolemic (low volume) shock. This step will be fatal, even in humans, without immediate emergency treatment.

Leptospirosis, or any condition that causes vomiting and diarrhea, can be especially dangerous for young puppies!

Emergency treatment for humans

Fluids (normally saline, a specific salt water solution at the same pH as blood) are injected directly into the bloodstream by means of an intravenous drip. This will increase the patient's circulatory volume. This same method is often used to rehydrate animals.

The patient is covered with a warm blanket and other measures will be taken to keep the patient warm. The limbs are elevated above the patient's heart to promote blood flow to internal organs.

What happens after infection?

Once Leptospira bacteria enter the animal's bloodstream, they start to multiply. Soon after, these nasty intruders begin to invade other tissues as well. Concentrated in both the liver and kidneys, they can cause serious internal damage.

8-10 days later

Hopefully, a healthy dog ​​will start producing antibodies around 8-10 days after infection, thereby removing most of the invading Leptospira from the animal's body and helping to prevent further damage. Unfortunately for the dog, enough damage has already been done and the dog can now face kidney or liver failure (or both), both of which are fatal if left untreated.

If the infection is severe, the organ damage it caused could be irreversible and fatal.

Symptoms of liver failure in dogs

Loss of appetite, neurological problems, diarrhea, fever, blood clotting problems, jaundice, increased urination, and fluid in the abdomen are all signs of liver failure. These fluid problems, in turn, can further increase dehydration.

Early treatment is essential! This means that veterinary attention early on is very important.

Most dogs with leptospirosis will recover, but it may have already caused significant damage to the liver or kidneys by the time their body initiates an immune response to the bacteria (around 8-10 days). These unfortunate dogs may need medical treatment for the rest of their lives.

Most dogs recover.
Fortunately, most dogs will eventually recover! Although the recovery time may vary, most animals will recover with small amounts of Leptospira bacteria remaining in their bodies (mainly the kidneys). This leads to the chronic excretion of traces of bacteria in the urine, which can spread to other animals.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Lethargy (decreased activity), pale gums, weight loss, bad breath, changes in urination or alcohol consumption, and vomiting are all signs of kidney failure. Just like liver failure, it can also be fatal and requires medical attention.

An increase in drinking or urination habits should already set off alarms, nothing else! There are several other medical problems that this can be a symptom of.

Leptospirosis screening

So how do we test for leptospirosis in dogs? Of course, your vet will ask for a medical history and look for symptoms first. When combined, certain symptoms can be indicators of illness.

For example, increased thirst and increased urination can be symptoms of kidney problems or diabetes, among others. The vet will not see if the animal has other symptoms of these disorders and will begin testing to rule them out.

DNA-PCR test

The test DNA-PCR is done before the dog receives any type of antibiotic and can detect Leptospira bacteria in your dog.

Microscopic agglutination test
Also called a titer test, this test is used to detect any leptospirosis antibody present in the body. If these antibodies are high enough, the vet can confirm that the dog has leptospirosis.

While this is a fantastic option, this test is slower than the alternative DNA-PCR test because the body needs time to develop antibodies in the first place. It may also take several days for the results to be returned from the laboratory.

Treat and prevent leptospirosis in dogs
Antibiotics and supportive care are regular treatments for Leptospira, the bacteria that causes leptospirosis. The earlier the disease is treated, the better the chances of recovery and the damage to your pet is limited!

Currently, vaccines are readily available to prevent leptospirosis in pets for up to 12 months, with annual vaccinations recommended for "at risk" dogs. Reducing potential exposure in general (see points above) can go a long way in preventing leptospirosis and keeping your puppy healthy!

Here are some preventative measures for you and your dog:

Look for antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian to treat your pet.
Avoid your pet's urine.
Wearing gloves, promptly clean up any dog ​​urine from inside the house with disinfectant.
Teach your dog to urinate somewhere away from any standing water or away from areas with other dogs.
Be sure to wash your hands afterwards whenever you handle your pet.

In addition to antibiotics, dogs with severe kidney or liver damage may require hospitalization for intravenous treatment and other therapies (Ruotsalo, Kristiina. DVM).
-VCA veterinary hospitals

How to keep your dogs safe?

There are several things you can do to protect your pets from leptospirosis!

First of all, it is important to minimize access to areas with many rodents. Unlimited access to areas teeming with farm animals and wildlife also presents risks.

