Leptospirosis - What You Need to Know

You may have heard about the growing threat of Leptospirosis (Lepto).  Lepto is a contagious and potentially fatal bacterial disease that affects wild and domestic animals as well as humans.  It is believed to be the most extensive global zoonotic (transmissible from animals to humans) disease.  Approximately 200 cases are documented annually in the U.S.  Transmission occurs in two ways: through direct contact with contaminated body fluids or through indirect means such as exposure to contaminated food, water, or soil.

Infection occurs when Leptospires, the bacteria that causes Lepto, enter the body through mucous membranes (i.e. mouth, nose, eyes) or skin - particularly skin that is broken.  Although Lepto is most common in areas populated by livestock or wildlife, it has been seen in all types of environments.  Leptospires can survive up to 180 days in most soil and even longer in water - especially stagnant water.

Leptospires enter the bloodstream and remain there for 4-7 days.  The extent of damage and the systems affected depend on many factors, including whether the disease is acute (rapid onset followed by short, severe course) or chronic (infectious over a long period of time usually with a slow, yet progressive course.) 

Most frequently, the liver and kidneys are affected.  Damage may progress to liver and or kidney failure, and death.  Other systems that may be affected include respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive, and ophthalmic.  When fatal, death usually results from inflammation of the kidneys, vascular damage, kidney failure, and liver failure.  In acute forms of the disease death can occur within 5-10 days of infection and without clinical signs.  

Often a dog infected with lepto will show no physical symptoms.  If they do show signs, they may include fever, depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, excessive drinking and urinating, dehydration, vomiting (blood may be present), diarrhea, bloody or tarry feces, joint or muscle pain, stiff gait, difficulty breathing, discharge from eyes or nose, bloody vaginal discharge, bloody nose, and excessive bleeding.

Dogs are the most commonly affected companion animal.   Cats are also considered to be susceptible, but the incidence is rare and as such, cats are not vaccinated.  There is no age, gender, or breed predilection. 

Carver Lake now has the Lepto vaccine for our canine companions. If you haven't already, we encourage you to schedule an appointment to get your dog vaccinated today.

There are many ways to help prevent lepto.  Good sanitation, especially in areas with large concentrations of dogs, wildlife, farm animals, or rodents is especially important.  Rodent control and restricting exposure to potentially contaminated water sources and body fluids of unknown animals are also important.

Should there be concerns that an animal may have been exposed to lepto, there are several diagnostic tests - most commonly using blood - that can be used to determine infection.  The presence of leptospires in the blood and kidneys can be eliminated with antibiotic therapy.  In acute and advanced cases, supportive therapy is critical.    Other treatments may be required depending on the location and extent of damage within the individual.

Infected dogs should be quarantined so they cannot infect others.  Areas that are potentially contaminated should be cleaned and disinfected with iodine-based solutions.  Caution should be used up to 3 months following treatment, as dogs may shed the leptospires in their urine, etc., during that time and pose a risk with respect to infecting other animals and people.

Leptospirosis can be a very dangerous disease, but with the proper information and precautions you can decrease the chances that your pets and family will be exposed.  Please feel free to call our clinic to discuss your pets' risk factors and to determine whether your pet would benefit from the Lepto vaccine.

More information on Lepto can be found at...

Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Leptospirosis and Your Pet

The Merck Veterinary Manual - Leptospirosis in Dogs

Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Leptospirosis: Frequently Asked Questions


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