If you are going for a hike or hike with your dog, be sure to avoid areas of standing water, such as streams, rivers, or lakes. Your dog should drink clean water rather than untreated water.

In addition to the many suggested sanitation practices listed throughout this article, there is a vaccine available for your pet! Vaccinating your dog against leptospirosis is a sure-fire way to prevent the disease!

Leptospirosis vaccine

While there are many variations of the Leptospira bacteria and the current vaccination does not protect against all of them, this is a great way to keep your dog a lot safer than it would otherwise be. It is strongly recommended for any dog ​​who lives near a body of stagnant water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams).

Small breeds living in urban areas are the most common dogs to come to veterinary clinics with leptospirosis. If you are caring for a small breed, live near your dog's open water

drinks from farm animals, or by any of the other risks listed in this article, it is important to consider vaccinating your pet.

Leptospirosis and humans

We know that leptospirosis in dogs can get pretty serious, or even end for some, but what about people? Do we have so much trouble with this nasty bacteria?

Being a zoonotic virus, humans can certainly succumb to the effects of this nasty bacteria. Much like dogs, the disease can cause organ failure, lead to meningitis (inflammation of the protective tissues around the brain and spinal cord) and even death if left untreated. Many of the symptoms listed above, found in animals, are similar for humans.

There can be two phases to this disease in humans. The first phase can occur between two days and four weeks, that is, when the human first becomes ill or begins to show signs of illness. This first phase of leptospirosis can include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. The patient could even recover, only to fall ill again.

The second phase, if it occurs, is often much more severe. The human patient may suffer from hepatic or renal failure, or even meningitis. All three are extremely serious and potentially fatal.

Overall, the illness can last from a few days to three weeks or more. Without treatment, it can last much longer!

Questions and answers

You probably have questions about dogs with leptospirosis! Below, we'll address the most common concerns pet owners might have.

What Are the Causes of Leptospirosis in Dogs?

The spiral-shaped Leptospira bacteria cause leptospirosis in dogs. Once the animal drinks contaminated water containing the bacteria, it begins to multiply in the animal's bloodstream and then in other tissues.

Where is leptospirosis found?

Leptospira, the bacterium responsible for leptospirosis, is present all over the world but especially in hot or tropical regions. This includes both South and Southeast Asia, Oceania, parts of Africa, the Caribbean and parts of Latin America.

If animals come in contact with infected urine, feces, contaminated food or bedding, contaminated water and soil, a bite from an infected animal, or even if they eat the infected corpse of a host animal, they can contract this bacteria.

Is leptospirosis in dogs fatal?

It can be fatal to any host, including dogs and many others, although the host animal often recovers. After about 8-10 days, a healthy dog's immune system will begin to attach Leptospira bacteria and then recover.

By this time, the disease may have caused significant damage to the dog (or other host) and may require long-term treatment.

Dogs that develop severe symptoms related to the disease usually have a 50/50 chance of survival. In addition, age, physical health, race, and several other factors can affect the chances of survival.

Can humans get leptospirosis from dogs?

Humans can get leptospirosis just like dogs or any other host. A bite or attack from an infected dog can transfer the bacteria, and bite victims should always be examined by a doctor to rule out this and many other problems.

Humans in areas of the world where drinking water is not treated are more susceptible to the bacteria that live in that water. Leptospirosis isn't the only bacteria they would have to worry about.

How is leptospirosis treated?

Once the dog with leptospirosis is diagnosed, it is stabilized with supportive treatment (intravenous fluids, etc.). Since Leptospira are bacteria, antibiotics are usually very effective in killing them! They would at least suppress the bacteria until the animal's own immune system could take over.

Still, treatment usually requires hospitalization.

What are the other dangers of untreated water?

Tourists outside of the United States (or many other countries) may wonder why they are told to avoid anything other than bottled or boiled water. It could only take a small drop on their toothbrush and a day or two later to answer that question.

Leptospira are not the only bacteria, parasites or invaders to fear! There are literally thousands of harmful substances that many developed countries deal with, some of which are much more dangerous.

  • Countless types of bacteria
  • Countless viruses
  • Parasites
  • Heavy metals
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Human and animal waste - which may contain harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites

For example, your dog could consume it simply by innocently drinking from the pond or stream outside your house or in your garden. In the following article discover another disease: Leishmaniasis in dogs, a disease caused by a parasite.

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